Trust Breaks Are an Opportunity to Strengthen Business Relationships

In my recent blog post — Leadership Skills: Your Trust Reflects Your Responsibility — I pointed out that whether we trust others has less to do with what others do and more with our own ability to respond.

And in another post — Leadership Tools: Clear Your Judgement to Move On Effectively — I encouraged you to trust a little too much in order to trust just right.

So what do you do on those (rare) occasions when others let you down, i.e., leave you holding the bag?

Well, I see the first order of business as a careful assessment of the relationship’s value to you. Is it worth changing its future course (for whatever reason)? Your other choices include living with it in a damaged state or removing yourself from the situation.

If the relationship is important to you, then you must engage the other(s) in a conversation about the broken agreement.

The way I see it, such a conversation needs to cover 7 steps — one in preparation and then 6 action steps.

Prep Step: Acknowledge your own feelings about calling someone on a broken promise. Doing so is confronting — and confrontation is only successful when done “cleanly,” i.e., without judgement about the other person.

If you’re anything like me, feelings at such times include fear, doubt, commitment, and courage.

Step 1: Be invited. Conventional wisdom tells us we can’t tell anybody anything they’re not yet ready to hear. So, it’s your responsibility to prepare others to receive your feedback. Start with something like, “Friend, I want to talk with you about how we’re working together. Is this a good time?”

Step 2: Be explicit. Describe the other(s) actions that have caused you concern. Be specific in your description of behaviors and deliverables. Tell them you thought you had an agreement with them for a specific action to take place by a certain time and that it appears they didn’t follow through.

Step 3: Use cause-and-effect language. Report the consequences to you (and your team) of the failed promise. “When you didn’t deliver on your promise, I was unable to complete my task, and the entire team’s deliverable fell behind schedule.”

Step 4: Tell how this failure affected you personally. If you’ve made judgements about the person — and you probably have — then this is the place to voice them, not before. Start with words like, “I assumed…” or “I interpreted….” The point is to take responsibility for your judgement and your feelings. “So, I decided that your promise is not as important to you as it is to me.” “I felt betrayed.”

Step 5: Stop talking and listen. If your words have been compassionate, factual, accurate and nonjudgmental, you’re likely to have tapped into the other person’s integrity and they’ll be prepared to make amends. If, instead, they lay blame or justify, simply continue to invite them “above the line,” i.e., to own their behavior. To see an actual exchange like that, take a look at his blog post: How to Call a Co-Worker to Account And Gain Wins for Both of You.

Step 6: Make a new agreement. Only when you reach this last step is it a good idea to tell the other(s) what you want them to do differently in the future. It’s here that you ask for what you want. For example, “So, in the future, if you discover you can’t keep a promise made to me, I want you to call me the minute you discover it yourself so we can figure out what to do.”

For my team leadership workshop graduates, these steps should look familiar: they’re a specific application of the model for Giving Feedback Responsibly. They work for me. Let me hear how they work for you.

5-Minute Practice Tip to Improve Work Relationships by Giving Responsible Feedback:

Sometimes it’s easier to practice feedback skills giving good news instead of bad. So identify someone who has recently kept his/her agreements with you.

Schedule and execute a feedback conversation for which you do the prep step and take the 6 action steps while giving positive/reinforcing feedback.

Then try the process in a relationship that could be improved by paying attention to and working through a broken agreement.

Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide. Build a responsible team (or family) and master your leadership skills with The Leadership Gift Program for Leaders.

Posted in Leadership, Responsibility on 11/07/2011 01:25 am
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