Trust is built over time through repeated interactions with each other . This is particularly true in the workplace. Work colleagues who often have nothing in common apart from working in the same organisation build trust in each other through the daily repeated interactions they have with each other. While gaining trust takes times, losing trust in our work colleagues often happens very quickly.
One of the subtle, though often unrecognised impacts of COVID where people are frequently working from home is the rapid disintegration of trust that can occur. This disintegration occurs because the repeated daily interactions that normally occur within the workplace are not occurring. Even with Zoom or Team meetings the sense of distrust can quickly escalate. Technology can alienate just as much as it can connect people. Part of the alienation with technology is that people miss the nuances of body language we rely on to determine if someone is being genuine, or if they are being sarcastic or trying to white ant us. When distrust is building in an employee who is working from home, then it is likely misunderstandings and misjudgements will occur in Zoom meetings which will escalate the distrust.
Our priorities, as leaders post lockdowns are taken up with trying to recoup business losses, re-establish profitability and ensure we can safeguard the business against the impact of future lockdowns should they occur.
These are essential priorities, however what we miss in the drive to ensure profitability and sustainability is the need to rebuild trust amongst our staff members. It is easy to think given the importance of economic sustainability, building trust is not a priority. We make assumptions the level of trust is the same as pre-COVID to justify our focus on economic priorities. A study of NCAA basketball players found the teams that had the highest trust in their coaches had the highest number of wins and the team that had the lowest trust had the lowest scores . In other words, trust is not a secondary priority to success or profitability. Trust in and by team members of their leadership and each other is essential to being profitable. Therefore, it is an essential priority to rebuild trust that may have been lost with people working from home.
Building trust, however, often requires thinking about leadership from a new perspective. The traditional leadership narrative is all about you as a leader, your vision and strategy; your ability to make the tough calls and rally the troops .
In building trust, we use our emotional intelligence to connect with and build social connections between staff members. What does this look like?
We take the time and the energy to notice and comment on people’s emotions in the workplace. This is important for two reasons. Firstly, commenting on how you are observing a person’s emotion in the workplace helps build greater connection. It validates your staff member as a person because our emotions are personal and lie at the core of our identities .
Secondly, acknowledging a person’s emotions builds more trust than acknowledging the situation. For example, it is more effective to say, “you seem upset” rather than saying “that meeting didn’t go well, did it.” Saying the meeting did not go well is the situation, saying “you seem upset” is acknowledging the person .
As leaders we often shy away from acknowledging the emotions of staff members, particularly negative emotions. Part of this, is we are afraid we will get it wrong. We will either name the emotion incorrectly, or the staff member will want to speak about what they are experiencing, and we do not know how to manage such conversations.
Using emotional intelligence to build trust and social connection amongst staff members is emotional labour . It is an emotional labour that is as intense, and sometimes more intensive than managing budgets and balancing profit and loss. It is a labour we can shy away from, yet it is a labour that is necessary to rebuild trust and social connections amongst teams and staff members as we move into a post COVID working environment.
It is not just our business acumen that will ensure profitability; it is how we use our emotional intelligence to build trusting, cohesive teams that will provide the stability for economic profitability.
 McKinsey & Company Author Talks: Sandra J. Sucher on the power of trust. June 2021