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I have found many articles about "building trust" and articles about "communicating a decision you disagree with", but nothing that combines the two. How do front line and middle management build trust with staff in the face of unpopular decisions, or decisions with unavailable rationale, over which they have no authority, or further insight?

The communication articles emphatically assert to not lay blame so as to not undermine those who have made a particular decision. This is understandable. Then they suggest dialogue ranging from venting-without-debate to asking for feedback. However, if staff concerns are rarely, if ever, acted on, then why should they care or participate in such exercises?

The articles assume that you have some control over outcomes. Yet, in this scenario, the decision is already made and will not change.

How could you treat differently decisions where you don't have all the information versus others that are plainly inconsistent, unfair or the communication was absent/mishandled (assuming that in the former there is a sound reason for lack of rationale)?

The work environment is not nearly as bad as I allude to, and productivity does not seem to be an issue as staff are invested in their work. However, mistrust between staff and certain management persists, and we would like to address this.

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    Building trust has little to do with authority. Yes, there may be different ways to build trust when you have authority, but the core principles of building trust are the same regardless. I'm somewhat baffled by you saying you didn't find articles you read on building trust applicable. If you just talk to them as more of an equal in a neutral setting (e.g. grab coffee with them) and don't try to explain things if the situation doesn't require it, that should make most generic trust-building advice applicable. – Dukeling Aug 1 '17 at 21:59
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How to be trusted in three words:

  1. Consistent
  2. Reliable
  3. Honest

Be always someone others can count on, who deals fairly with them and who delivers.

If you are always honest, they will trust what you say.

If you are reliable, they will trust what you do.

If you are consistent, they will trust who you are.


If you have no control over the outcome, then it is upon you to support it as best as you can, even if you disagree with it. If it is something that goes against your morals or is illegal/questionable, then that is a different discussion.

Find something positive in the decision, even something small, and highlight that.

For example,

The layoffs are an attempt for the company to survive and thrive. Management has done their best to determine which way has the greatest chance of success, and unfortunately, this is it. Some will have to be let go and those who are left will have increased workload, but the company will still be here. This is a scary time, and if we all do our best, we have the best shot of moving past this.

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    Am I the only one who reads the example as: "We hope we will be able to provide work for you until you find something new, but you better start sending out resumés now." I suppose it tries to be honest, reliable and consisent and that in that situation there isn't anything good to say... – Odalrick Aug 2 '17 at 10:39
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First off, once you're in management you lose the right to criticize management. Everyone does deserve an answer to why they are asked to do something especially if it's contrary to what they deem as the correct thing to do.

A good tool to see how individual actions fit in the grand scheme is layered goal setting. For example, CEO sets his goals and these are passed down to upper management. Upper management set their goals in line with CEOs and pass down to middle management. This proceeds down to the bottom level supervisor. This way everyone's goals are aligned and communicated.

Now if someone is acting against the goals then there is nothing wrong with correspondence to better clarify these actions. The simple explanation may be that two goals conflict but one takes priority over the other.

Communication is key, though. You should always strive to not only tell people what to do but also tell them why they should do it. Even unpopular decisions that hurt one group may optimize the company as a whole.

I don't see anything wrong with disagreeing with a policy, but you must do the due diligence of finding out why it is being implemented.

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or further insight?

My experience has been to be very careful about criticizing or offering alternative solutions when you don't know what is going on. Find out first. Get clarification. Sometimes when you're new to a job, you just need to listen a lot more. Make sure you are careful with your language and your tone when asking why. Be curious and not judgmental.

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