Picture these scenarios:
1. Without explanation, management abruptly abandons a project you’ve devoted months to pursuing.
2. Credit for a successful project is lavished on someone who – it seems – did little.
3. A customer is treated in a way that seems improper or unfair to you.
There may be legitimate explanations for each of these kinds of situations. But we need to consider, without the benefit of knowing all the facts all the time, whether we can trust that our coworkers’ motivations are justifiable; that their actions are driven by the facts, consistent with core ethics and fairness, and that they are undertaken with respectful regard for those affected – and not driven by self-interest or prejudice.
This is a serious problem. Skepticism about coworkers’ motives saps energy and squashes collaboration and initiative. We want to disengage. Quit. Or accuse.
What is the Root of the Distrust Problem?
A big part of the problem is that we have an “Authenticity Gap.” Often it seems our coworkers are playing roles. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our key workmates had no guile; no pretension; no ulterior motives … if we knew enough about them to be able to give them the benefit of doubt when we don’t see the whole picture. Trust is hard to earn, easy to lose and hard to give, unless workers up and down the reporting chain are being authentic with one another.
How Do We Close the Authenticity Gap?
There’s no quick fix for the Authenticity Gap. A culture of trust and authenticity doesn’t just happen; it’s never complete. But I do have a proven principle to share: To bridge this gap, it’s essential to consistently encourage Freedom of expression of Religion and Belief (FoRB).
Webster includes a definition that’s particularly helpful for our purposes: Religion is “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.” I’d submit that everyone – atheist, agnostic or devout – has that. By definition, this “religion” matters to our people. If we want coworkers to be authentic, and if we really want to learn what makes them tick, FoRB ought to matter to us. We should seek to create a work culture that welcomes expression of their deeply-held “cause, principle or system of beliefs.”
What do you think? Have you experienced the Authenticity Gap? If so, what are your thoughts on how to address it?
Invitation: If you’re ready to advance civility and connection in the workplace, join us each week for Authenticity & Connection, a concise and thought-provoking reflection by Kent Johnson and guests; and help shape this important dialogue by weighing in via LinkedIn or Facebook.