The Power of Transparency: A Real Case Study In Workplace Trust and Betrayal, Part 2

By now, you may have read the first part of my drama-laden case study featuring Lizette, David and Richard, wherein a workplace assumption lead to a betrayal that amounted to a breach of workplace trust. The valuable lesson is that it all could have been prevented if Lizette had stepped back and asked a simple question instead of sticking by her assumption.

As I mentioned, we as humans all find ourselves in these situations. We’re hard-wired to fight, flee, or freeze when we feel threatened, whether by a fierce wild predator or the actions of a well-intentioned colleague. In the case of the colleague, being present and aware is our only guard against overreacting. And don’t assume you’re already perfectly self-aware and alert; only 36% of us are able to accurately identify our emotions as they happen, according to studies done by Bradberry & Greaves.

Not all hope is lost, however. We can actively turn our misunderstandings into opportunities to shrink the informational expanse between our colleagues and ourselves by building more common ground. Trust can even be strengthened in the process. It all begins with a humble apology, and a request to understand and learn.

The Self-Examination

Lizette’s first step in transforming her embarrassing misstep into an opportunity for growth was to acknowledge what occurred and how it felt to her emotionally. She examined each of the feelings, thoughts and beliefs that led to her assumptions and conclusion, which in-turn prompted the action of confronting and accusing David. Her feeling: “I felt betrayed.” Her thought: “My last administrative assistant was a relentless gossip.” Her belief: “This firm still has a strong boys’ club.” These are all things I’ve heard not just from Lizette, but from working with various clients. For Lizette, this meditation revealed that she was in an extraordinarily stressful spot in her career. Even her recent bloodwork indicated high levels of cortisol, affectionately known as the stress hormone. And when we’re stressed, we’re more likely to flip our lids, so to speak. She also began to notice her “shoot first, ask questions later” approach, which acts as a built-in defense from being blindsided. No wonder she was so quick to address David’s conversation with Richard!

A Strategy, and an Apology

Next, Lizette considered the Trust Equation. She dissected this tool with David in mind, to get a baseline of his credibility, reliability, intimacy and self-orientation when she was NOT under stress. Now, when she is triggered in the future, she can remind herself of his positive markings and level of trustworthiness from an unclouded perspective.

Thirdly, Lizette sat down with David for a conversation designed to look towards the future. A sincere apology and a reflection of what happened through her eyes began as awkward, but grew organically into a sharing experience. Everything that was going through her mind, once understood by David, allowed him to see the world through her lens. This was their official bridge towards the future, which connected their ideas about what transparency looks like. They agreed to speak openly about doubts, hesitations, and questions going forward.

The finishing touch was to modify Lizette’s “shoot first” habit. Together, they devised a simple question she could ask in the event of a future communication deficit: “Is there anything I need to know about the conversation you just had with Richard?” When the words are posed in a trusting voice, the truth will be transparent, clearer communication will ensue, and Lizette can count on a healthy, trustful relationship with her key office ally.

Although this article concludes our thorough exploration of workplace trust, the Trust Equation will continue to play an entrenched role in our many topics to come. This will be the case starting before Independence Day, when I will launch an exciting series that only DRIVEN can provide. As they used to say, Stay Tuned!