Listen for the ‘little things’ and build trust

Christy Baker

We want our teams to feel empowered to use their resources and take appropriate action to overcome obstacles. At the most basic level, this means keeping open the lines of communication.

Communication challenges often first come to my attention during monthly one-on-one meetings with staff. After listening to each person’s side of a story, I always ask if the person has taken time to speak to the offending party about the challenge. Usually, the answer is “no.”


Consider a communication lapse between Angie and Joe (not their real names). During my meeting with Angie, she told me Joe dropped the ball on a deliverable she needed, which caused her to have to stay late to finish the project. Though her frustration may have been warranted, my first question was: “Have you let Joe know that his actions (or lack thereof) affected you?”

You guessed it.

Joe came in two hours later for his monthly meeting and told me Angie had been very short with him lately and he didn’t understand why. He knew he had been a little late providing her with the deliverable, but he had a high priority item come across his desk which bumped Angie’s needs.

My first question to Joe: “Did you let Angie know about this high priority?”

Joe told me he didn’t want to “poke the bear,” so he hadn’t said anything.

At this point I had two irritated team members resorting to passive aggressive behavior that wouldn’t get resolved until they decided to have an honest conversation with each other. Not everyone is comfortable being uncomfortable so there may be times a mediator is needed to help broker the conversation.

In this situation a manager can’t heal that pain but she can step in to bring both sides to the table.

In this specific situation, I coached Angie to approach Joe using “I” statements as in “I noticed that the information I had asked for to complete the project was later than I had requested. This caused me to stay late to finish the project. Help me understand what happened so we can avoid this in the future.”

This opened dialogue in a non-confrontational way so Joe could tell her he had a higher priority item come across his desk so he shifted her project off until the end of the day. He apologized and promised to be more proactive in his communication if something like this came up again. Tensions subsided and that pain was healed for both Angie and Joe.

In the years I have been managing teams at the bank, the number of my direct reports has gone from one to 14. I don’t think this is uncommon but it can be a challenge to connect with each person on a regular basis to build and maintain trust.

I have found listening is vital to building and maintaining trust. Well that was anticlimactic! Stick with me though, it gets better. As you are listening, take notes, watch body language and notice changes in tone.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to build trust and your team member isn’t being candid about what may be bothering them, their body language will give them up. So, dig deeper. I am not talking about putting a couch in your office and pretending to be a psychologist, just don’t allow passive remarks to get swept under that new couch you are still envisioning in your office. It seems pretty simple, doesn’t it?

When visiting with your team listen to their pain points, dig into what they have done to heal their own pain and finally take action to help them address the pain that continues to fester.

Christy Baker is chief operations officer with TS Banking Group, Treynor, Iowa. She has been in banking for 18 years. You can reach her at [email protected]