The Gatehouse Blog

Trust & dialogue

I’m taking my lead today from Andrew Miller, a London-based blogger and consultant. In his blog yesterday Andrew cited a Harvard Business School article on dialogue and asked "will dialogue build trust?". I’d like to add some thoughts of my own…

Trust is at the very heart of internal communication. It is through communication that we build trust and through trust that we get things done inside organisations.

But research keeps pointing towards a crisis of trust in the workplace. Last year Watson Wyatt reported that just 31% of UK workers have trust and confidence in the job being done by their organisation’s leaders. 

What a appalling statistic! UK business leaders, and their communicators, should hang their heads in shame.

So what do we mean by dialogue and what role can it play in building trust in the workplace?

I often refer to a simple typology developed by Richard Harris.  He describes five types of involvement, ranging from basic information giving (that’s where the decisions have been made and the employee merely has the opportunity to react) to genuinely open dialogue (where the decisions are shared).
I have come across many organisations that would struggle to get beyond stage two (information gathering) and rarely, if ever, engage in a genuine dialogue with their people.
It seems there is a lot of talk of employee consultation (particularly now that it’s a legal requirement under the Information & Consultation of Employees Regulations) but that much of it is rhetoric. 
So what can we communicators do to help?
I have said before that I think communicators should take on the role of ‘trust builder’ inside their organisations. 

There’s such an enormous amount we can do to build the credibility of our leaders and managers, to show that we respect our employees, to listen to them, to give them a voice, to highlight the fairness of policies, to share information in an open and transparent way, to explain the rationale behind business decisions, to show that we care, to encourage conversations, to reduce internal ‘spin’, to ensure talk matches walk, to break down internal barriers, to improve the effectiveness of line managers, to involve in local decision making and so on.. 

These are the fundamental building blocks of trust and they’re very much part of our world.