Does your workplace exhibit toxic behaviors such as: gossiping and backbiting, confidentiality breaking or getting even? These common behaviors can turn a productive team into one where trust is eroded and negativity becomes the norm.
Trust is fragile and takes years to build, yet can be broken in minutes. Furthermore, the level of trust within a team gets worse with each betrayal and every negative encounter. While these breaches may not get addressed, they don’t go unnoticed, leaving the core foundation of the relationships crumbling.
Ultimately, it is up to leaders to realize that there is a problem and begin the work of trust building in their workplaces.
The good news is there are obvious symptoms of eroded trust. Identify these three early signs and you can take action to stop the damage—and even reverse it.
A. Backbiting and Gossip
Do members of your team feel free to share ideas, where they can communicate openly and honestly about issues and challenges? Trust building creates an environment where people want to work.
Yet every day, trust is tested in team relationships, especially in the form of gossip at work.
Gossip is the number-one trust breaking behavior within teams. Rather than going directly to the individuals with an issue or concern, people talk behind their backs to everyone else.
If the gossip is unchecked, it becomes more prevalent, happens more often, and as a result, becomes more disruptive. People hear about things a co-worker said behind their backs. In turn, they gossip as well. Negative feelings grow. Distrust flourishes. Once distrust takes hold, people no longer work well with each other—they are guarded regarding what they say, they don’t offer new ideas and they demonstrate other coping behaviors. Tensions rise, as do other trust breaking behaviors.
When you notice team members talking about one another behind each other’s back, this is an immediate sign that there has been damage to the foundational level of trust within your team. The leader must address this situation in order to begin to build trust within the team.
B. Confidentiality Breaking
Confidentiality breaking has to do with how team members communicate with one another—their trust of communication.
Occasionally, something may interfere with a person’s ability to meet deadlines, or how they are performing at work. If you are able to share your concerns with your leader or fellow team members, that is essential. Let them know what your outside pressures or circumstances are so they can keep projects on track.
Yet, people are reluctant to discuss personal matters in an environment where confidences are broken and gossip is rampant.
Unfortunately, this is also true of professional confidentiality. When such things as intellectual property, company secrets or ideas for market growth and development are shared publicly, people become suspicious about whether their information is safe.
Trust building means that people feel confident their personal and professional information is safe and sound. Information that team members have been trusted to keep private—whether it is personal or professional—violates trust; and misunderstandings will arise.
Leaders need to step in when confidentiality is being broken and immediately address these breaches because they threaten to weaken the core foundation of their teams based on trust.
C. Getting Even
The above negative behaviors often lead to defensiveness and a “get even” attitude among team members. For instance: “They said something about me, so I am going to share personal information about them.” Or: “She didn’t get me the information I needed in time, so I’m not going to worry about this deadline I committed to meeting for her.”
This kind of behavior will continue to escalate if not addressed: further destroying the effectiveness of the team, eroding trust, creating deep feelings of betrayal and causing stress and anxiety in the lives of all.
Often, this type of trust breaking behavior is easy to spot because it to will get shared through the grapevine. People will begin to gossip about perceived wrongs, or use one person’s past behavior as an excuse for their current bad behavior.
When a leader hears or sees this “getting even” mindset, it is essential that they address it immediately to stop the erosion of trust within their team. Once this behavior is turned around, people feel less worried about making small mistakes and are able to begin building trust in the workplace.
Trust Building® in the Workplace
The first step in changing trust breaking behavior is to realize how your behavior has contributed to the presence or absence of trust in your team dynamics. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “be the change you want to see,” address the issue by discussing how things should be handled within your team and follow through. When you recognize one of these behaviors, address it with the offending team member. Make sure your staff knows that these behaviors are not tolerated and provide them with alternative, healthy ways to communicate that strengthen trust.
By addressing common trust breaking behaviors and creating a culture that encourages trust building in the workplace, you will change your team into one that can transcend any challenge.
Remember, Trust begins with you!
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This guest post was written by Dennis Reina, Ph.D. and Michelle Reina, Ph.D. and comes from the webinar, Trust Building® as Tonic for Toxic Workplaces and Bad Bosses.