Here is why the term “trust” is too vague

Many corporations preach trust as a critical success factor. The word trust appears in many organizational artifacts: the way clients are to be treated, mission statement, core values etc., ad nauseam. Yet when examined up close, the term trust seems to lack shared meaning.

An underlying dynamic which impacts perceptions of what constitutes trust are the basic assumptions about “how do get things done”.

  • In cultures where people assume that building a system that works enables people to get things done, trust is achieved by behaviours which strengthen the system, like `following procedures`, sticking to roles/responsibilities and accuracy.
  • In other cultures, where people assume that a web of relationships will enable things to get done, behaviours which strengthen the web of relationships will  enhance trust, like `trading favours`, insider dealings, and scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.

Indeed, trust means too many different things to different people and is achieved by drastically divergent means.

  • In some cultures, people trust one another because they know that conflicts will never be aired. This strengthens relationships!
  • In some cultures, trust is augmented after an “argument” because then each side knows that the other truly cares. This also strengthens relationships.
  • Many Dutch will trust you if you are direct whilst many Thais will build trust if you avoid giving them direct messages which are unpleasant.
  • ·Germans may develop trust with people who follow the process. Chinese and Israelis will need to trust someone first before they follow a process.
  • Mr. Wu and Mr. Smith sign a 40 million dollar deal. Then Mr. Wu asks Mr. Smith to hire his son for a year so that the son can get a visa to the US. Smith does not trust Wu because he thinks that he corrupt. Wu does not trust Smith because “I just did him a favour, and he won’t even help me with my son”. Here is the conflict between systems and relationships at its peak!

I am publishing  a book of exercises geared to create enhanced global mindfulness of key organizational terms. In this upcoming book, one of issues I shall address is trust in global organizations.

Share

Listening is a guessing game in many cultures

Some cultures are relatively blunt and to the point. One rarely needs to guess what a Dutch, German, French or Israeli means when they express themselves in business. True, nuances and cultural clues may be be missing, but after some exposure, getting the point is pretty straight forward.

In other cultures, corporate communication is much more difficult to decipher. In some cultures, this  difficulty comes from face saving (e.g. Thailand, Philippines) ; in other cultures the difficulty comes from a cultural uniformity which negates the need to be explicit , like Japan. In the USA, the difficulty in figuring out what something means is negatively impacted by political correctness, which obfuscates clarity.

In cross cultural communication, a key skill that one needs to acquire is how to understand corporate communication when a lot is “unsaid”.

Example: A senior manager asks the Japan Office if he can visit the first week of August. The answer he gets is yes. Then, the senior manager asks how many people will be on vacation that same week. When he learns that 70% of the people will be on vacation that same week, he asks if the first week of September is better, and gets a “yes”, only to learn later on that this date is also unsuitable.

Here are a few suggested ways to get around this impediment of implicitness:

1) Don’t try to get people to be explicit. While it can be done, it is very humiliating for the other side.

2) Ask many people the same question and compare answers.

3) Learn to provide alternatives, as opposed to asking questions the answers to which are yes or no. (Do you prefer I come on this date or that date).

4) Listen very closely to what is not said. Watch eye content, pay attention, putting  all communication in (age, role, situational) context.

5) Watch for purposeful ambiguity. E.g, Is this a good time to meet? “Yes, it may be”.

Follow me @AllonShevat

Share

Dealing with the feedback loop: Traditional and Global OD

One of the major changes that Traditional OD needs is a remodelling of the underlying assumption that feedback and discussion generated by feedback serve as the ultimate platform to make organizational  improvements and create behavioural change.

Within cultures, there are certain things that are not discussed, from taboo to giving feedback about a characteristic that cannot change. The content of what is not discussed may change from culture to culture, but all cultures have the category of things that are not discussed. There is phenomenal variance between cultures on what is not discussable.

Cultures have different ways of discussing discrete & sensitive issues in what they see in an appropriate manner. For some cultures this may in a  very closed forum, or with close friends that you trust. Other cultures prefer management meetings.There is phenomenal variance between cultures about what is discrete and sensitive.

Cultures have different ways of viewing emotions including anger. In some cultures, emotions including anger must be part of a discussion to prove you are genuine. In other cultures, you must smile when you are angry to repress any emotion. And strangely, in another culture, one must speak in a civil manner, yet to write flaming emails is ok!

In the global organization, we can see a lot of these differences coming into play. Western cultures have almost a religious belief that discussion creates an opportunity to improve. In many other cultures, the price that is paid for disrupting harmony by having a such a discussion is so high that the risk is not worth taking.

