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There are quite a few articles trying to emphasize and define Organizational trust. What is a good way to tell your boss that you are losing trust in him/her/them?

Articles - huffingtonpost, trustedadvisor etc.

I realize that this conversation is worth having only if one believes that there has been an oversight somewhere. Intentional decisions causing trust barriers can easily lead to 'let's agree to disagree' conversations.

Edit 1 - A little bit introduction about me might help. I am a technical person (programmer), I spend more time with the computer than most others, given the kind of work I do. However, although I do interact with most people around me, I am not the best when it comes to putting the message in the right tone.

  • What I mean is, I don't intend to confront/fight. I want to know what's the way to start a conversation indicating that there is a problem and I want it to be solved rather than fight about it. I might have ideas, but am not sure how to start floating them. – Srikanth Venugopalan Mar 9 '13 at 16:07
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    If you lost trust in your bosses, vote with your legs unless there are compelling reasons to stay. In general, wasting nerves and health on worrying about your manager's misdeeds and incompetence is not worth it while your life is passing by... Just my 2 cents. – Deer Hunter Mar 9 '13 at 17:57
  • Is the trust being lost because there are slips in what management is promising? Is the trust being lost because of changes in working conditions to become less than satisfactory to get quality work done? I'd want a bit more on the loss here as different scenarios would be addressed differently to my mind. – JB King Mar 10 '13 at 20:46
  • @JBKing - It is a bit of both actually, and the two are inter-related. In some cases, there have been inputs (data + analysis) against decisions, but these have been overridden, and symptoms of forecasted ill-effects have started surfacing. Now the people in the ground are expected to make up for it. – Srikanth Venugopalan Mar 11 '13 at 0:59
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Take a deep breath and take a fresh look at the situation

You say you're losing faith because "there have been inputs (data + analysis) against decisions, but these have been overridden, and symptoms of forecasted ill-effects have started surfacing". I read this as, "I saw a problem coming, told them, and it still happened."

I have three questions for you:

  • Was this really your boss' fault? (they may have done their best but got shut down by their boss, or had other extenuating factors)
  • Are you seeing the whole picture? (you are seeing a smaller picture than your boss more likely -- are you sure they made the wrong call?)
  • Are you just unhappy that you didn't get your way? (you brought something up, it was ignored, you are unhappy)

Note: I am not saying that your boss is in the right, but before making a huge decision that could poison your relationships at work, I highly suggest caution and making sure your frustration is aimed in the right direction by thinking about it from another perspective first.

What do you want to get out of this meeting?

If you want to build "organizational trust" chances are that telling your boss, "I don't trust you" isn't going to be the best way to do it. In order to get the most out of the meeting, I suggest a few different things to think about.

What do you want?

If your boss called you in to a room and said, "Srikanth, I just can't trust you recently", how would you react? Chances are it will just create an uncomfortable situation with three possible outcomes:

  1. Get defensive
  2. Get offensive
  3. Ask, "So how can we solve this?"

You want the conversation to end at 3), so rather than focusing on the lack of trust, you should go in with a solution (rather than focusing on the problem).

How do you get there?

I am going to assume (and this is an assumption, adjust as needed for your actual situation) that you want your boss to respect your input more, and give you more positive feedback. How do you accomplish that? Saying, "Boss, I've been struggling recently because you haven't been giving me enough positive feedback" isn't actually anything actionable, it's just a more tactful way of saying, "Boss, you make me feel bad".

So you need to think of concrete steps. For instance:

  1. When I give a suggestion, could we have a short chat so you can give me a bit more feedback to understand your thought process?
  2. Could we have a meeting to discuss the workload for the folks on the ground recently, and go over how the organization is planning to deal with them?
  3. When you guys make a strategy decision, could you share a bit about it in the weekly team meeting so we can understand where the company is headed?

These things are actually actionable by the manager, and make you sound like you want to work with him/her, and trust him/her.

Remember, your boss is human too

Even if your boss is really bad at their job, that doesn't mean they are a bad person. Professional incompetence is not the same as personal malice. At the end of the day they have a bunch of stress of their own, probably go home to their family and complain about similar problems about their bosses to their friends and family. Assume that they are a good person who wants to do the right thing, or the conversation will likely go far far far worse.

