You've heard this phrase before: timing is everything. Time is one of the key components in the Relative Trust model™. But I also want you to think about another phrase: the early bird gets the worm. In this case, she gets the trust.
Here is a scenario for you. Two peers in the same work team can’t agree on something work-related. They cannot hold a constructive disagreement. Instead, they either have a destructive conflict, where everything is personal, emotional, and irrational or, alternatively, they hold the politically correct disagreement, where the real issues are not put on the table, where you have the meeting before the meeting, the meeting after the meeting, just not the meeting during the meeting. You know what I’m talking about.
First, I must point out that the inability to reach an agreement due to a constructive disagreement happens because the level of trust between those two peers is too low. In one of my surveys, I found that the ability to conduct a constructive disagreement significantly depends on the level of trust in the team.
But that’s not the point of this article.
Unable to resolve the conflict themselves, the two peers go to their boss to resolve it. Except that instead of going together, they go separately. And here is where timing plays a key role.
The boss doesn't know anything when the first employee enters the boss’s office. The first employee shares their perspective. Since the boss’s brain needs more information, they fill the gap with what the first employee tells them. Unable to know that this is only one side of the story, they take it for granted. The second employee may be positioned in a somewhat negative light by the story told by the first employee.
Later, the second employee enters. Surprised that the boss already knows the story, s/he realizes that the boss only knows one side of the story, namely the other person’s side. It is much harder to convince the boss that there is another side to the story, mainly because the level of trust in the second employee was lowered after the first employee delivered their side.
The result is that the boss trusted the first employee and sided with them simply because of timing. The early bird got the trust. But that was not necessarily the equitable outcome.
How do you avoid such situations?
First, build trust in the team. If there was trust in the team, the two members could conduct a constructive disagreement and resolve their differences themselves without needing to ask the boss for intervention.
If there is not enough trust between them and they need to ask the boss to intervene, it is best to go to the boss together. Let the boss ask questions. Prevent timing bias. Allow each one to correct perceptions.
If it’s not feasible for both to see the boss together, then each of them should do the following:
The first person should not take advantage of the head start they got. They should stick to the truth. They should point out that their description is their side of the story and that there is another side. They should ask the boss to defer judgment until s/he hears the other side. When doing that, they would gain the trust of the boss.
The second person should first acknowledge that they are at a disadvantage. They should ask the boss to keep an open mind and listen to their side of the story, admitting that it might be different from the first person’s side and acknowledging its validity. Again, they should stick to the truth. This way, they may eliminate initial timing bias and possibly gain the boss's trust.
The boss should first try to push them to resolve the issue themselves, possibly giving them some guidance and coaching on how to do it themselves. If it is impossible, the boss should try to get a third-party, objective perspective of someone other than the two. The boss should try to get both in the room simultaneously, listening to both equally. If that’s impossible, the boss should consciously avoid bias and assumptions after hearing the first person and defer judgment until hearing both. The boss should then try to find a solution that would maximize the benefit to both. A real win-win solution. Finally, the boss should do the best s/he can to help them build trust and avoid the next time this happens.
Want to hear more? Listen to the podcast episode at: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/s12e2-timing-is-everything-including-in-trust/id1569249060?i=1000641026647
Dr. Yoram Solomon is an expert in trust, employee engagement, teamwork, organizational culture, and leadership. He is the author of The Book of Trust, host of The Trust Show podcast, a three-time TEDx speaker, and facilitator of the Trust Habits workshop and masterclass that explains what trust is and how to build trust in organizations. He is a frequent speaker at SHRM events and a contributor to HR.com magazine.
The Book of Trust®, The Innovation Culture Institute®, and Trust Habits® are registered trademarks of Yoram Solomon. Trust Premium™, the Relative Trust Inventory™, and The Trust Show™ are trademarks of Yoram Solomon.