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Voices Carry: Relational Mistrust in Organizations

Confidentially, who can you speak to confidentially? The circle of trust exists for all of us, whether detailed or happenstance. We know who we can talk to, really talk to. The hard truth is that there may not be as many as we might hope, perhaps even highlighting that there isn’t anyone we really trust at all.

Recently, I have had the opportunity to listen to a group of people collectively and individually as they work through a conflict. The group gathered based upon one item of tension, but what has come through is that this one item isn’t really the issue. The friction is because there is rampant mistrust within the group. Even those who’ve postured to be simpatico with another have been found to share differently when in a one-on-one conversation. Sub-tier agendas have broken the hope for reconciliation. And now, people are left to merely jockey for empty position. Disheartening to say the least.

Yet, for as upsetting as this is, organizational leadership regularly deals with this. It’s regrettably commonplace in some of your companies. The faux friendships are in place as a mechanism to hold onto a position or to be seen as a “team player” for the next advancement. The work you do matters, for sure, but the politics of relationship cannot be ignored. There are companies that promote trust as a value despite the activity that shows otherwise. Have you fallen into that pattern?

This is not about being bleak. It is about recognizing a broken framework. Are you a participant in the brokenness?

In what has become a classic, Meet the Parents explores this concept of the circle of trust directly, and of course, with hilarity. Robert DeNiro is at his over-the-top best as protector and government agent father to Ben Stiller’s neurotic, over-compensating future son-in-law. DeNiro uses trust as a weapon for most of the movie and Stiller works to earn a reprieve from the perceived doubt. If it weren’t funny, it would be primarily awkward and frustrating (it might be that for you anyway!).

Is that how it is for you at work? And for those of you who do your work 100% remotely, do you find that it’s been doable to build the rapport necessary to function in the mechanic of your organization? Over the last year, more employees have been added to companies in a remote capacity that had never been in the office previously. The manner with which trust is built will need to be more intentional with those whom we don’t bump into during the day. Have you made a different effort to be inclusive of those teammates who exist elsewhere?

The first step is to ask yourself: What am I doing to participate in any unhealthy trust construct at my organization? This is not about accusation but awareness. You cannot change what you don’t recognize. Look deeply at your involvement in any brokenness.

The second step is to ask: What is my company doing to support functionally broken trust amongst its people? If the status quo has deep roots in positional jockeying and backstabbing, then those weapons need to be addressed. Those who wield them today and attack those around them may find that tomorrow puts them on the defensive. It’s a quick switch to a protective posture. Your role involves calling it out, at whatever level you find yourself. Open the door to discuss, address and invoke change. (Some additional thoughts on building healthy trust can be found at:

It is sad to watch a group of people live in such mistrust of one another. Backbiting is exhausting. Wearing masks to hide true feelings affects mental health. Why would anyone need to live like this? It’s okay for us to disconnect the mechanisms and change the construct. If, ultimately, it didn’t work out for DeNiro’s tough guy, how could we stand a chance? Fuggedaboutit.



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