Conclusion

I'd frame the conversation like this:

  1. State the Problem "Recently in project X I brought up comment Y because I was worried about issue Z, but I didn't understand why it wasn't implemented."
  2. Explain the Context "I know I should have asked when it happened, and I'm sorry I waited so long to talk to you directly, but it's been a problem recently because issue Z has happened in project X increasing my workload."
  3. Suggest a Solution "Since you have a lot more information on what's going on in management and throughout the organization, I was hoping you'd be able to provide a little more feedback behind how decisions are made so that we can make more actionable suggestions in the future. Could you share the current management strategy in our weekly progress meetings?"

Generally, you want to briefly state the problem and what you want, and then let your manager talk. The goal isn't to rant, it's to get the solution you want by having your manager know exactly what steps he needs to take. Try to use words that make your boss less likely to get defensive.

Obviously the above conversation needs to be changed with the details for your situation, but in general, the same sort of flow can be used in almost any case.

  • Great insights, will definitely give it some thought, need to fit this to various situations. I agree completely on 'Take a fresh look' part. – Srikanth Venugopalan Mar 13 '13 at 1:43
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First, ask yourself what exactly leads to losing trust in your boss. Next, tell him, but without expressing any assessments or conclusions. Speak about your feelings instead. Keep in mind that your boss' work is probably much more complicated than you think.

When you do X, I feel ... Examples: When you are comming to ask if I have finished this task 3 times a day, I feel you are not trusting me to do the job

You can also ask your boss if you can make things easier to him

I noticed you are asking if a task is finished several times a day, is there something I can do to make easier for your to know the task status, e.g. sending e-mail, putting on whiteboard, so I won't waste your time coming around to ask?

  • Darhazer, this is not about the manager losing trust in the employee - at least, that's my reading of OP's question. Quite the reverse. Wouldn't expect the manager in question to react lightly to the nebulous talk about "feelings". – Deer Hunter Mar 10 '13 at 16:30
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    Managers who care about employee retention should care about "feelings." – Amy Blankenship Mar 10 '13 at 16:36
  • @AmyBlankenship - normal managers - yes, incompetent and less than trustworthy - ...maybe not so much. – Deer Hunter Mar 10 '13 at 20:13
  • @deer hunter: darHazer's was just an example of it working the other way around. His first two sentences are important: present it as something you have a problem with, not as a critique on the other person. – user8036 Mar 14 '13 at 15:16
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This is an extraordinarily BAD IDEA.

Unless your organization is highly unusual, nothing good will come of this effort. Your are far more likely to get fired than to prompt change. The most likely outcome is no change in management behavior and a significant dip in their view of you (and your consequent future career prospects).

In other words, it is a path with high risk and low likelihood of success.

Organizational culture is set by management ... it flows downward, not upward. The articles you cite both come from that point of view; a manager changing the culture of a subordinate organization.

Think of it this way. They aren't idiots. They have seen the same things you have seen. Either they know that they can't be trusted, or they don't. If they know already, your telling them is pointless. If they don't already know, what credibility do you have to tell them. And, remember that they got where they are by being who they are. So it is working for them

Think of it another way. It takes an intelligent, self aware, confident person to hear criticism and not get angry and defensive. This more the case when the criticism comes from a subordinate. If management at your company are big enough people to take criticism, most likely they would not be untrustworthy.

Don't do it. Accept the situation and either stay and adapt of leave. Two of Jack Welsh's Essentials for Leadership apply here.

"Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be"

"Control your destiny, or someone else will."


If for whatever reason you feel compelled, have conversations with your boss that do not include the words "feel", "feeling", "trust", or anything else emotional. Discuss actions and behaviors. What was said, what actions were taken, and so forth. What you feel is irrelevant .. they don't care. What is relevant is that you need accurate information from them to make confident, accurate decisions and take proper actions.

  • There is one case when doing this is a Good Idea: when you are not only an employee but also a shareholder with vested options, and voting with your feet would forfeit a large part of the compensation. – MrFox Mar 11 '13 at 19:55
  • @MrFox I don't doubt in any case that being successful would be good for you and the organization. I doubt whether being successful in getting change is even remotely possible. – tomjedrz Mar 14 '13 at 6:20
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You can't just walk into the office and say, "Boss I don't trust you any more". What you can do is tell him about a specific instance but start from the result and work backwards.

for example: Remember the meeting yesterday, when the customer asked me about the new feature and I had to stammer for a few seconds because you never sent the email to me? It would be easier and more flattering for the company if we could workout a way to track these requests internally so that the team can appear to be on the same page. Here are some ideas....

The actual discussion will depend on your circumstances.

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