Social Intimacy Part II: The Obstacles Between You & Workplace Trust

Think for a moment about your idea of trustworthiness. Which attributes do you require in your colleagues to consider them trustworthy? What qualities do you strive to exhibit to communicate your own trustworthiness to others? Before you settle on definitive answers to these important questions about workplace communication, consider a study that dissects Maister’s Trust Equation. Among the many findings reported is that most people depend solely on their own credibility and reliability as indicators of their trustworthiness to others. The implication here is that being an “expert” personality type demonstrates that you are the one to trust. Meanwhile, the science indicates that the “doer”, “connector” and “catalyst” types are actually the most trustworthy. And what trait do these three have in common? The answer is something that many workplaces lack.

Carving Out That “Safe Space”

The attribute that comes naturally to these folks is, of course, their intimacy skills. If you are one of them, you possess a quality that, although it may be undervalued by many of your colleagues, is central to effective communications in the workplace. It means that you have cultivated a social “safe space” wherein you are unlikely to clam up, yet remain appropriately vulnerable (i.e.: you are careful to give and receive feedback without letting emotions distort the impact.) It also means that you are in a position to inspire your less intimacy-inclined team members to develop their own advantageous intimacy skills. Since the safety we feel at work hinges on other’s words and actions, an office-wide culture of intimacy is vital to the emotional harmony that exemplifies the most successful companies. This model, unfortunately, is all too rare in today’s workplace. And the reasons, as you shall see, are staring us straight in the face.

The Undoing of Intimacy

In certain work environments, the intimacy that may already be in place can become threatened or nullified by a single heedless move by an individual. The following three situations sum up what I hear over and over again in my interactive research with high-profile firms. Each illustrates the undoing of intimacy between colleagues and across teams. See if they sound familiar to you, and begin to think about the solutions:

-Lisa’s team recently absorbed an acquired team. Lisa shared an idea with Mary, her boss, to accelerate the integration. On a team call two weeks later, Mary suggested the very same idea, with not even a “thanks” or a nod to Lisa for her great idea. The result: Lisa now feels like she can’t trust Mary with any creative ideas in the future.

 -At last year’s annual review, Cathy asked her boss point blank, “What do I need to do to be promoted?”. Kevin told her that she needed to be recognized as the expert in her focus area, she needed to grow an existing account to a certain size, and she needed to bring in a targeted revenue number. After hitting all three of those marks, Cathy was looking forward to this year’s annual review. She had written up her case for promotion but Kevin didn’t even want to see it. He suggested two ADDITIONAL areas she needed to focus on to be promoted. The result: Cathy felt bamboozled. Getting Kevin to care about her career was like shooting at a moving target.

-Sara was attending the monthly leadership meeting wherein attendees were asked for their thoughts and feedback about the diversity initiative that had been rolled out. Sara sketched out an observation and a suggestion for improvement, and was cut off by Mitch just before she had finished her succinct read of the situation. The result: Sara and others in the room clammed up, not feeling safe to speak, and the meeting was ultimately unproductive. Furthermore, out of anxiety and fear, Sara remained reluctant to contribute feedback in future meetings.

How would you feel if one of these hard-working, clear-headed, serious people were you? Perhaps you are one of them. It’s evidence that intimacy, as well as credibility and reliability, are each so important when it comes to building trust. These attributes even hold the emotional power to dissolve established trust when not carefully monitored. Think of it this way: Each of us is starring in a movie….the movie of our lives. This prompts each of us to see the world through a unique lens. It’s only when these different perspectives are at least acknowledged, if not understood, that genuine and resilient trust is possible.

Next, we’ll look at the Common Denominator in the Trust Equation, and observe how credibility, reliability and intimacy each tie into it.