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Accountability Earns Trust and Influence
Episode 3421st June 2022 • Copper State of Mind: public relations, media, and marketing in Arizona • HMA Public Relations | PHX.fm
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Does your team trust you to follow through? A Harvard Business Review study found that 58% of employees would trust a stranger more than their boss.

In this episode, Abbie Fink and Dr. Adrian McIntyre talk about the difference between accountability and authority and share some thoughts about the importance of trust in the workplace.

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Copper State of Mind is a project of HMA Public Relations, a full-service public relations and marketing communications firm in Phoenix.  

The show is recorded and produced in the studio of PHX.fm, the leading independent B2B podcast network in Arizona.

Transcripts

Adrian McIntyre:

Trust is an essential quality of relationships in business and in life. It's a topic that's sort of easy to talk about, to give lip service to. We say that people have to know, like, and trust you to do business with you, but do we ever really dig into what that means and what does it take to build and maintain trust? And even more than that, what does it take to have that operating inside our organizations? Do your people actually trust you as much as you think they do? It's a rich and thorny topic. And it's our subject today on Copper State of Mind. Here to share her thoughts about the importance of trust -- what it takes, how to preserve it, how not to lose it -- is Abbie Fink, vice president and general manager of HMA Public Relations. Abbie, what's on your mind?

Abbie Fink:

"This is a thorny subject." I kind of like that setup. Yeah, it's interesting about trust. I had read something, well I read something multiple times, about trust. This idea that trust is a two-way street. I have to want to be trusted, and I need you to want to trust me, right? So we have to create a path for that to exist. And I think inherently, we go into our relationships with our coworkers, with our employees, with our clients, trust is sort of a given. We expect that we are going to trust, that's why we're in this particular situation. But how quickly that can be eroded from a relationship by not following through, by saying something and doing something else. Not fulfilling the commitments that we say. And you may not even realize that you're doing it because it's somewhat a part of our normal conversation. "I'll get right to it, I promise," and 2, 3, 4 days might go by. Well, did you really mean you'll get right to it or were you just pushing off the ask until perhaps they forget that they've even asked for it? I really think we have to talk about it in such a way that we go into relationships with the expectation of trust and how quickly that can be taken away by our own action. And once that's gone, it takes a really long time for it to get back.

Adrian McIntyre:

What's on my mind right now, Abbie, is I just watched a video this morning of the river flooding in Yellowstone National Park and the north entrance, the access road into the park. And I'm watching this view from a helicopter, the park employees are documenting this destruction and the road is just washed away. And there's a house right there on the edge that -- on actually, a separate video than the park helicopter -- you see that house tipping as the erosion undercuts it, and it just floats into the river and away. As I was reading comments there in the thread of people who are like, "I just drove that road eight times over the last week as my family visited the park." And as you're driving down a road like that, you trust that the road is there, the road's always going to be there. There's this sort of naïve belief that this foundation is solid. And yet storms combined with erosion, combined with all the factors that come together to make this kind of event, all of a sudden that road is gone. That house is gone. It's going to take a long time to rebuild. It's a metaphor for how we operate in the world. And why I said "thorny" at the beginning is because I think we like to trick ourselves, everyone. I think we all like to trick ourselves into thinking that we are trustworthy, but are we? And that's where I think the conversation you wanted to have becomes really important. What are the fundamental factors that create this fabric of trust that we take for granted, but then can disappear so quickly?

Abbie Fink:

