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Valuing Diversity and Building Trust
Building Cross-Cultural Trust with Subordinates, Peers and Customers
Do people trust you? As a leader are you trusted by your peers,
subordinates, customers, suppliers and superiors?
Most of us find it easy to build trust-filled relationships with
people who are similar to us or with people we feel comfortable
with. Of course it's easier to build rapport if we share the same
values, cultural norms or language. If we understand the same jokes,
went to the same school or watch the same TV shows we have something
Howver, in the multicultural workforce that exists today we work
with (or provide services to) people with whom we have very little
in common. We tend to avoid people we don't know. We tend to ignore
people whose ideas and communication styles are different from our
own. We tend to get defensive if someone expresses a different view
or presents a different approach to solving a problem. We generally
limit our time with these different people so we can seek out relationships
with others we feel more comfortable with.
This can be dangerous for leaders. If you are not comfortable with
a subordinate it will affect the way you coach, mentor or guide
that person. If you are unaware of the cultural norms of a customer
you may offend or misunderstand him.
Valuing diversity -- and finding ways to utilize diversity as a
strategic advantage -- are both critical competencies for leaders
in the U.S.A. in the 21st century.
Diversity and Trust
The challenge of building cross-cultural trust requires much more
than understanding personality types or dominant communication style.
In order to build trust there are specific behaviors that must be
demonstrated. In order to build trust there are certain agreements
that must be negotiated. In order to build trust there are unavoidable
conversations that must be shared. Building trust is not an intellectual
exercise. It is an interactive dance.
The Reina Trust and Betrayal Model™ is a helpful tool
for understanding the complex elements which add up to trust.
Capacity for Trust
Our capacity for trust is affected by everything we have been exposed
to in our lives. Capacity for trust refers to each person's natural
tendencies (and their readiness) to trust self and to trust others.
Capacity for trust can be measured on four scales that help us look
at our behavioral and thought patterns relative to trusting self
and trusting others.
For example, some people need lots of detailed information and
prefer sequential problem-solving steps. Others may prefer few details
and love group brainstorming as a problem-solving approach. And
in addition to individual style, different cultures demonstrate
trust in different ways.
In the U.S. business environment we generally expect people to
maintain direct eye contact when we are talking with them. But in
many African American and Hispanic/Latino families, children are
taught to look down in deference to parents and other authority
figures. Direct eye contact is viewed as disrespectful.
When we value diversity we begin to see there is more than one
set of behaviors and decisions that can lead to trust-filled relationships.
Effective leaders are able to identify individual employee or customer
styles and create a work environment that supports high levels of
productivity and trust.
Another part of the Reina Trust & Betrayal Model™ focuses on
the three types of trust that are evident in human interaction.
When you trust someone (or when you don't trust someone) you can
usually point to one or more specific interactions you've had related
to their competence, their communication or their character.
Competence Trust. Trusting a coworker's competence is critical.
We need to believe the coworker has the skills needed to complete
the job. Unfortunately, many leaders confuse competence with comfort.
Sometimes employees are judged more harshly simply because their
boss or coworkers are uncomfortable about one or more characteristics
the employee represents.
For example, if an employee speaks with an accent, sometimes he
might be perceived as not having the skills or education required,
even though he is performing the job daily.
Your subordinates depend on your ability and willingness to recognize
their skills and talents, or to help them develop the skills needed
to be viewed as competent.
Character Trust. Trust in a co-worker's character is also
important. Have you ever worked with someone who made promises they
didn't keep? After that employee missed several deadlines or failed
to come through with a key contact you stopped depending on them.
Trust was broken and perhaps you felt betrayed.
But sometimes there are cultural factors influencing the relationship.
This is where understanding and valuing diversity becomes really
important for leaders in the workplace.
When you find yourself judging someone you don't know very well
based on what you consider to be group characteristics, you are
part of the problem. A common example is the supervisor who is interviewing
applicants to fill a position but finds herself avoiding young female
candidates because of a belief that they are likely to leave in
a few months or a few years to start a family.
Challenge yourself to recognize when you are allowing your stereotypes
about people who represent a certain group affect your judgment.
Communication Trust. Communication trust is so much a part
of our daily interaction with others we often don't think about
it! Just about everyone we talk to, listen to, or read email from
is evaluated on whether we believe them, like them or trust them.
Much work has been done in the workplace around communication styles;
still most of us tend to gravitate toward those who have a communication
style complementary to our own. We avoid those whose communication
style is less comfortable for us.
If you are going to be an exemplary leader you must develop the
ability to generate trust on many levels. You must not only model
character, communication and contractual trust, but you must also
develop the ability within your subordinate staff for them to be
able work effectively with a broad range of coworkers and customers.
A third part of the Reina model delves into the feeling of betrayal
that occurs when trust has been broken and provides seven steps
for healing from betrayal.
