by Justin Standfield
“How the hell am I meant to work with these people when I don’t like them, but most importantly, I don’t trust them as far as I can throw them?”.
That was a tough question posed to me this week by one of my coaching clients. He’s in a very senior position in a company that, like many others, is going through a huge transformational change project and a restructure. He doesn’t know if he will even have a job in the next few months and, if he does, whether it’s one that he’ll want to do. He’s also caught up in the sticky business politics of his colleagues who are “stabbing each other in the back” in order to curry favour with the CEO in an attempt to preserve their own roles and stay in the gang. Sound familiar?
It’s tough because although this guy’s circumstances are individual, the theme is sadly all too common across a lot of companies trying to get leaner and in good shape before Brexit brings greater financial pressure. Over the last six months, I’ve noticed that these issues are being faced by more of my clients than ever before. I want to help them come up with some options about how to live with the stress of this sort of situation and many of them are seeking logical steps based on reasoning, rather than emotion.
In his book ‘The Trusted Advisor’, Charles H Green shares what he calls the Trust Equation; it aims to show the elements that need to be in place for us to trust others. My summary of the equation is as follows:
Credibility – does the person have the skills, knowledge and/or experience to know what they are doing or talking about, or are they blagging it and everyone else is falling for it?
Reliability – does the person consistently deliver on promises made, or are they a bit flaky?
Intimacy – do you believe they can be trusted to keep things confidential, or are they unable to keep a secret?
All of these things add together to provide a trust ‘score’ that’s then divided by the bottom element:
Self-orientation – whose best interests do they have at heart? Theirs? Yours? A mixture of both but really just their own if push comes to shove?
When we say that we don’t trust someone as far as we can throw them, it tends to be because the bottom part of the equation – self orientation – outweighs any positive score they may have accrued in the three elements above. When we suspect that someone would sell their granny if it saved themselves, how can we possibly trust them?
The simple answer is, we don’t.
What are your options in a scenario like that? First of all, you can learn tactics on how to work with them. You might also decide to play the game on an equal footing with them, but only if you have the stomach for it. You might even end up looking for a job somewhere less toxic that doesn’t support this approach and behaviour. Do you trust them, though – really trust them? Probably never.
We can only work with and respond to the situation in which we find ourselves by choosing the most resourceful course of action available and within our power. My client can’t get rid of the people he’s working with because they’re his peers and he still strongly believes that he can’t trust them. My role as a coach is to be a safe, confidential sounding-board, as well as working with him to design some pro-active strategies. So, we started working through how he could best manage his responses with his colleagues to ensure he was being professional, calm and remaining on an equal (if not elevated) level. Working through the known patterns of behaviour, you can plan for the worst case scenario and come up with a planned response and practice it over and over until it feels doable. Then, if the worst case scenario happens, you have some muscle memory around your response. If it doesn’t come to fruition, you already have your tactics laid out and you feel prepared and in more control than if you don’t have a plan at all. Working with a qualified and accredited coach is a great way of getting a plan together for this sort of challenge.
He also decided that he wanted to ensure that he kept his sanity (his words), as he felt he was starting to lose the ability to be objective and neutral, and was building up stress levels that were affecting his family life, his sleep and his self-confidence. He opted to pursue mindfulness as a grounding technique and he is practising some of these approaches now, and he’s already told me that after four days he’s experiencing clear benefits.
What else can you do if you don’t trust someone as far as you can throw them? There are as many opinions out there as there are possible solutions; some say get it out in the open so we can fix it, some say just get out of there. The niggling issue I have with getting things out in the open so that they can be fixed is that it simplistically assumes that everybody involved wants to fix things – this is rarely the case. People have all sorts of hidden agendas and unless you are really sure you have a good grip on what they are, getting things out in the open might just give them more ammunition for their cause. If you’re sure that getting things out in the open is the right approach – fantastic. Please just consider using an independent facilitator or mediator to run things, as there’s a risk that things could actually escalate instead of becoming resolved.
If you are a ‘get out of there’ advocate – and I concur that this is sometimes the healthiest action to take – it can feel like defeat and the disappointment can damage friendships and even careers. If you are going to leave, make sure you do it on good terms with your head held high, so that you leave a door open for returning if you want to. Consider getting some help from a coach to help you with your CV, your interview skills, your body language and presentation technique, especially if it’s been a while since you interviewed or changed companies. Times change quickly, so what worked for you three or four years ago will be out of fashion and getting help from a coach can help you be at the top of your game in an interview.
If you have work-related trust issues that are affecting you or your team, get in touch with me and we can discuss what options are available to help you move things forward.