Well, your analogy is a really good one. We just make assumptions that this road, this bridge, this car, is going to do what it says it's going to do. We 100% trust when we get in the car and start it and drive across that road, that we are going to get safely to the other side. We don't question it. We don't think about it. We just do it. And I think that's really what trust is, is this blind faith, if you will, in an individual, in a process, because I want to believe in it so therefore I will trust it. Now, I'm still trusting roads not to wash away, but I may not drive that road at that park without a little bit of hesitation the next time it's available and back under repair and ready to go. You might think about it a little bit differently, or at least comment about you remember that back in 2022, when this bridge washed out. There are a number of studies that have been done about workplace culture and workplace trust. And who do you trust and why? And depending on which version of those studies that you look at, that there's always this idea that I want to trust my boss, my supervisor, my coworkers, I can't trust my boss, my supervisor, my coworkers and there's always a reason why. It really, I think, comes down to a couple different things, but it really is about making a commitment, fulfilling on that commitment, and when you can't, owning up to the reasons why. I think we all understand why I said I was going to get this done for you tomorrow and tomorrow comes and I'm not able to do that. But letting me know at noon, that I'm not going to be able to do it changes the dynamic than letting me know it's seven o'clock at night. I didn't get to it. We start to pull back on the things that we ask others to do with us. We start to think differently about the kinds of projects I can share with you or ask you to help me with, because you have proven to be unreliable, or you have shown me that it's not a priority, even though you told me that it was. I tell people this all the time, things get in the way. I mean, we can make promises and not be able to fulfill them, but how we choose to share that information is really what changes that conversation. So again, if you make a commitment and you're unable to fulfill it and there is a legitimate reason, if there isn't a legitimate reason, how are you handling that? How are you sharing that information and letting the individual know that's relying on you for that next step, that it's going to be delayed and this is what you're doing to rectify that situation? Because other things are happening that are dependent upon you fulfilling your commitment that's then meaning someone else is unable to do what they've said that they were going to do.

Adrian McIntyre:

You know, it strikes me that both people who are inherently trustworthy and people who are inherently untrustworthy are aware that trust is important and will seek to cultivate the appearance of trust, however, in very different ways. So the people who are inherently trustworthy might be more open, might be more transparent, might be more willing to acknowledge breakdowns in a process or in a relationship. Whereas, the people who are inherently untrustworthy might have the tendency to hide, to cover up, to think that the best way to preserve trust is to not let people know what actually happened. And it's interesting because I certainly, for myself, I can think of many, many cases, as I imagine we all can of situations where there was a problem and the knee jerk reaction was hide it, get defensive, hope it goes away, things of that nature. I can't help, but wonder if somehow what we're also up against here is the incredible morality that's put around this issue of trust. In other words, rather than treating trust as a functional quality of relationships, we treat it as this inherently moral good. And so to have done something that breaks a promise is seen to be inherently bad and nobody wants to be bad. So maybe we should just try to hide that or try to cover it up. It makes me think a lot of, as I raise my own two kids who are now 7 and 10 of some of the conversations that I had had with my parents when I was that age and the kind of very... I don't know, I'm different than them, my parents. But the very heavy handed kind of moral judgments of oh, this is really bad and you should feel bad. Without throwing my parents under the bus, there's a lot of stuff that's in these conversations where in reality, I think if we were all a little more adept at just saying, yep. I said I was going to do X, I'm not going to be able to or I didn't do it, here's what I'm going to do to make that right. I don't know. It would probably be easier. And I hear myself saying that knowing that's not easy. So how do you approach this?

Abbie Fink:

Well, and I completely agree. There are numerous occasions that we can all point to that says, I'll give you a call right back and several hours go by and, oh, I forgot. And you pick up the phone and you call. Now, is that really breaking a trust? Is that breaking a promise? I think we all have sort of come to expect a certain amount of response like that, when I say I'm going to give you a call right back I really mean sometime today, I mean, I will get back to you. So, I think where this is heading for me is in the bigger context of relationships and the investment that we all make in our employees, them in us as their bosses, the ones that we make with our clients and those that make them back with us. We are trusting each other with very valuable information. We are asking our clients to trust us with information about their business and so that we can make good decisions on their behalf. This might be information that's not publicly available yet, it may be information that's not even available internally amongst their own employees yet. We are asking them simply by the nature of this relationship, this contractual relationship that we've developed to trust me implicitly with this information. And then you have to trust that I will do with that information, the right thing. That is part of your reputation, I can ask for that because I hope I have proven that over my history and my time of doing this work, that I am a trustworthy individual, that my company is a trustworthy organization. And that what you share with me will be kept in the confidence that you have entrusted me with. Then I have to believe that you are giving me the accurate information as well, right? I'm trusting that you are telling me the truth and that you're providing me with that information. So to some extent, we have to come from a place of trust to start with, and then realize that with that we gain accountability. We gain influence. We have opportunity to make change because we have this trust, but within seconds we can destroy what that is and it takes a long time to get that back. And so, for me, in this context of a business relationship and with the work that we do on behalf of the clients, with our teams and such is, I'm going into that absolutely trusting the process until you prove to me that the process can no longer be trusted. And at that point, maybe we are not the right team any longer, maybe we aren't the right agency to be providing that service to you. And it all just comes back to this sort of built in faith in the process of you are going to tell me what I need to know and I'm going to tell you what you need to know, and together we're going to move this forward.

