“I just don’t trust her.”
“He has proven to me that he can’t be trusted. He’s gone behind my back to my boss.”
“Most of our meetings end up being cancelled. We don’t have much to say to each other.”
Sound familiar? When trust is broken, work stalls. Well-being suffers.
In my work as an executive coach, I have the privilege of being part of a large number of confidential conversations. I don’t have many talents, but I do have a super-power. People somehow feel safe to open up to me about their challenges and their colleagues. Many times there is a great overlap between the two. Invariably as I gather 360 degree feedback about leaders from their colleagues, I run into situations where trust is broken.
The fact is each of us can probably think of relationships where trust is broken. For most of us, we live with the uneasy status quo because it takes too much effort or courage to change it.
In my coaching, that’s part of the work: to examine and take responsibility for what’s not working.
Two questions always come up when I share the feedback with my coaching clients:
Whose job is it to restore trust when it’s broken?
How can trust be restored?
The simple but uncomfortable answer to the first question is “me (the leader).” Why? Because that’s what leaders do. We practice courage to see the truth of what’s not working. We engage in essential dialogues that bring energy and trust back into relationships that matter. We resolve conflicts in healthy ways. Here’s my course in how we do this. When we do this, people and workplaces thrive.
The answer to the second question is harder: How can trust be restored?
A great tool that I have personally used comes from a leadership classic book called The Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute. The tool offers a great approach to get to the heart of any conflict.
As the book explains, the root of any conflict is when our own “heart is at war.” Often our goal is to change the other person. We would have a better relationship with them if only they would behave or be different. At the bottom of any conflict is a judgment we have about the other person. We feel either superior or inferior. We feel we deserve better than we’re getting from the other person, or we feel we must be seen in a certain way by the other person.
The below is a chart referenced in the book that is worth examining when you’re in conflict to see which box you might find yourself in.
To restore trust in a relationship and resolve any conflict we have to look in the mirror to see how our own judgments are contributing to the broken trust. Our own (often unconscious) beliefs and stories drive our emotions and behavior and create resistance in the other person. Of course, being human, they also have their own beliefs, stories, and boxes they are in that constrain them.
As we examine the ways we are contributing to the broken trust, we now have access to a choice we didn’t have before. Do I stay in my box or make the courageous decision to step out of this “comfort zone.” As we make a decision to move ourselves out these boxes, we move from a “heart at war” (we are in a place of judgment of ourselves or others) to a “heart at peace” where we see our common humanity and engage with others from a place of curiosity and empathy.
This practice is not always easy as our beliefs, stories and emotions are often sticky. They have been with us for many years of repeated stories we have told ourselves. With awareness, every time we are in conflict, we can practice turning to this tool and see what box we are in. This tool and exercise is transformative in our own well-being, in improving our work relationships, and in creating cultures of collaboration, trust and high-performance. Importantly, this tool is transformative in our most important personal relationships and understanding the ways we sabotage ourselves through the beliefs that keep us stuck.
As I engage in this practice myself, and witness it in my clients, I feel grateful for the wisdom of The Anatomy of Peace to bring about transformation. To dig deeper into this topic, you can check out my LinkedIn Learning online course on “Managing Team Conflict“. As always I welcome your challenges, comments and stories.
This post first appeared in my Forbes.com blog.
Image Credit: Career Employer