Hooked on rebuilding trust

Posted on Aug 16, 2021 in Case Studies,Conflict Resolution,Latest Articles,Mediation . 0 Comments.

Trust and respect

I recently had a “dream” mediation. When I brought the two colleagues together, the instigator quickly acknowledged that the dressing down delivered should not have been public and apologised for the expletives and finger pointing. The other reciprocated with, “yea, I did wrong and should not have been so defensive and quick to escalate.”

Why was this one “easy”? I quickly realised that the two guys respected each other. Each had an underlying trust and confidence in the other. This matter had just got away from them. A level of reciprocal trust and respect meant that participants had something to cling to and were motivated to resolve the issue. This is not the norm.

By contrast, the following is a more typical situation that we find ourselves in. Two long term colleagues, over many years, had grown to fundamentally mistrust the other. They had developed a narrative in their head that everything the other person did was designed to undermine them. The trust and respect were gone. The issues continued to fester, not being dealt with along the way. This more common scenario is much harder to deal with.

What can we find that will bring these colleagues back to a point where they will at least try and re-establish some semblance of collegial mutuality, where they can work together? To change the dynamic, we need to help bring people back to a point where they will begin to reflect and decide that it’s worthwhile to give it a go. This is where we have to try and find the “hook”.


hook image

Finding the hook

The hook is something different in each case. Giving participants space to find their hook is important. For some this comes easily with self-reflection, with others it requires a fair bit of “prodding and poking”. Some of the most common hooks are things like:

  • A realisation that their own success requires a functioning relationship with this individual.
  • A strong desire to deliver on the organisational mission.
  • An understanding that their own reputation is being negatively impacted by the way they are engaging.
  • A desire to use their energy elsewhere or to eliminate the exhaustion caused by this work situation.
  • An improved capability to deal with “difficult people”. Learning these skills will prepare them for any future issues of this nature.

Allowing individuals to reconnect with respect

In the more common scenario described above, where individuals in broken workplace relationships have entered mediation, it is also a power tool to challenge them on their deeply and emotionally held negative view of the other is effective. We often ask questions to help the participants identify that they are actually able to see some good in the other: “Did the other do any aspect of their work well?” Generally, here the answer is “Yes”. We challenge their thinking further: “Then could everything they do be negative and designed to undermine you?” This is an unthreatening manner in which we are often able to help the participants reflect on the gap between their feelings about the other and help them reflect that the other does not necessarily have bad and destructive motivations designed to undermine them.

Of course, this did not return trust and respect. It is just the beginning. It takes time. But what was achieved was a shared understanding that they were both empowered to help the dynamic change. It allowed us to discuss how we could manage future interactions so that progressive negative responses are eliminated. We could then layout a plan to interact more effectively in the future. In time, that may lead to a rebuild of trust and respect. At the very least, there is still improved commitment around engagement. That is a path forward as “there is always a plan”.

In the above case, that opened the door where the next question was “What do you respect about them?” and the reflective moment came and was an important part of helping them to reposition their thinking. Through a coaching approach I was able to help them articulate specifics outlining their colleague’s positive actions and attributes such as length of service, their commitment to a particular project, as well as their volunteer work, and coaching a kids’ hockey team contributed to the shift. We were into a dialogue, still a long way to go, but we opened the door to a conversation where the prevailing horror narrative of the other could be adjusted.

If you would like to discuss this or any other workplace conflict matter, please feel free to give s a call. We’d love to hear from you.

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