Does Your Boss Trust You?

You can bridge the trust gap

Posted Jul 14, 2010

Does your boss pop into your office at the most unexpected times to check up on you? Does he ask endless questions, micro-manage your work schedule or demand to know exactly what you're doing? Do you want to take on more responsibility, but your ideas get shot down?

Some employees prefer having dialog with their bosses over feeling ignored. But there is a fine line between frequent communication and micro-management. Very often, a hovering, meddling boss leaves little incentive for you to produce your best work - because you believe that in the final analysis the end product won't be yours.

Ironically, many managers feel that they are providing a service to their team members. At times, managers with the best intentions may not realize that they are not being a devoted mentor, but rather an unwitting menace. You are left feeling as if there is little or no trust in your decision-making.

The trust gap between bosses and employees can be mutually self-perpetuating. The same lack of trust in your judgment begets mistrust in your boss. This gap is at the root of significant downtime in your job, which clearly isn't helpful to you or your company.

As studies commissioned by Lynn Taylor Consulting and conducted by a global research firm reveal, U.S. employees spend a whopping 19.2 hours a week (13 hours during the work week and 6.2 hours on the weekend) worrying about "what a boss says or does."

Bridging the Trust Gap

In another one of our studies, 91 percent felt of employees felt that when a manager changes course after getting employee feedback, morale significantly improves. If management trusts its staff, then many positive outcomes naturally occur - including improved teamwork, morale, and profits.

Good news: you can play a proactive role in bridging the trust gap with your boss.

The first step is understanding why mistrustful behaviors are happening. They're not always about you. Neediness, endlessly questioning and demanding boss traits, for example, may be borne out of insecurities about their own stature. They may stem from extra anxiety about how specific projects reflect on their own (possibly tenuous) position.

If managers have reason to feel that work is sub-par, of course, they will pay greater attention and will want to help. But this discussion is about those situations where the help becomes "unhelpful."

Here are the most common negative trust behaviors among managers - and what you can do about them:

Neediness: A needy boss may visit you often and appear to hover. You may see a parallel to a toddler who needs your exclusive attention and praise - no matter how busy you are trying to do your work. The conversation may default to your work when your manager really is looking for interaction.

  Action: Show that you are responsible and dedicated. Then set boundaries and clear limits while at the same time encouraging your boss's independence by praise. You may also encourage involvement and engagement of other peers to take some of the pressure off.

• Endless questioning: Just as a small child constantly asking "Why?" can push your patience to the limit, so too can your boss's endless questioning. Constant questions can make you think your supervisor is documenting your every move and doesn't trust you to handle even the smallest task.

  Action: Keep your boss "over-informed" via e-mails, regular updates or briefings, and at least once-a-week meetings. Make a preemptive strike by anticipating questions and having answers ready. Keep your sense of humor toned-up - a light-hearted comment can often disarm rapid-fire questioning.

Demanding: A demanding boss is like a child who shouts "I want it now!" and won't let you out of her sight until she gets what she wants. You on the other hand, feel she needs to put more trust in your abilities to deliver the goods.

  Action: Set expectations. Give the boss a good idea of when you'll have the project completed. If you're feeling overwhelmed, or some unforeseen hitch has delayed your final report, let your boss know immediately and have a back up plan. Reinforce your boss's good behavior by thanking him on his helpfulness, support and clarity of purpose.

Trust in Your Abilities

Realize that in these uncertain economic times, you, management and your entire organization are under extra pressure to perform. Have faith in your own abilities to close the trust gap. You can pave the way for a "safe for success" environment by over communicating, creating preemptive opportunities to reassure, and demonstrating consistent reliability.