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When my boss upset me I felt ‘mildly disenfranchised’….what?

By Pete Jensen

A group were asked to describe how they felt when they experienced a serious upset at work and this participant’s reply became folklore amongst the facilitation team I was working with at the time. When he was probed a little deeper about how he really felt, a somewhat different and colourful answer emerged. 

How have we managed to arrive at a place where people don’t feel brave enough to speak their truth, where political correctness reigns supreme, and people go about their daily work in a state of superficial congeniality?

What is the impact on business performance, interpersonal relationships and personal psychological wellbeing?

I can’t recall the number of times that I have worked with senior leaders or team members where comments come up in the discussion such as:

-        If only they really knew me….

-        I wish I could say what I was really thinking…..

-        Everyone smiles and nods but there’s no real trust or support around here…..

Brave Truth

Corporate change expert and valued colleague Geraldine Coy first coined the phrase Brave Truth in her book by the same title, and is now delivering the Brave Truth experience as a cultural antidote to the conditions described above.

A team, leadership and cross cultural initiative, Brave Truth had its roots in the need to engage diverse groups in discussion and dialogue in both pre and post-apartheid South Africa.

Why is having the ability to speak your ‘Brave Truth” important?

It has to do with unleashing the power of trust and vulnerability in team performance.

I believe one of the fatal flaws in teams and organisations is the assumption that people truly understand trust. Trust has be experienced, and not just talked about, or requested.

In his book ‘The five dysfunctions of a team’ author and expert Patrick Lencioni identifies 5 levels of dysfunction that cause organizational politics and team failure, as evidenced by a fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results. And it all begins with a fear of being vulnerable and the absence of trust.

 Deliberately Developmental Organizations, (DDO’s) is a term referred to in the Harvard Business Review for organizations who have turned trust and vulnerability into their competitive advantage. Their leaders successfully recognize the need for vulnerability, accountability and trust in sustaining high individual and team performance.

Safety Culture expert Patrick Hudson identifies trust as one of the drivers to move to cultural maturity, which aligns strongly with Harvard’s Shawn Achor’s notion of “switching team members on to the benefits they receive in providing social support to their peers.”

So how do you build trust?

Here’s the challenge, everybody seems to want trust but nobody wants to go first.

Some key elements in the process of building trust are:

  • Make it safe
  • Find mutuality
  • Cultivate self-awareness
  • Surface unconscious bias
  • Create a trust contract
  • Building trust starts with an authentic commitment to a process, and providing a clear context of what the benefits are for everyone involved.

Given personal sensitivities and the need for psychological safety, my recommendation is that this is a facilitated process which takes place in a safe, non-judgmental environment.

Equally important is the understanding that participants are invited to manage their own level of comfort, and are free decide how deep they want to dip their toes in the water. It’s in this environment that the magic happens, and the group creates the safety for going deeper.

I have found an experiential process, the Brave Truth board game, which creates a safe environment for sharing personal information and receiving feedback, to be highly effective.

As the game progresses, relationships of trust are cemented through a growth in understanding of similarities as opposed to a focus on differences. This is called ‘finding mutuality’.

Through a process of increasing self-awareness, participants become aware of the potential detriment of their own projection and unconscious bias, with observation and feedback coming from the group.

The process grows a confidence in being vulnerable and the result is that the players find it increasingly easier to reciprocate with the sharing of personal information at an equal level of depth.

 In every session that I have delivered, the group creates either a silent or overtly contracted agreement of trust, which becomes the mechanism for transferring a similar contract back to the workplace, and operating at a level of higher disclosure, vulnerability and performance.

Why bother with trust?

Our workplaces are becoming increasingly hostile, as mental stress, competition, and the pressures of life drive self-focussed and self-serving behaviours, often in an inauthentic environment of superficial congeniality, eventually compromising overall results.

Add to this a growing trend of ostracism at work highlighted in a recent Organisation Sciences article which found that being ignored at work is worse for physical and mental well-being than overt harassment or bullying.Employees who claimed to have experienced ostracism are more likely to report a degraded sense of workplace belonging and commitment.

Not only will it serve leaders well, but also teams and individuals, to invest some time in a well-constructed process of building trust, thereby transforming their organisations from a culture of being ‘mildly disenfranchised ‘ to workplaces where people are willing to be vulnerable and brave, speak their truth and see performance soar.

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Pete Jensen is a recognised consultant in the fields of Culture Transformation, Leadership, Team Effectiveness and Behavioural Based Safety Leadership. The combination of these disciplines qualifies Pete ideally for organisations that are seeking create or improve their culture when it comes to ensuring that the essential foundations are in place to improve workplace engagement, resilience, stress management and productivity.

Pete's vision is to help leaders and team members create workplaces that are great to work in, ensure legal Psychological Safety compliance and minimise risk and stress claims, and where employees feel psychologically safe and productive.

After 15 years building a successful track record delivering internationally recognised programs in the areas of Leadership Development, Culture Transformation and Behavioural Safety Leadership, Pete has the skills, knowledge, expertise and credibility to help organisations turn potential risk and damage into connection, productivity and performance.