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Trust And Betrayal

As a leader in the New Economy, you surely recognize the imperative of faster, smarter and newer. The entire business agenda, including the quality of our decisions and relationships, is increasingly defined by how fast we act. It is widely accepted as true that to survive in a market demanding increased speed, quality and lower costs to compete, business leaders must be able to make and effectively implement fast and accurate decisions that are in the best interests of their customers, stakeholders and shareholders. Especially in virtual business relationships these decisions are increasingly being made across huge geographic distances. They directly and indirectly impact the lives of ever increasing numbers of people. In our business culture we are experiencing extraordinary rates of innovation, growth and change-especially from a technological perspective-which place extraordinary demands on people in their efforts to work together towards a common purpose to achieve superior performance and a sustainable competitive advantage. People are pushing themselves and each other ever harder to be and do faster, smarter and newer.

But what about the fourth item: “more trustworthy”? Where does trust fit in your vision, conversations, and practices for effective leadership, collaboration and business success?

Is your answer something like this?… Trust is an interesting topic and it would be great to have the luxury of time and bandwidth to cultivate it in our organization’s business practices, but there are more pressing and critical issues which I/we need to address instead. If that sounds like you or someone you know, then my questions are: What issues take priority over trust? Why? What is it costing you?

Is your answer something like this?… The leadership in our organization knows the value of trust in all our business relationships; they have made a real commitment to generate and sustain high-performance, creative collaboration and to cultivate a workplace environment that attracts and retains the best talent, but our efforts at identifying and shifting trust dynamics have been less than fully successful. If that sounds like you or someone you know, then take heart: help has arrived!

Although trust-and an absence of betrayal-can be critical to the accomplishment of strategic goals, today’s business leaders are often faced with the task of (re)building trust in organizations without the support, tools or understanding necessary to work with the consequences of betrayal and complex dynamics of trust. Saying “we have got to build trust here” in a business context more often than not gets about the same response as saying “all we need is love.” Get real. It may well be true, but how do we do it? And how do we do it within the boundaries of our business mandate and available resources? Trust is an emotionally loaded and highly subjective concept. Very rarely do people in business know specifically what behaviors build the capacity for and perception of trust. The challenge is to translate ideas about trust into effective and meaningful action-give it a pull-down menu, so to speak.

There is a new model to help business leaders build inter-relational trust in a highly pragmatic, effective and potentially fun way. This model meets businesspeople where they are, helps them shift their awareness about what is possible, and enables them to do it in such a way that is accessible even to those who otherwise “won’t go there.” The model, based on ten years of research in over 65 organizations, differentiates between types of trust and identifies behaviors that develop trust-or may result in betrayal-in the workplace. The model is published in the book Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace: Building Effective Relationships in Your Organization by Dennis S. Reina and Michelle L. Reina. It is the only such model that also offers corresponding research-based and statistically valid measurement instruments that can be used within an organization to give people an opportunity to generate quantitative as well as qualitative data about trust dynamics they observe and experience within the collective.

Using the model within organizations, people learn a common, objective language for talking about trust dynamics. Using the corresponding instruments they can identify areas of strength and opportunity for improvement as a collective problem to be solved. With a framework for inquiry and understanding and accessible data, people are better equipped to make informed choices and targeted decisions for action. The model and instruments invite a process of discovery about one’s own capacity for trust and learning what to ask and look for so trust-based relationships and leadership characterize a group’s collaborative experience.

From a behavioral perspective, the Reina Trust and Betrayal Model™ identifies two main types of trust: transactional and transformative. Since people in most business environments are struggling with transactional trust, that is the most extensively developed area of the model. By their definition, transactional trust is reciprocal in nature; namely, you have to give it to get it. Note that this is different from “you have to get it to give it.” It is also build incrementally.

The Reinas have identified three types of transactional trust: competence trust, contractual trust, and communication trust. The behaviors associated with these three types of trust are also those tracked in the survey instruments. A behavior that tends to build competence trust is, for example, involving others and seeking their input for decisions that affect their work and lives. Examples of behavior that builds contractual trust are managing expectations and delegating appropriately (with the necessary resources and authority, etc.). Examples of behavior that build communication trust include telling the truth, sharing information, and speaking with good purpose.

Can you imagine the value of experiencing more of these behaviors in your business relationships?

If the intention is to build trust, then why open the proverbial Pandora’s box of betrayal? The Reina’s research showed that the cumulative impact of what they classify “unintentional minor betrayals” cause the most damage in organizations. Examples of such betrayal can be gossiping, backbiting, and delegating inappropriately. Indeed, research and experience independent of this model indicate that people in American workplaces increasingly suffer profound, chronic and systemic instances of betrayal and have come to expect situations and relationships characterized more by betrayal than trust in the workplace. Finally, reconciliation requires acknowledgement of perceived betrayal; otherwise there is no trust for reconciliation.

The Reina model is the first to offer a framework for differentiating between types and degrees of betrayal. And, perhaps most importantly, it outlines steps necessary for individual and collective healing from betrayal. The first step in that healing process is to observe and acknowledge what has happened. The last step is to let go and move on. The intervening steps are to allow feelings to surface, get support, reframe the experience for the learning, take responsibility for one’s own role in what happened, forgive oneself and others. To go directly from the first to the last step and skip the intervening steps-a practice commonly experienced in fast-paced business environments-consistently results in the perception of yet another betrayal.

In an environment where people are more likely to trust and be trusted they are creative, dynamic, think critically and have a greater collaborative capacity. Betrayal makes for very unhappy, uncooperative, guarded people who give their leaders and peers only limited access to their knowledge, initiative and commitment. By contrast, relationships characterized by trust allow people to breathe freely again, collaborate and explore possibilities with a sparkle of life. Making trust a priority means making success a priority because trust is vital to individual, team and overall organizational performance. A growing number of experts assert that the only viable way to achieve superior performance and a sustainable competitive advantage is by cultivating trust- and relationship-based leadership and management practices and organizational systems. If that is a high priority for you and your organization, then here, finally, is a roadmap for leaders and organizations to embark on a journey of evolving from the inside out to thrive at the speed of change.

Let your work be a joyful expression of who you are.


Beata Lewis

Beata Lewis, principal of Bridging Lives, provides consulting and coaching services to business clients effecting creative and profitable collaboration in the context of organizational change. Working with groups and individuals, she guides highly successful collaborative approaches to conflict resolution, negotiation, consensus building, decision making and leadership. Her multi-disciplinary, cross-cultural perspectives… MORE >

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