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Enrique Sueiro, consultant of Internal Communications in organizations, PhD in Biomedical Communication

Communicating trust without bond

Mon, 13 Dec 2010 10:57:06 +0000 Posted in Executives (Madrid)

"I am trustworthy up to a million gold louis," said Talleyrand. For Lenin, trust was good, but control was even better. Machiavelli wondered whether to be loved or feared, and opted for the latter. Is your business trustworthy, your boss, your collaborators?

Communication and trust call for each other. The German philosopher Robert Spaemann explains that, in his language, to trust someone is a "wonderful periphrasis" of what it means to trust (sich auf jemanden verlassen = to abandon oneself to someone). He adds that somehow it is natural or innate to trust. To illustrate that distrust requires learning, he recalls the parent who asks his child to jump from a certain height. The child, frightened, resists. Don't you trust your father," he reproaches him. Finally he makes up his mind, jumps and gets hurt because his father steps aside. Now you know, she instructs him: you must not trust anyone, not even your own father.

As a hopeful counterpoint, the Full Professor of the University of Munich also relates an experience he witnessed when a young man who had forgotten his ID card demanded a student discount at a theater in Stuttgart. The owner agreed to the reduced price with the following remark: I don't know you, so I have no reason to distrust you.

A leader knows that his communication begins with listening (audio, ergo communico), that sharing information does not weaken him and that trusting makes him vulnerable only in appearance. Trust within an organization is inspired and earned, not imposed. Often, the need to make it explicit reveals shortcomings in its execution. The insistence on preaching what is not lived is a symptom of corporate schizophrenia.

From the perspective of Internal Communications, a priori the trust that employees express in their leader seems more credible than that pontificated by management. A boss who systematically insists to his people that his office doors are open betrays his own shortcomings. Either his team already knows it and, even so, does not go; or he ignores it and, therefore, it is not possible to demand from the present what should be expected from the future.

I suspect that the same thing happens to trust as to prestige: you either have it or you don't. If you don't, you don't get it because you don't have it. In the negative case, it is not achieved by saying so. Moreover, it is useless to repeat it because, if I am prestigious or inspire confidence, I do not need to proclaim it. All the more so if I lack these qualities.

It is advisable to moderate speech, especially on attitudes and principles that compromise one's own performance. Something must be said: little, well modulated and after listening. It is not the same to affirm that "we are" a united family, a business manager , etc., as "we aspire to be" or "we try to be". The consultations that receipt of managers confirm that internal problems in organizations are often caused - and are always aggravated - by responding with automatic institutional rhetoric to the sincere complaints of the people who make up the organization.

Trusting people and organizations

The German Full Professor underlines the importance of corporate decisions. Perceiving that what is supposed to benefit the institution harms people sets off alarms in sensitive managers. Communication, which listens and detects these pathologies, supports management, which rectifies and makes the right decisions. This is the moment core topic to apply the successful formula: communication + coherence = trust. So much so that empty rhetoric has consequences. Franz Kafka exposes one of the traces chiseled in his life by his own father: "You, who had such prodigious authority in my eyes, did not respect the orders that you yourself dictated".

For Spaemann, loyalty takes hold "only when we see that a business voluntarily makes itself position of the losses so that we do not suffer undue harm". Once destroyed, trust can be restored, but very slowly. Moreover, "unlike trust staff, which can be restored at any time through a change of attitude on the part of the other, such a reaction does not exist in the life of institutions".

Trust lost or never achieved has a surgical repairing solution whose side effects hardly cast a shadow over a bright future. Ask for forgiveness. If we are guilty, it is only fair. If we are always completely innocent... we have to take a look at ourselves.

Communication and trust cannot be improvised. As Talleyrand sentenced to purpose of the political action, "when it is urgent, it is already too late".