Now, every one of us has experienced betrayal of some kind. Most
often when I say "betrayal of trust" people quickly recall
a sad or painful experience they had in a relationship with a lover
or family member.
But if you think about it, there are many betrayals of trust in
the workplace. Many times these betrayals are unintentional! An
employee thinks she is doing the right thing but it doesn't meet
your expectations or needs. You feel betrayed that the employee
didn't accomplish the goal. The employee might feel betrayed and
thinking you were not clear in expressing the desired outcome or
that you provided insufficient direction. Another example of unintentional
betrayal might occur in a company that must cut costs and announces
a plan to reduce staff by 5 percent. That feels like a betrayal
to the workforce, even though it can't be avoided.
Cross Cultural Breakdown in Trust
When there is a breakdown in trust we feel uncomfortable, angry
or confused. When that breakdown occurs between people from different
cultural groups it is even harder to heal.
Adding to the challenge, people bring their experiences away from
work with them when they report for duty each day. This is unavoidable.
Imagine if you were an employee who uses a wheelchair. Your morning
routine is quite different than most other employees. Your travel
between home and work requires different adjustments. When you go
shopping people make assumptions about your intelligence, your abilities
and your needs which are often incorrect.
You arrive at work expecting to be valued for your education, your
skills, your ideas and the contribution you make to the department's
success. And if you are lucky, you get that. But you also get people
who think they are being friendly or funny as they joke about the
great, close-up parking space reserved just for you. And you also
get passed over for promotion because people simply don't "see"
you (or anyone who needs a wheelchair to get around) as a high-potential,
fast-track employee in line for the next promotion.
Leaders who understand that diversity can be a strategic advantage
are careful to evaluate their assumptions and perceptions about
each employee. They work hard to separate their stereotypes about
groups from their understanding of each individual.
Leadership Skills for the 21st Century
If you want to be a great leader in the 21st century
you need more than technical skills and intellectual knowledge.
You must also have the relationship skills that will help you to
be effective in a multicultural environment.
Are you comfortable leading a team full of people who represent
more cultural elements than you can name or count?
Are you able to communicate effectively with people who have different
patterns for dealing with conflict, generating ideas, showing respect
or expressing humor?
Have you exposed yourself to heroes and achievers from cultures
other than your own? There are men and women in every ethnic group,
every age group, every religious group and every educational level
who have accomplished great things.
Your skill in building trust might not be measured by a written
test. Instead it will be measured daily by your behavior and annually
by the productivity of your team or department.
Tips for Building Trust
First, look at yourself. There's no escape from your own behavior.
Trust is a two-way street. So, do you establish clear boundaries
and keep your agreements? Are you consistent in the way you interact
with others? Do you focus on mutual success?
You can create a trusting environment within your department or
organization by proactively managing expectations. This requires
you and others involved being explicit about what the desired outcomes
are and the behavior expected while working toward those goals.
In a multicultural environment this can sometimes be a challenge.
So it is very important that you demonstrate interest and respect
for different approaches and styles. If you as the leader are comfortable
interacting with people from different cultural groups, the people
working with you will develop that same comfort.
And remember: when we talk about different cultural groups we are
not limited to race and ethnicity! One of the biggest challenges
for leaders in the 21st century is working effectively
with people from different age groups. Religion has also become
a more prominent challenge as scheduling, dress codes and food service
are affected by the need to respond to religious norms of our workers
and customers. And people with disabilities have become more visible
and more active. These factors, and other dimensions of diversity,
require us to be willing to make cultural adjustments.
Building trust with a multicultural customer base requires you
to begin with an honest desire to understand the needs and expectations
of your customers. Whether you are providing a service or manufacturing
a product you must find ways to learn the customer's point of view.
This may include focus groups, periodic surveys, or something as
simple as asking each customer for feedback at each encounter.
As a leader your success is often judged by the competence of the
people you are working with. So encouraging subordinate staff and
peers to be at their best is important. You can jumpstart excellent
performance by letting people know you recognize their talents on
a regular basis. Don't take anyone's skills or talents for granted!
Let other people make as many decisions as possible -- especially
those decisions that affect their daily productivity. This sends
a message that you trust them and they will in turn show more respect
and trust in you.
You Must Be the Example
Whether you are working with one other person to accomplish a specific
project, or with dozens of people as part of an organization, your
responsibility as a leader is to be a guide on the path to success.
You can achieve certain goals without developing trust; but why
would you want to?
As a leader you are a major influence on whether or not your multicultural
team works together in trust-filled ways. And you are a critical
link in insuring your team can provide excellent service to your
Build trust by paying attention to the impact of culture on communication.
Build trust by paying attention to the impact of culture on the
assumptions you make about character.
Build trust by paying attention to the impact of culture on the
learning and demonstration of competence in your work teams.
And finally, build trust by creating an environment where everyone
is valued and can make a contribution.