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Reciprocal actions can create a spiral that builds a trusting work environment and minimizes counterproductive conflict.

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Conversely, when employees demonstrate distrust, their actions lead to reciprocal actions by other employees or management that are defensive, controlling, and often punitive. Systems thinking suggests that reality is not made of straight lines but rather is composed of feedback loops reflecting reciprocal flows of influence that are both cause and effect.

All parties in an organization are part of this process. Each influences and is influenced by what happens, and each is at least partially responsible for the actions of other parties. These loops of influence can cause a spiral in the level of trust—either up or down, depending on the behavior of the parties in the loop. The cycle can begin anywhere and works generally as indicated in Figure 5 for the relationship between management and employees.

The cycle builds over time, with individual cases of bad behavior on the part of one party leading to conflict or bad or worse behavior by the other, and cases of good behavior by one party leading to good behavior and increased trust by the other. The cycle is perpetuated when both parties continue to respond as suggested by the influences on them; both employees and management reciprocate to trusting or distrusting actions of the other with their own trusting or distrusting actions.

A cycle of distrust can be reversed only if one party breaks the cycle by acting counter to the distrusting influence it is receiving and takes action that the other will respond to positively. He gets even by misleading her about the true facts of a situation.

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Rather than escalate the conflict by punishing the employee with time off without pay and a written reprimand, the supervisor explains the rule and asks him to reach his own decision about whether he can continue to work within the terms of employment. Because there is no punishment and the employee is treated like an adult, he has no incentive to punish the employer by further abusing the system.

A cycle of distrust can be reversed, or a cycle of trust perpetuated, only when the work environment encourages positive actions in specific cases regardless of the influence being received. Fortunately, management is positioned to establish such an environment because it has the resources and has a great deal to gain with few risks. Its challenge is to 1 be more trustworthy so employees will trust management and react positively to its actions, and 2 cause or allow employees to be more trustworthy so that managers, supervisors, and other employees will react positively to them.

Through such actions, management can create a trusting work environment that provides the continuity, coherence, and predictability that foster compatibility between management and employees, and among employees themselves. The following sections offer ideas for building this trusting environment. Interestingly, management often takes actions that teach employees it is not trustworthy and then is surprised when employees get the message! Core Values For management to be trusted, its actions must reflect generally accepted community standards and be reasonably consistent and predictable.

And for trust to exist over time, management must be guided by core values— that set of shared moral and ethical standards that create a continuing expectation of regular and honest behavior. Core values provide enduring guidelines for the behavior of all people in the organization. They guide the choices people make, suggest what issues should be given most attention, and allow each to reasonably predict what the other will do.

To effectively engender trust, however, they must be seen by employees as guiding management.

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Most employees understand that decisions based on strong core values are not negotiable and are willing to credit management for sticking to its guns. As important as core values are, management must avoid two potential dark sides. First, inappropriate values destroy trust rather than build it. From one perspective, core values provide predictability and a type of trust regardless of their substance.

But if their substance is objectionable to employees or otherwise inappropriate, they will not build trust that is of use to the organization and its employees and instead will foster conflict from right-thinking individuals. Second, without careful management, the predictability arising from nonnegotiable values—even positive ones—can have negative consequences.

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This approach allows employees to know what to expect, but it also prevents change, stifles initiative, and leads to conflict between old rules and contemporary needs and interests. Thus, management must value change, flexibility, and experimentation while acknowledging that some values evolve over time and that implementation and detail often must be changed to fit current needs. With thoughtful management, such flexibility can be maintained in an environment based on core values where employees reasonably know what to expect on matters of importance.

Management places a high value on professionalism. Truthfulness Truth within an organization is the mutual version of reality that allows management and employees to get things done with minimal conflict. It must have its basis in facts, but its real force results from the parties involved being able to rely on each other and the mutual understandings necessary to make the organization function effectively with minimum conflict. Such a black-and-white view of truth might work if our workplaces were static, closed, machinelike, and backward looking.

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But in fact our workplaces are based largely on relationships rather than facts and are open, living, continually changing, and interconnected. There are few eternal, unchanging, or absolute truths, and most issues of truthfulness do not arise from concern about misstatements of fact. Instead, issues of truthfulness usually arise from differing views of reality.

Therefore, management must not only be accurate in statements of facts but also cause the parties involved to have a common view of reality. This can be done in three fundamental ways. Do Not Withhold Information If we believe others are sharing all the information they have on issues of importance to us, we are likely to trust them and their motives.

But when management tells only part of a story or withholds relevant information, employees tend to become suspicious, have doubts about what was not said, and believe what was said is bunk. Employees may have several reasons for believing management is withholding information—the first and most important of which is that it is!

International Mediation Interaction: Synergy, Conflict, Effectiveness

Or managers may negligently withhold information because they pay too little attention to employee needs and desires. Even when management intends to communicate fully, employees may infer from the way it is handled that information is being withheld. Rigid requirements that all personal communication be through supervisors in the chain of command, rather than with others in the organization who have more or better information, may also suggest that management is not completely forthcoming. Whatever the case, the appearance of withholding information can cause employees to doubt the veracity of management even when what it says is true. It must provide employees not only with the information it believes they need, but also with the information they want and believe they need. Management must encourage open, unrestrained discussion of issues and direct access, to the extent feasible, to the best sources of information and expertise available.

This creates a self-correcting environment, in which management takes extra precautions to fully and truthfully represent the facts because it is faced with the discipline of having to tell the whole story. Limiting the conversation to the supervisor gives the appearance of withholding information because the supervisor cannot commit to what the meaning really is. At times it may be appropriate for management to withhold certain information for legal, confidential, or business reasons.

It may have fewer options where confidentiality is an issue, as certain information should, of course, be protected. Whichever the case, when sharing information is inappropriate, management should not pretend the information does not exist. Instead, it normally should divulge the fact that it has the information and also discuss why it cannot be shared.

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Employees usually accept legitimate, understandable reasons for nondisclosure. But statements about the future are dangerous and may constitute a high cost for resolving a short-term problem. If circumstances change and management needs to go in a different direction, it could be limited to costly inaction or face charges of lying to employees. But what if it loses a major contract and must adjust its workforce? Will management be viewed as truthful?

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There are two apparent approaches for dealing with this dilemma. Neither one works very well. Refusing to even discuss an issue only exacerbates the problem, as employees are likely to infer silence as negative. Using qualifying comments with predictions would seem to be the answer, but doing so often does not work either. Qualifying statements that leave room for uncertainty and change are often not heard. If they are, they usually are perceived as hedges to cover the complete truth, casting doubt on the main points being made. While there are no surefire solutions to this dilemma, several guidelines can be helpful.

Refusing to do so can be perceived as withholding relevant information even if none actually exists. Employees appreciate the honesty, sincerity, and vulnerability conveyed by such an admission.