Adrian McIntyre:

That business of together, I think, is so critical here because as I really reflect on what trust means in practice, it really means consistent, repeated demonstrations that I care about your interests, your investments, your position, your vulnerabilities, and that I can be trusted to take actions that are aligned with what you want and what you care about. And that if I do things to undermine what you want or what you care about, it doesn't matter what I've said. It's, I'm showing you that I have a different set of concerns, a different set of commitments and I'm willing to put those above yours without acknowledging it. Without actually having a conversation where we can continue to be aligned even if we're going to disagree and say, listen, I know you need X. I need Y. Here's what I think we should do. What are your thoughts about that? Can we reach an agreement? That's a very trustworthy way of handling a potential divergence of interests. But if I'm saying one thing to you and consistently demonstrating that I'm duplicitous, I didn't mean that, I'm actually up to something else, or you just don't know where I'm coming from, but it doesn't reflect what we had talked about. That's the problem. And that's what brings us back to that internal issue that you mentioned, and one of the studies that you had told me about before this conversation, the Harvard Business Review study that 58% of employees would trust a stranger more than their own boss. Well, that's a majority. So what are we going to do about this? It strikes me that authority. In other words, I'm the boss do what I say. And accountability, which is, hey, here's what I'm going to do, here's what you're going to do, are we agreed on that, et cetera. Are two very different things. Authority can persist in the absence of trust. Listen, do this or you're out of here. But accountability really requires that two way conversation. And so authority is a poor way to get to trust, it may be a way to undermine it even, but accountability as a practice might be the way that you cultivate trust. What are your thoughts?

Abbie Fink:

Well, yeah, you're right. Accountability and authority, by the nature of certain relationships an individual will have authority over another. And so that is not a relationship built on trust, that's a relationship built on a hierarchy of what's happening. The accountability part, I think, is really interesting because I've always felt that as a supervisor, as someone that oversees a staff, I have to be willing, able, and committed to doing whatever it is I'm asking them to do. I have to be able and willing to do it as well. Doesn't mean I do it, but I shouldn't ask you to do something that I am not willing to do myself, whatever that might be. And that's where I think the accountability part of that comes in is when your team sees you doing and living up to the things you're expecting them to do, you are doing as well. And I can look back and say, huh, I hadn't really realized but my boss was out there hanging banners at that special event with me at five o'clock in the morning, and that was pretty cool. I'm going to trust them, that was pretty great that they were there with me. Or, I was in a bind and my coworker stepped in and helped me out and, wow. And then you start to see how this can evolve and you can see when that doesn't happen. Look, you may not need to change the way you feel about particular relationships in the workplace, that may exist for a reason and is the right reason to be there. But this transfers to more than just the business relationships, I mean, we you talk about raising kids and you want them to be trustworthy and you want them to be accountable to the things that you've taught them and to each other, and that eventually becomes the kind of individual that enters into the classroom and ultimately enters into the workplace is the way that they have learned to trust and learn to develop relationships and manage conflict within those relationships. The best supervisors that I've had and the best coworkers that I've had are those that are that individual, that are there in the trenches with you when you need them, don't focus on their title but more about getting the work done and that what's right for the organization is why I'm doing what I'm doing. It may not be my job responsibility, but we need to get it done, so I'll stay late and help you stuff envelopes or whatever it might be. That becomes the person you rely on and then ultimately that's the person you trust to be on your team to carry the weight of a project that might be coming down or sending them to a new business presentation, because you absolutely know without fail that you can trust what they're going to do, that they're representing your organization correctly, that they inherently have what it takes to be that kind of person for your organization.