Western OD promulgates genuine and authentic feedback and discussion as platforms for improvement. Clearly as someone raised in Traditional OD, I believe in the power of genuine and authentic feedback. However, as a global OD consultant, my beliefs are irrelevant and I need to ensure that I do not use my position to push people to take risks that they think are not worthwhile.

So, the global OD consultant often work behind the scenes to deliver messages and “make things happen”, whilst external harmony is maintained.

The Traditional OD consultant will continue to be a missionary of discussion Uber Alles. And when work dries up, he or she  will wait till the market gets better.

PS-Example I shared with my friend Peter A

Bill is Asia Pacific Area Manager. Som is Thai  Area Marketing Manager. Bill wants to tell Som that his resistance to a certain marketing idea is unacceptable. Bill told his consultant that in the past, Som has “yes yessed”, then Som feels insulted. Allon suggest that Bill call Som’s colleagues in Viet Nam and the Philippines, and praises them for accepting the marketing idea. Bill then ensures that Som’s colleagues update Som that Bill has called. Bill talks to Som via his colleagues.

Share

Trust in global companies

The way to achieve trust varies from culture to culture.

  • In some cultures, people trust one another because they know that no feedback will be given which leads to loss of face.
  • In some cultures, trust is augmented after an “argument” because then each side knows that the other truly cares.
  • In some cultures, “following the process” builds trust whist in other, process can only be followed once trust is established.

Because of this cultural divide around trust, I suggest less use of the word “trust”. There needs to be a list of behaviours around which people rally, not a word that means something very different to everyone on the block.

For example, we could start with:

  • The appropriate people are consulted before a decision is made.
  • We assume positive intent.
  • People assist one another above and beyond formal roles and responsibilities
  • Communication styles factor in both face needs as well as need for directness.

One may claim, trust means different things to different people, but we all need to show trust! I claim that the word creates undue complexity, as if “fast” and “eat” were the same word.

Continued use of the term “trust”, as is ,serves the interests of the power elite in OD, which promulgates this ambiguous term as a platform for  force feeding the western interpretation of trust.

Share

Avoiding authentic discussion in order to be effective

 

Alfred is a product manager, based in the Philadelphia US HQ. Alfred’s role is to ensure that the global sales force sells what is on his products’ road map, in order to ensure that the product will not “disassemble” into hundreds of diverse versions.

Som is a Thailand based Sales Manager in the same company. When Som looks at Alfred’s product, she believes it is overpriced and has too many features for the cost sensitive Thai market. There is also a color issue, because the red logo of the product has political implications. Som thinks that if she exposes Alfred’s product to her customers, she will be accused to trying to rip them off. She will lose friends and face. Furthermore, Som believes that Alfred superlatives about his product are “demeaning” and make her clients feel talked down to.

Alfred is coming to Thailand to promote his product and wants to meet “directly” with Som’s Thai customers; Som is doing everything she can to block Alfred’s meeting with them. Till now, Alfred’s 12 meeting requests have been turned down by the customers.

Business unit manager Karol Plessis (my client) has asked me to “patch up” the relationship “ between Alfred and Som so that “we don’t look like a bunch of clowns”.

Alfred wants a 3 way meeting (Allon, Som and Alfred) to work out the details of the visit.

Som wants “not to discuss this issue with Alfred, because I need to keep working with Alfred”. Som told me that if she loses her temper with Alfred, “we will never be able to work well again”. (I did NOT tell Som that she is not working well with Alfred, because she thinks that she is… by NOT telling him her concerns directly).

Som told me to “tell Alfred what I think, and propose a compromise. I agree to any compromise you make.”

My belief is that someone from a traditional OD background would explain to Alfred the sensitivities of Som and in parallel, explain to Som what she needs to change in order to be effective with Alfred. Then in a facilitated meeting, Som and Alfred would meet to discuss the issue, meeting somewhere in the middle.

The global OD consultant would probably assume that the possibility of building healthy communication between Som and Alfred in a short period of time is low and thus, their communication should be “mediated” as much as possible. A Global OD consultant would prefer work out a compromise between Som and Alfred in separate meetings to cement a very detailed agreement on Alfred’s upcoming meeting, including ground rules in the unfortunate case that they decide to go to clients together. When the consultant has a meeting between the two, everything will have been agreed in advance.

The global OD consultant would not automatically prefer direct dialogue Som and Alfred because forcing Som to be open means, for Som, that she may not be able to continue working with Alfred.

The nightmare scenario of the global consultant is “apparent agreement” whereby Som agrees to compromise, but only verbally. The global OD consultant does not want Som to tell her clients that she is bringing a big shot from HQ; please meet him but don’t worry, he does not really make any decisions.

The traditional OD consultant on the other hand believes that direct communication is best; when people have disagreements, they should talk things out and meet in the middle.

Follow me @AllonShevat

Share