Communication and trust are essential elements of teamwork. When communication breaks down, collaboration is all but impossible. Trust is even more important to help teams overcome challenges. If team members don’t trust one another, they can look to protect their own interests rather than working for the benefit of the team as a whole.
Fortunately, there are a number of strategies leaders can use to improve communication and build trust in the workplace. When communication and trust are strong, teams demonstrate much higher levels of flexibility and resilience in the face of adversity.
How to Improve Communication and Trust in the Workplace
Remember to Listen
Leadership is much more than simply telling people what needs to be done. Successful leaders know how to gather feedback from team members and take their concerns seriously. By using active listening skills, leaders can better understand the issues their teams are facing and implement solutions that address them specifically. Listening is a fundamental aspect of the two-way communication that is so vital to effective collaboration.
When leaders forget to listen to their teams, they’re unable to gather the information they need to make good decisions. They may also struggle to promote accountability because they’re unable to identify the impediments that are undermining team performance. Listening sometimes requires a certain degree of humility, which is also helpful when it comes to building trust in the workplace.
Model Ideal Behavior
In order to establish trust, leaders must first demonstrate their credibility. This not only comes from having a track record of success that validates their expertise, but also from a willingness to follow through on their commitments. If a leader expects team members to hold themselves accountable for their actions, they need to go out of their way to model what that should look like in practice.
By setting an example for their teams, leaders can back up their words with actions, which always speak louder than anything they say. Whether they like it or not, leaders are always being watched and scrutinized by the people around them. If they behave as if the rules don’t apply to them, employees will quickly take note and conclude that they’re out for themselves rather than being committed to team success.
Employees want to know what they can expect from their leaders. Ideally, there should be a great deal of consistency in the way leaders manage information, delegate tasks, and assess performance. If they treat one team member differently from the others, this can quickly erode trust and stability. When someone is not meeting expectations, for instance, the behavior needs to be addressed. Otherwise, team members will (correctly) assume that the leader is not fully committed to promoting accountability.
The same principle applies to communication. If leaders alternate between withholding information and sharing it too freely, it can create confusion and uncertainty. When people don’t know what to expect from someone, it can be a barrier to building trust. By establishing a consistent framework for communicating, leaders foster a sense of stability within a team that allows team members to focus on critical tasks rather than questioning whether they have all the information they need.
While leaders can often become fixated upon getting results and promoting accountability, it’s important for them to remember that they’re managing human beings with complex emotions and diverse motivations. Treating people fairly is important, but may not have the intended results if that means treating everyone like an unfeeling machine. Empathy is an important element of good communication, and leaders must work to understand what motivates and inspires their team members in order to build a trusting relationship with them.
When leaders have a better sense of who their team members are as individuals, they will find it easier to keep them engaged and involved. They can also anticipate their reactions more effectively and contextualize their behavior more accurately. This allows leaders to manage workloads more effectively and provide the support team members need to overcome obstacles.
One of the biggest mistakes many first-time (and even experienced) leaders make is avoiding conflict. There is a tendency to view conflict as something negative and harmful, but conflict itself is inherently value-neutral. It simply represents a disagreement. The outcomes of a conflict, however, can be positive or negative depending upon the way that disagreement is managed and resolved. By avoiding conflict and putting off difficult conversations, leaders run the risk of the disagreement becoming toxic and unproductive.
When conflicts arise, leaders should embrace the opportunity to work out disagreements and bring about a solution that gives everyone a chance to have their position heard. Working through conflict productively forces people to consider opposing views and understand the source of disagreements. Even if the process ends with one side not achieving the outcome they’d hoped for, they will be more willing to accept a resolution if they feel like they had a fair hearing and were treated with respect. In this sense, conflict can help to improve communication and build trust in the workplace even when team members hold very different views.
By taking deliberate steps to improve communication and trust within their teams, leaders can create a much more effective and productive workplace. Teams that are able to collaborate successfully are better able to leverage the diverse skills of their members to overcome obstacles and bounce back from adversity. Given the difference that good communication and genuine trust can make in a team, leaders should always be working to promote both in everything they do.