build trust through communication: four tips leaders do well

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When faced with communicating “bad” or “honest” news, it’s often tempting to sugarcoat, put it off, or worse still, climb back in bed, put the pillow over your head and wish it away. It’s human nature. We all fear the “shoot the messenger” syndrome. But organizations or managers who succumb to this temptation do so at their own peril. Worse, they miss a great opportunity to build trust at a time when it’s most needed.

Just this week, I received an email from Zappos, as some of you may have, about a security breach that potentially compromised my name, e-mail address, the last four digits of my credit card number, password and other personal information. The message was sent to all customers as soon as Zappos became aware of the problem. While that’s never good news, I was glad to learn about it sooner rather than later.

It’s easy to communicate authentically to staff, customers, and colleagues in good times. But it’s even more important when a formidable situation arises. During tough times, people are nervous about the economy, their jobs, and their futures. Here are four tips to make navigating a sticky situation a little easier:

  • Be visible and solicit feedback. If you’re a leader or manager, this is a critical time to be visible, sharing openly and honestly with staff and customers. Demonstrate leadership through frequent and authentic communication and respond to feedback in a timely manner.
  • Communicate early. And often. Don’t be slow to respond because you don’t have all the answers. Doing so will let someone else frame the situation and possibly in a way you don’t like. Say what you do know and don’t be afraid to acknowledge there will be more details to come.
  • Communicate in person. One-to-one and one-to-many forums are powerful and influential ways to get your point across, take the pulse of your organization, and show leadership. Get out of your office and go to your team. Be sure to share about all the great work your team and organization is doing as well.
  • The next best thing to being there. Since you can’t always communicate in person, social media can be a great follow up.. Post a short video, have a live chat, personally respond to Facebook posts. Let customers and clients know you’re listening.

The takeaway? Trust is the name of the game in all our relationships. But it must be earned through authentic communication. Easy to say. Deceptively difficult to do. Don’t stop practicing.

By lindsey ferrari
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