Do they trust you enough for this conversation?
By Sharon Jordan-Evans and Beverly Kaye
Trust (actually lack of trust) is often the “elephant in the room.” No one wants to really talk about it or recognize it, so we talk over it, under it, around it. Ultimately though, the elephant is in the way – so we have to talk about it. And often, we need to do something about it!
Successful stay interviews can happen only when your treasured, talented employees trust you. They need to trust that you care about them and have their backs; that you’ll do the right thing with information they give you in a stay interview.
Trust matters and it is built over time, with steady action and by doing what you say you’ll do. Stay interviews are just part of the trust-building process with the people you hope to keep engaged and on your team.
Here is just one way to think about this very large topic.
Learning from a Trust Fall
Have you ever done a “trust fall?” If so, remember how that felt and what you learned. If not, here’s how one team described it:
We were at a week-long team-building program that included a “ropes course.” It was crazy – we climbed a 30 foot pole and jumped to catch a trapeze; we walked across a 20 foot balance beam high above the ground; and we did this thing called a trust fall.
In the trust fall, you stand on a platform six feet above ground. The facilitator gives clear, specific directions to you and to your team members, who stand below you and prepare to catch you. You turn your back to the team, stiffen your body, take a deep breath and fall backwards onto their outstretched hands. Now, that takes trust!
The exercise takes 30 minutes for a twelve-person work team. Debriefing that exercise takes just as long. Why? Because it takes time to digest, discuss and understand what just happened. More importantly, participants want to know why they just did this exercise. What are the lessons learned about trust and how do those lessons translate to their workplaces?
Here are a few of the questions the facilitator asked the trust fall participants and some of the answers. Note how the answers apply to you and to your trust-building efforts.
How was that?
- It was terrifying.
- It was a lot of fun!
- I feel proud that I did it.
- It was thrilling and new; makes me believe I can do things I thought I couldn’t.
What happened when the trust was missing?
- One teammate was so scared that at the last second before falling, he bent forward, then fell backward (derriere first) through the outstretched hands of his team. They cushioned his fall but he went straight to the ground. No one felt great about that.
- Another person just plain couldn’t trust the process or the team enough to take the fall. It was her choice, but she felt a bit left out as everyone talked about the fear and the thrill of falling into the team’s hands.
- People were more frightened early on, before the trust built. It wasn’t a lot of fun. By the end of the exercise, we were all pretty trusting that if we followed the guidelines, our teammates would catch us. We were actually getting a kick out it.
What allowed you to do it?
- The facilitator gave us lots of detailed direction before we did it. The “faller” and the “catchers” had specific, crucial to-dos. The facilitator made it safe and doable, as long as we followed her guidelines.
- I knew my team mates and my boss cared about me; they had my back (literallyJ).
- Our boss went first, even though he was pale as a ghost. He admitted that he was really scared. He was so authentic, so real. He set the stage for the rest of us.
- I wanted to do it for myself, but also for my boss and my team. I didn’t want to let anyone down.
- The encouragement from my boss and team was amazing. They cheered me on, reminded me to stand straight and strong and assured me they were there for me.
What did you learn about yourself and about trust?
- It’s hard for me to trust; people have to prove themselves trustworthy first.
- I need to know people pretty well before I’ll trust them.
- It’s helpful to have your boss go first (especially if you know it was hard for him to do that).
- I’m naturally very trusting; I tend to give it as a gift.
- We can do so much more if we trust each other.
What might you want to do differently back at work, as a result of this experience?
- I intend to get to know my employees, teammates and my boss better – on and off the job. I’ll invite them to coffee or lunch and just chat – about what interests them, how their families are doing, what projects they’re enjoying. The better we know each other, the more trust we’ll build.
- I’ll demonstrate to my employees and teammates (and my boss) that I have their backs. They need to know I’m here to catch them if they fall.
- We’ll all do a better job of giving direction and guidelines. I’ll be clearer about expectations for individuals and for the whole team.
- I’ll go first sometimes, especially when there is risk. I’ll also be honest about how I’m feeling. I’ll admit that I’m nervous and that I need their help and support.
- I learned to cheer loudly for my employees as they took huge risks. They said it made a difference. I will definitely be a better cheerleader back at work.
From Trust Fall to Workplace
There are more similarities than differences between a trust fall and doing good work back in the workplace. Both entail risk. Both require leadership, teamwork and a truckload of trust. How are you doing in the trust-building department?
Take some cues from trust fall participants. Get to know your talented people better. Take your authentic self (the real you) to the day-to-day conversations you have with them. If you don’t have day-to-day conversations, decide to change that. Go first when they need your guidance. “Have their backs,” especially in tough situations, and be their most ardent cheerleader as they take on new risks.
When you ask your talented employees, “What will keep you here?” you’re asking them to trust you, to fall into your arms. They’ll do that when they trust you to listen carefully and to hold their answers with care.
The trust you build with your talented people will pave the way for frank, productive conversations. And those conversations will, in turn, build more trust. How perfect is that?
*Content adapted from Hello Stay Interviews, Goodbye Talent Loss, by Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans, Berrett-Koehler, 2015.