Mark Craemer No Comments

The other day our 10-year-old daughter was caught in a lie of omission. The actual subject of the lie was of little significance, but the slight erosion of trust provided my wife and me with concern because the behavior was so atypical for this girl.

Where previously there had never been a question with regard to her word, doubt had now entered our thought processes. Certainly this is an excellent learning opportunity for all three of us.

Regardless of whether it is in our families or with our co-workers, the level of open communication and trustworthy behavior can often be the difference between success and failure in all relationships.

None of my recent posts resulted in more reader comments than When Employees Don’t Trust the Boss. Perhaps this is because we are all greatly impacted by trust and take it very personally. Trust takes a long time to earn and only a second to lose. When a high level of trust is found in the workplace, costs go down and productivity goes up. Without trust, there can be no sustained progress.

I remember a time in my previous career when I was given feedback that I was “not afraid to give executives bad news” with regard to an upcoming product schedule. The comment was made as if withholding information was acceptable, as if it was the rule and I was providing an exception. But how could I expect executives to effectively manage our company if I withheld important information from them?

If information is indeed power and people withhold information in order to maintain power, this should also be considered a lie of omission. In my experience, many companies seem to condone this type of behavior and actually believe that internal competition for information will somehow lead to greater products and services. In fact, this can only lead to increasing costs, and slowing down innovation and productivity.

It is all too easy for companies to simply state their commitment in mission statements and pepper corporate value statements with words such as “integrity, honesty, openness, and mutual respect.” Actually walking this talk takes vigilance and needs to be modeled by upper management before these powerful words can be truly embraced internally.

When upper management looks the other way as directors and managers compete with each other for projects and resources by withholding information from each other, this sends a signal that values such as integrity, openness and mutual respect are important only from a public relations perspective and not a human resources perspective.

Trust comes about not from selective sharing, but through full disclosure. When leaders model this selective sharing, those who report to them are far more likely to follow suit. In the same way children model what parents do no matter how often we say something counter to it, employees follow the behavior of their supervisors.

As human beings we are well trained to recognize the incongruence between what is stated versus what is done. Given an opportunity, we typically follow the behavior and not the words. Behavior simply trumps whatever comes out of our mouths.

Trust also directly impacts our communication with each other. When we trust someone, whether this is in a personal or professional relationship, we are more likely to believe what they say and they believe what we say. If trust has eroded, then every time something is communicated it is treated suspiciously and not immediately believed.

In personal relationships, this keeps us from increasing intimacy and strengthening bonds. In business relationships, it prevents us from moving quickly and effectively to accomplish our mutual goals.

Navigating the teenage years with all three of our children may be challenging, but I believe if my wife and I can keep the lines of communication open and maintain a solid foundation of trust with our own consistent behavior, we stand a chance of doing okay. Similarly, in the workplace, executives who model trustworthy behavior and maintain open lines of communication stand a better chance of employees following along.

Mark Craemer   

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