Treating others with respect and compassion helps leaders build trust. Respect is a public aspect of building trust, it is something everyone sees. Treating others respectfully builds trust and powers your ability to influence people positively. When you behave consistently, demonstrate courtesy, and are candidly compassionate, others perceive you as a caring leader that values relationships and results through respect.
Consistent behavior means respectfully consistent. Blowing up every time you receive bad news is consistent, but it fails to treat the messenger respectfully. When you consistently blow up, people stop telling you bad news. The news does not change. Delays reduce your ability to influence a positive outcome. You lack important information necessary to make good decisions. While consistency is important, so is courtesy.
Courtesy is simply using good manners. Say please and thank you. Show genuine gratitude when people do nice things for you. Open doors, stand when someone enters your office, put a smile on your face. Being grumpy does not improve situations; grumpiness aggravates situations. One expert leader greets bad news with one simple four-letter word, GOOD. He accepts bad news as good news because there is some positive aspect in every situation.
Imagine how your follower would respond if your consistent response to bad news is simply, “Good”. Your positive response to bad news has positive consequences. Your people are more comfortable knowing you will not destroy them, reducing their anxiety. You are in a better place, which enables you to see more positive responses to select. The positive view creates a better outcome.
Candor is often portrayed as a bad thing. Leaders are leery of telling others about their weaknesses because they become defensive. Followers take pride in their candor by bragging about how they, “Speak truth to power.” Many leaders lack the skills required to confront inappropriate behavior and performance. Instead, they avoid it, or they blow up on the person. These responses are inappropriate, show lack of trust in the other to receive bad news, and are down right disrespectful. If these conversations were easy, everyone would do it. What sets a leader apart is their ability to have tough conversations with people about hard topics in a way that builds trust rather than tearing down the person. These conversations include talking to leaders, peers, and followers. The best way to approach these conversations is to keep two goals in mind, building up the person and achieving the best positive result.
In order to have trusting conversations about difficult topics, leaders need to consider the issues before the conversation. That means you need to set aside time to evaluate the behavior against established standards. Focus on the behavior, not the person. Remember, most people come to work or volunteer for an organization because they want to do well.
Likewise, when I sit down with a follower to discuss performance that fails to meet expectations, I have a plan to help them map a route to be successful. I sit with employees to discuss why they failed to receive a promotion, and even job applicants about why they did not receive a job. I coach them to prepare better for future opportunities. Taking this time shows you respect them as a person, even though their efforts fell short of the desired outcome. These hard conversations, executed skillfully, create trust because they hear the truth, at least from my point of view.
Leaders build trust by treating everyone with dignity and respect. A measure of a person’s genuine respect is the old waiter rule. The rule is, a person who treats a waiter like a respected member of the party s/he is dining with, likely treats all others with respect. People distrust others who only demonstrate respect when that person can do something for them. Genuine respect is shown even to those who can do little or nothing for you.
An often overlooked way to show respect is to be loyal to those who are not present. Keep their confidences. When others start to belittle and degrade others who are not there; you know, talking behind their back; do not engage. You have three choices that will build, or at least not decrease, trust. The first is to not participate in the denigrating discussion. The second is to stand up for the person in some way. If your first two actions do not discourage the conversation, leave.
These things are not easy. I learned the hard way why they are important. Eventually, word of this type of talk always finds its way to the subject of the gossip. I found even when not participating and just trying to be a good listener to someone venting ends up being portrayed as siding with the speaker. If someone genuinely needs to vent, and you need to be the person who listens, find a private place and keep it between you and the other person. Part by encouraging the person to find a way to forgive the other and find a positive way to engage the other in a conversation about the affront.
A final way to show respect is to keep confidences. In the communication post, I discussed having open, honest communication with people. I stand by that important value. There are times when information is not yours to share. Know when to keep your mouth shut. Someone should not have to tell you not to tell others what they are about to share. If you are trustworthy, you are a good judge about what to share and what to hold close. Close hold conversations include those venting sessions others have with you in private. When you rush back to tell the person discussed how the other feels, both know you cannot keep a confidence. You demonstrated you do not respect their privacy.
A compassionate, respectful leader knows sometimes people have to express their feelings. Mature individuals understand there are times, their feelings are without merit. Feelings are funny things, they happen outside our conscious thought process. People who recognize their feelings are unjust still have those feelings. They also know that talking with a trusted confidant can help them make better sense of those feelings. When you violate that confidence, you hurt both people in addition to violating their trust.
You build trust when you treat others with respect and compassion. Your respectful behaviors are a public expression of the example you set and how you value others. Respectful behaviors provide increased influence because it builds trust with people. Consistent, predictable behavior that demonstrates compassion and respect shows you are a caring leader that values relationships and results. Work on improving your predictability and respectful actions, and you will build trust and influence.
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- Covey, S. & Merrill, R (2008). The speed of trust. Free Press. New York, NY
- Duhigg, C. (2016). What Google learned from its quest to build the perfect team. New York Times Magazine (on-line version). Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/magazine/what-google-learned-from-its-quest-to-build-the-perfect-team.html on 4/26/22
- Feltman, C. (2008). The thin book of trust. Thin Book Publishing. Bend OR
- Re:Work (ND). How to foster psychological safety on your teams. Re:Work withgoogle.com. PDF
- Willink, J. (2016). Good. The Jocko Podcast YouTube Channel. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdTMDpizis8 on 15 Jun 2022
(c) 2022 Christopher St. Cyr