Leaders Build Trust Through Conflict!

Guest post from Scott Warrick:
Trust. Leaders tell you how critical it is to building a team. But what exactly is “trust” and exactly how do you get it?
First, if any leader is going to implement a successful program, they have to define their terms. That is why there is no such thing as “soft skills.” If you cannot define what you are shooting for, how could you ever hit it? You can’t. 
So, how should you define “trust”? Is it safe?
And how do you prove to someone that it is safe to disagree with you? Verbal Jeet, or EPR Skills. (Empathic Listening, Parroting, and “Rewards”).     
We have all been there. We are sitting at our desks, doing our work, and we hear from our boss, Mr. Dithers, “Ah, Scott. I need to see you for a minute.”
Instantly, our gut tightens up and we imagine the worst kind of reasons why our boss wants to see us. “What did I do? Am I getting fired?” 
Rarely does it enter our minds that maybe this is good news. Maybe I was just named “Employee of the Month.” (Yeah, right.)
So, why do we think of the most negative scenarios in such situations? Because we are all hard-wired to have “ANTS,” or “Automatic Negative Thoughts.” This is how we have survived on this planet for so many years. 
Years ago, if Fred Flintstone, a human, saw a new animal that he did not recognize, was it a good idea to call it over to him and pet it? No! It was much safer for Fred to assume the animal was a killer. In short, Fred’s brain was keeping him safe by giving him a little bit of “anxiety” or “apprehension.”
Anxiety and apprehension are both essential to our survival.  This is why we tend to look both ways before crossing the street or pulling out into traffic, even if it is a one-way street.   
So, why do we have this negative reaction when our boss calls us into his office? Because we don’t know that it is “safe” to go into his office.  If there is not any trust in a relationship, our thoughts automatically go to the negative. 
So, how do you typically build “trust”?
Although it sounds contradictory, “trust” is actually built through “conflict,” that is, when conflict occurs in an honest respectful manner. This means you need to resolve conflict by using your Verbal Jeet Skills (EPR = Empathic Listening, Parroting, and “Rewards”).    
Let’s say that you are a new leader at your company and Fred Flintstone reports to you. 
However, you two have never met. There is no reason for Fred to believe that it is safe to talk to you, much less disagree with you.
So, you need to leave your office and talk to your employees. You need to find out about their likes and dislikes, their families and all little things that make them “them.” This does not build any trust at all. It builds familiarity.
At some point, you ask Fred’s opinion on some issue, such as his thoughts on the new health plan. You relax and use your Verbal Jeet (EPR) skills. Of course, you start with the “E,” which is Empathic Listening. You would say something like, “You know, I am not sure about this new health plan. What do you think?” You then shut up and listen from Fred’s perspective. 
So, you are asking Fred to take a risk. Is it safe for Fred to talk to you and give you his opinion? Will you attack Fred if I don’t like his answer?  Or will you be a passive aggressive and stab him in the back later, like most people do?
Fred then tells you what he thinks about the new health plan. You listen, nod your head and give him some “encouragers” or “Rewards” like, “OK,” “Yeah, I can see that” and so on.
When Fred is done explaining it all to you, you need to Parrot it all back to him. That means you have to repeat whatever he said to you back to him to his satisfaction before you move on. So, you would say something like, “Alright, let me make sure I’ve got this. You are saying …” If Fred disagrees with your interpretation, then he has to tell you again. You don’t move on until Fred agrees that you have it. This ensures a common understanding.
But let’s say you repeat everything back to Fred correctly. Great! If you agree with Fred, tell him so. If not, if you disagree with him, you have to give Fred a “Reward.” 
Whenever you disagree with another human and you are trying to build trust, you have to give that person a “Reward” to protect their self-esteem.  So, you would say something like, “I see what you are saying,“ or “I understand your point of view, but I am not so sure I agree with all of that.”
You are showing Fred that it is safe to disagree with you. The topic of conversation does not matter nearly as much as it matters that you prove to Fred that it is safe to disagree with you.  
That is how you built trust.
Over the next several months, you need to engage with Fred and continue to prove that whenever you disagree with him, it is safe. That is trust. You did not tell him to trust you. You showed him.  
Then suppose that after five or six months of having these types of conversations, you then called Fred and said, “Hey, I need you to come to my office. I found some papers in here and we need to talk about a few things.”
Is Fred nervous now? No, of course not. Why?  Because you have proven that it is safe to speak up and disagree with you by using your EPR skills. That is trust building and it proves that it is “safe.”

Scott Warrick,  author of “Solve Employee Problems Before they Happen: Resolving Conflict in the Real World.” has been an employment and labor attorney, HR professional, and popular speaker for more than three decades. His clients range from small organizations to Fortune 500 companies to governmental institutions. He travels the country presenting seminars on such topics as Employment Law Resolving Conflict, Diversity, and General Differences. You can learn more about the book and Warrick by visiting www.scottwarrick.com.

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