A sense of trust — trusting others and being trusted ourselves — is something most of us value. At work, distrust has direct economic consequences, but we rarely pause to think about its costs. Here's Part II of a little catalog of ways we cope with distrust, and the costs that result. See "The High Cost of Low Trust: I," Point Lookout for April 19, 2006, for more.
- Some people feel that they might be blamed or held responsible for failures or mishaps. They either conceal the failure, or conceal their roles in it, sometimes even concealing themselves. Concealment can include lies of commission or omission.
- Concealment makes replicating failures more likely, and replicating successes less likely. It tends to complicate recovery from or learning from failures, because it makes them and their causes less visible. And in the same way, it can complicate any learning from successes.
- At work, distrust has
direct economic consequences,
but we rarely pause
to think about its costs
- If the level of distrust in the environment becomes unbearable, we sometimes escape to whatever degree we can. Early forms of escapism include missing meetings and elevated absenteeism. Unaddressed, escapism can become voluntary transfer or termination.
- Escapism mimics other forms of substandard performance. Because we tend to see escapist behavior as a problem of the individual, rather than a symptom of organizational distrust, we have difficulty detecting it or resolving it. Escapism deprives the organization of the contributions of the escapee, which can be costly when the escapee plays a critical role.
- When we distrust someone, we sometimes limit contact by avoiding that person, to relieve ourselves of worry about attacks. But this tactic further limits our knowledge of the activities and intentions of those we distrust, which can increase our sense of distrust. Moreover, the insulation also deprives those we distrust of information about us, which can cause distrust on their part, too.
- Avoidance tends to deepen distrust on both sides, which increases the prevalence and cost of other distrust coping patterns. And avoidance can complicate team efforts if the avoider and the person avoided have to work together.
- In problem solving, we sometimes prefer solutions with hedges, so that even if they fail, we still get some of what we want. But hedges can make the solution unpalatable to our negotiation partners, because they might not know our real motivations, and then they imagine something truly horrible.
- If our partners sense what we're doing, hedging can further lower the overall level of trust. It increases the cost and complexity of internal negotiations, and lengthens them, too. Many so-called "control procedures" are actually hedges against feared outcomes whose organizational costs are often less than the cost of the control procedures.
One tactic we sometimes use in low-trust relationships is indirectness. We say what we think, but in such an obtuse manner that it can be interpreted in a variety of ways. See "The True Costs of Indirectness," Point Lookout for November 29, 2006, for more.
For more about Trust, see "Creating Trust," Point Lookout for January 21, 2009, "TINOs: Teams in Name Only," Point Lookout for March 19, 2008, and "Express Your Appreciation and Trust," Point Lookout for January 16, 2002.
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming November 22: Motivation and the Reification Error
- We commit the reification error when we assume, incorrectly, that we can treat abstract constructs as if they were real objects. It's a common error when we try to motivate people. Available here and by RSS on November 22.
- And on November 29: Manipulators Beware
- When manipulators try to manipulate others, they're attempting to unscrupulously influence their targets to decide or act in some way the manipulators prefer. But some targets manage to outwit their manipulators. Available here and by RSS on November 29.
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Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.