Trust is a highly intangible element but very important in our civilized living. Its presence or absence can govern our inter-personal behaviour to a large extent. Our ability to trust has a great impact on our working lives, our family interactions and our achievement of personal and organizational goals.
Since trust is a function of behaviour, such behaviours which lead to defensiveness must be identified and modified. These defensive or aggressive behaviours create a climate which is conducive to mistrust thus leading to conflict in interpersonal areas.
Jack Gibb has identified certain behaviours which he calls “aggressive” behaviours which should be avoided and certain other behaviours which he calls “supportive” behaviours which should be promoted because they tend to reduce defensiveness and conflict.
Dr. John K. Stout of the University of Scranton, writing in “supervisory management” (February 1984) suggests that these supportive and aggressive behaviours are not necessarily mutually exclusive nor should all the aggressive behaviours be avoided under all circumstances. However, in general, supportive behaviour attitudes should be adopted as much as possible. These behaviours are briefly described as follows:
Aggressive Versus Supportive Behaviours:
Performance evaluations based upon emotional judgement and tainted by prejudice and residual anger from any previous encounters destroy trust. Making evaluations always brings in subjective opinions and subjective opinions relate more to personal relationships rather than operations and facts.
Descriptive evaluations on the other hand, simply describe factual elements which are visible, observable and verifiable without reading behind the obvious or making judgement about motives. Using the correct words to describe activities and operations build up a feeling of fairness, equity and trust and this in turn reduces conflict:
Controlling attitude is highly authoritative and makes the subordinates feel like machines rather than human beings. The contribution of subordinates is limited to what the controller allows and thus stifles creativity, leading to resentment and conflict. Problem oriented behaviour, on the contrary looks for solutions in which all can participate. This will result in new answers and unique opportunities and this approach implies mutuality which builds dedication and commitment.
A strategy is a carefully structured set of directions which gives the management a tool for maneuverability so that it can manipulate and gear others towards a predetermined objective. This may be resented by subordinates since they fear loss of autonomy. Spontaneous interactions, on the other hand, are open and free flowing and result in open and honest communications in exploring each other’s needs and viewpoints, exchanging information and ideas and developing a work environment of mutual trust and caring.
Neutral behaviour, though advisable in many situations, is considered as one of indifference and uncaring. All of us want to have friendship, respect and affections and we always want others to be on our side. Accordingly, the attitude of neutrality seems so impersonal that it is detrimental to the feelings of trust.
Empathy by contrast, is the natural desire to get involved with other people, to share with their feelings and emotions, to be interested in their needs and problems, to care and to understand them and their beliefs and attitudes and to be sincere and friendly. In this “me too” environment, a friendly relationship is always welcome.
Feelings of superiority based upon rank, prestige, power and authority are highly threatening to others and if this power is openly exhibited in talk and actions, it may sometimes create envy but mostly it creates resentment.
For example, the presence of a police officer at your door creates an initial fear because of the power and authority assigned to the police force and our perceptions about police officers using such power. Exhibiting equality, on the other hand, enhances interpersonal trust.
We always feel more comfortable in the company of our equals. That is one reason why we generally keep company with our own age group. A sense of equality reduces the complex of inferiority or complex of superiority, both of which are detrimental to the environment of trust.
A dogmatic person is one who is set in his own ways and is highly opinionated and does not leave any ground for cultivating genuine interaction with others because genuine interaction is based upon “give and take” attitude which a highly dogmatic person does not possess. As a result, the relationship remains superficial and trust, if any, is shallow.
The open-minded individual, on the other hand, is adventurous, takes risks and is willing to experiment with new ideas and thoughts. In most bargaining and negotiating sessions, it is always advised to “keep our minds open”, so that we are receptive to any idea for .discussion and adaptation. An open-minded person is like an “open book” and is highly predictable resulting in respect and trust.
These types of supportive behaviours, as against aggressive behaviours, on the part of management prevent conflict to a large degree and help in resolving conflict if it develops, in a mutually beneficial way. This is a win-win situation in which all parties come out as winners.
In order to achieve such a supportive environment, management can initiate a number of steps. First, management must create a social environment in the work situation which is conducive to mutual problem solving. This is fundamental to creating trust among people and specially trust among workers for the management.
This would involve open channels of communication, respect for each other’s views and an open-minded attitude on the part of management. Second, all efforts should be made to make the concerned parties sensitive to each other’s attitudes, values and needs.
This according to Nicholas and Steven, can be achieved through “reflective listening” in which the listener is made to repeat what the speaker has said in order to make sure that he has fully understood the speaker’s message before speaking himself.
This creates a clear understanding of one’s opinions and beliefs and this type of clear and properly understood communication leads to respect and trust. Thirdly, the issues causing the conflict can be redefined or revised in such a manner that it becomes a common problem for both parties rather than making it a “win-lose” situation where one party wins and the other party loses.
For example, the problem between sales and production can be redefined as a problem of how best to serve the customer for which both parties are concerned, thus making it a problem to be solved mutually,. Finally, only such solutions should be accepted that are acceptable to all concerned parties. This is considered to be the best way to “manage” conflict.