Dealing openly with weaknesses creates strength

By Julia Halwax

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 active organization. What's new about it? Nothing. And yet, each of us is familiar with the mistrust, finger-pointing and territorial thinking that we are not infrequently exposed to in reality.  The question arises: What kind of trust is necessary for good cooperation and how do we create a productive, constructive and relaxed trust that strengthens cooperation without overburdening team members with demanded emotional closeness. 

Openness creates strength

Psychology distinguishes between two levels of trust. The relationship level as the breeding ground of social trust and the factual level on which trust in competence is anchored. Every interpersonal relationship has its focus of trust either on one level or on the other. Although both levels are theoretically clearly separable, many people find it difficult to consciously differentiate between them 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 competencies 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 basic prerequisite for constructive cooperation. Rather, what counts here is the sharing of common goals, values and rules of conduct.

Trust - what trust?

In an environment characterized by emotional conflict and mistrust, employees are afraid to admit their mistakes and weaknesses. As a result, internal communication develops into a kind of shadow boxing in which employees conceal their weaknesses and exaggerate their strengths. Self-interests move into the foreground and the common vision and objectives into the background. The result: the team's susceptibility to error increases. 

If, however, it is possible to develop constructive trust within the team and to create a trusting environment on the factual level, then the weaknesses of the individual can be balanced out, strengths can be promoted and areas for development can be worked on. The guiding principle is: In a successful team, not everyone has to be able to do everything, but together they can do everything! Constructive trust in teams is demonstrated by: The willingness of the members to offer help and feedback as well as to demand it, to accept questions and inputs as constructive and, in case of doubt, to assume a positive intention of the counterpart. In this trusting environment, it is important to offer apologies in the event of mistakes and - in order not to damage the existing trust - to accept them honestly. A shared mindset of this kind makes it possible to discuss content without repeatedly descending into personal conflicts, and leads to commitment on the part of the members to common goals. Trust within management teams is of particular importance, because as a result, entire divisions tend to mirror the behavior of their superiors. In the negative case, this means: poor cooperation between departments. In the positive case: Efficient cooperation, improved sense of togetherness and increased innovation potential and thus joint success.

Feedback - because we are worth it

The most effective means of establishing trust in teams and deepening it is feedback in conjunction with a positive culture of mistakes and development. The pragmatic basis of successful leadership lies in the promotion of the ability to give feedback. To increase the team's ability to provide feedback, leaders must create two conditions: First, you must set a good example yourself and actively give feedback, but also demand it - and subsequently endure it. Second, it must be clearly communicated to the feedback recipient that the feedback arises from a positive basic attitude and the desire to achieve even challenging goals together. If these conditions are met, feedback leads to mutual appreciation and trust.  

Experience has shown that the first steps toward greater trust in the team often represent a major (emotional) challenge for both the team and the manager. Taking this challenge pays off for everyone involved and for the company.

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