Difficult conversations, the ones which we all too often shy away from, are the very thing that help build trust in one another.
For instance, if you want to spot a couple who are on the verge of splitting up, look for the ones who have stopped talking and are sitting in silence. The ones having a public argument over lunch still have a dialogue. Couples who argue effectively are 10 times more likely to have a happy relationship than those who sweep difficult issues under the carpet.
For years, our organisations and institutions have swept difficult issues under the carpet rather than having adult to adult conversations. The results are there for all to see.
The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that trust has changed profoundly in the past year—people have shifted their trust to the relationships immediately within their control as we become more intolerant and disillusioned.
The world though is united on one front—all share an urgent desire for change. Only one in five feels that the system is working for them, with nearly half of the mass population believing that the system is failing them.
In conjunction with this pessimism and worry, there is a growing move toward engagement and action.
This is hugely positive, although disruptive. The trust-building opportunity then lies squarely in the area of integrity and engagement.
In the old days a trusting relationship between individuals and organisations has been the norm.
This has shaped the way we communicate – both internally and externally. It has resulted in the issuing of corporate annual reports, press releases , customer satisfaction scores and benchmarking results. All designed to tell a positive, on-message story.
Those days have gone.
As Gerry McGovern writes – the game has profoundly changed. “Many organisations are still deluding themselves into thinking that if they can just get their marketing and PR right, they can control the message, control the future.
The reaction to the latter, on Twitter in particular, highlighted the lack of trust in many of our organisations. There is clearly a need for a different and potentially difficult conversation, and it won’t be easy.
On Saturday my Twitter feed was buzzing, and it wasn’t all positive. A few people were taking me to task for having double standards.
The problem I imagine, is I’m a ‘paid professional’ working within a flawed system. A flawed system I myself have perpetuated at times. How can I possibly help fix it if I’m rewarded by it? I could be – as one person noted – the problem rather than the solution.
This view is not entirely without foundation. Social networks might appear to be more democratic , but in any conversation there’s often a power imbalance, and we’ve seen precious little evidence of any organisations giving up any power or resources.
A lot of people are disillusioned because they feel they could probably do a better job than those in power. Social media has revealed where the power is held, and how it behaves. Why shouldn’t we as social organisations cede power in a situation where so many clearly crave it?
Perhaps it’s because trust works both ways, and our organisations don’t trust citizens, users or customers to wield power responsibly. How would they know how to make the right choices?
It’ll take more than a few tweet-chats or a transformation programme to restore trust that has been eroded over decades. Digital is not the saviour we thought it might be. There’s a need for genuine human connection as a resistance to today’s deadening, tech-obsessed world.
That doesn’t meant we shouldn’t try to improve our online conversations though, we need to develop broader shoulders if we are to break this down. I’ve heard too many stories of people being muted or even blocked by organisations whom they are customers of.
It also means reducing the gap between organisational rhetoric and the reality:
That means it’s time to do less talking and more listening.
It means stopping saying how great your organisation is.
It means engaging rather than broadcasting.
It means defaulting to transparency.
It means people engaging in difficult conversations.
We all have a role in diffusing some of the anger out there. That means getting better at discussing ideas and finding common ground.
Today, more than ever, we need to start talking more. Listening to voices we’d sometimes prefer not to hear.
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