Is Distrust And Fear Rampant in Corporate America?

by Judith E. Glaser

Daily we see headlines that suggest we are becoming mired in distrust, at high cost to our organizations. As our trust bank accounts are depleted, we run out of currency to invest in the future. And trust is not a currency we can easily print to offset the deficit.Difficult conversations

Sadly, it seems that smog of distrust is settling over our cities. Bill O’Reilly opines: “There has been a drastic climate change in America, but it has nothing to do with the temperature.  There is a climate of distrust in our leaders.”

Last year’s headlines were filled with tales of dysfunction, discord and distrust, providing multiple confirmations that our organizations aren’t working well, notes Adam Geller, a New York-based national writer. One Gallup poll found public confidence in Congress at the lowest level for any institution on record! More than 85 percent of Americans surveyed by the Harris Poll said the people running the country don’t care what happens to them, up from 50 percent in 2010. And an AP-GfK Poll found two-thirds of Americans expressed mistrust of one another, continuing a four-decade slide.

The information society buffets us with examples of institutional dysfunction, making misgivings self-confirming, said Sheila Suess Kennedy, author of Distrust, American Style. The news last year fed distrust unimaginable just a few generations ago, when people were less aware of institutional misconduct. Pope Francis acknowledged misdeeds in the Catholic Church and named panels to help reform the scandalized Vatican bank and overhaul the church’s tangled bureaucracy. Capitalism, itself, is broken, he said, warning against a culture that fosters ” the globalization of indifference.”

Sadly, many individuals, teams, and organizations operate in a perpetual state of distrust and fear. Consider this simple analogy: a door guards the entrance to our inner self. When we feel trust, we readily open that door, leading to an exchange of thoughts, feelings and dreams with someone else. When we distrust someone, thinking that he or she is somehow a threat, we slam our door quickly and begin to defend ourselves.

Unfortunately, our brains don’t always make the best judgments relative to our long-term interests when it comes to deciding what to do with that door: our neural programming is designed to make split-second decisions right now, not consider the consequences down the road. That’s why, especially in times of stress, we can find doors slamming left and right.

The downside of making snap decisions is that we might be misinterpreting the signals we receive from our bosses and co-workers, leading us to mislabel friends as foes. Or, perhaps we have trusted someone in the past, only to have that person stab us in the back (ask any of Bernard Madoff’s investors about that dilemma). We might even be unknowingly sending out signals of our own, causing others to distrust us even when we think we have that other person’s best interests at heart.

Take Five Steps to Build Trust

Conversational Intelligence is our hardwired ability for understanding how to create cultures of trust. While it may take many steps over several months to restore lost trust, we can start now by taking the five steps outlined in my TRUST Model .

Judith E. GlaserJudith E. Glaser is the CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc. and the Chairman of The Creating WE Institute. She is an Organizational Anthropologist and the author of the best selling book Conversational Intelligence (Bibliomotion, 2013), as well as a consultant to Fortune 500 companies.

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