Dealing openly with weaknesses creates strength

Offenheit schafft Stärke


Trust is not only a fundamental category for interpersonal relationships, but also the basis of any form of cooperation - from the smallest team to a globally operating organization. What's new about that? Nothing. And yet in real life, each of us is familiar with and not infrequently exposed to mistrust, finger-pointing, and territorial thinking.  This raises the question: What kind of trust is necessary for good cooperation and how can we create a productive, constructive and relaxed sense of trust that enhances cooperation without overburdening team members with a demand for emotional intimacy?

Openness creates strength

Psychology distinguishes between two levels of trust. The relationship level as the foundation of social trust and the factual level where trust in competence is based. Every interpersonal relationship is focused either more on the one or on the other level of trust. Although both levels are clearly separable in theory, many people find it difficult to consciously differentiate between the two in practice. Since the relationship level dominates in individual perception, factual discussions often lead to emotional arguments. Cooperation in teams and organizations depends primarily on trust at the factual level – in the competence of colleagues. The social level is often mistakenly equated with friendship, which can of course develop in the work environment, but must not be the fundamental prerequisite for constructive cooperation. What counts here is that people share common goals, values and rules of conduct.

Trust – what trust?

In an environment characterized by emotional confrontation and mistrust, employees are afraid to admit their mistakes and weaknesses. As a result, internal communication turns into a kind of shadow boxing in which employees conceal their weaknesses and exaggerate their strengths. “Taking care of number one” takes precedence, and shared vision and goals take a back seat. The result: the team becomes more susceptible to errors.

If, however, it is possible to develop a constructive sense of trust in the team and to create a trusting environment on the factual level, individual weaknesses can be compensated for, strengths can be promoted and areas for development can be worked on. The guiding principle is: A successful team does not mean that everyone can do everything, but that together we can do anything! Constructive trust in teams is demonstrated by: The willingness of the members to offer help and feedback as well as to request it, to accept questions and inputs as being constructive and, in case of doubt, to assume a positive intention on the part of the other person. In this trusting environment, it is important to offer apologies in the event of mistakes and – in order not to damage the established sense of trust – to sincerely accept them. A mindset of this kind makes it possible to discuss content without repeatedly drifting into personal conflicts, and it leads to commitment on the part of the members to shared goals. Trust within management teams is of particular importance, because as a result, entire divisions tend to mirror the behavior of their superiors. If this is negative, this means: poor cooperation between departments. In positive cases: Efficient cooperation, improved team spirit and increased potential for innovation – and thus joint success.

Feedback – because we’re worth it

The most effective way to establish trust in teams and to increase it is through feedback in conjunction with a positive culture of mistakes and development. The pragmatic principle of successful leadership lies in promoting the ability to give and receive feedback. To increase the team's ability to exchange feedback, leaders must create two conditions: Firstly, you must set a good example yourself and actively give feedback, but also request it – and subsequently be able to handle it. Secondly, it must be clearly communicated to the feedback recipient that the feedback is coming from a positive place and from a desire to achieve even the most challenging goals together. If these prerequisites are met, feedback leads to mutual appreciation and trust.

Experience has shown that taking the first steps toward greater trust in a team is often a major (emotional) challenge for both the team and its leader. But doing so pays off for everyone involved – not least for the company.

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