Adrian McIntyre:

It really seems to me that the issue with authority is not the reality of hierarchy. I mean, in many organizations, there is a boss, there is a director, there is a manager, and there are people who report to that individual. And that person is accountable for the sum total of their team's activities and so they do need to have oversight and they do need to be able to make specific requests and even demands and say we got to do this by this time, et cetera. So, the fact of authority itself is not the issue, but what undermines trust is fear, is the sense of disbelief that what's being said is what's actually going to happen. And that issue of fear in particular, I think, is where the practices of accountability becomes so important. Because when we can sit down and have a conversation, hey, I said this, you said that, here's where we're at, here's what we need to do differently, et cetera. And we can do that openly without any sense of guilt, shame, blame, all the negative emotions, which quite honestly come so automatically to so many of us. That part of what creates a trusting environment is the ability to say, hey, listen, this is not something to feel bad about. We got to look together at where we're at and we're going to solve it when there's something that needs solving. So, somehow working actively to take away the fear, to take away the duplicity and really just be more transparent. I think transparency and accountability really go hand in hand because when there's something hidden, there's a natural distrust. We can all sense it. I mean, I think it's an evolutionary mechanism at some level, we are social animals, we have to live cooperatively for survival and so we're highly attuned to things that threaten that social dynamic, that fabric of trust. But at the same time, managers and leaders have to do the hard thing themselves that they're asking others to do. And I think that's why, again, circling back to is this is thorny issue, I think it's incumbent on those of us who lead people or who lead client relationships or what have you to do those hard things, even when they're hard. And that's hard. I know that's very circular and profound.

Abbie Fink:

Very philosophical.

Adrian McIntyre:

It's hard to do the hard things because they're hard!

Abbie Fink:

We also remember the times when we have been in a trustworthy scenario, in a situation, in an office environment or with a client or personal relationship when we knew that wasn't happening. It impacts other things. If you've ever been in a workplace where you did not have a good relationship with your supervisor, that they were somebody that you didn't trust, you didn't think they had your back, that they were constantly undermining the work that you're doing. You carry that with you to the next workplace. And that individual now that is your supervisor has the other individuals' characteristics that they have to prove to you are not their own. And we can see that across a variety of different businesses. We know that when we go into a medical office and we see the doctor with the white coat and the stethoscope, we inherently trust what we're going to learn from them. There's something about that authority and that accountability that they have created, but if we've ever had a bad relationship with a medical professional or we did not particularly like the outcome of a certain circumstance or we weren't treated with the kind of respect that we expected to be treated, that carries with us the next time we go in to see a doctor. Any interaction with somebody that is replicated someplace else carries with it what we're bringing. And so can we make this idea of trust, be all of our responsibility then because it's going to impact others, whether that's directly in our own workplaces or what becomes carried on into other situations? I think we do, I think we do have to kind of accept some of that. We all have to advocate for what we know is right, and what we believe in and what we expect in those kinds of relationships. If I go back to the client agency scenario, there's expectations on both sides that create that level of trust. I'm going to expect you to do this, you expect me to deliver this, this is how we make sure that we continue the positiveness of our relationship. But, it is important in that professional scenario that we recognize what keeping our word means and when we say something, how it's being received at the other end. That if we promise to deliver something, we better. If we can't, why we can't is okay. It's okay to not be able to fulfill as long as you are upfront about it and accept the responsibility for the delay or whatever that might be. We all understand it. I mean, we aren't perfect so we all recognize that there'll be some times that we say something that we don't necessarily fulfill at the level that we came to it. But I think if I say to you, I'll meet you at 10:00 and it's ten minutes to 10:00 and I know I'm going to be late, calling you, texting you and saying, I need an extra few minutes means I value your time, I value the relationship. Instead of making you hang out and waiting for me, I need you to know I'm going to be there but I'm running a little bit late. And that changes that whole scenario, because as soon as you log in and we're here together, even though we're late, you respected my time and I was able to do another whatever it was I was doing while I was waiting for you to get on there. So, it's really a give and take. It's a respect for each other. It's a respect for the relationship. It is not an automatic that I'm going to trust you and you're going to trust me, but we need to go into those relationships expecting that and make sure that we do everything we can to keep that trust, and that's how relationships continue. That's how long term client relationships exist. That's how long term personal relationships exist is when there is a level of trust and a level of respect that leads to that accountability and influence that we can have with each other.