Trust in Business Relationships: Building Through Conflict, Not Drama
Trust has been a big topic of conversation in my work lately. Leaders at all levels tell me how important trust is, or how it’s lacking in their workplace. They want more of it to improve their working relationships. Compassionate conflict is an important way to build trust in business relationships.
Conflict, Trust and Relationships
I believe that conflict and trust are related. Healthy teams that trust each other are able to have productive conflict. Unproductive conflict, or drama, erodes trust in business relationships and is indicative of dysfunctional teams.
Last week I was talking about this issue with a friend of mine who is an executive coach. She shared how many of her clients are struggling with a combination of strained business relationships, lack of trust, and inability to engage in healthy conflict — a recipe for toxic work culture. My friend is convinced that healthy conflict is a necessary component of trust in business relationships.
Her clients, like mine, resist engaging in conflict with their teammates for fear of negative consequences. They make the excuse, “I would have to trust them in order to feel safe engaging in conflict. Otherwise, it’s just too risky.”
Which Comes First, Trust or Conflict?
This presents a conundrum. Do we need trusting relationships before we can do conflict, or does conflict play a role in building trusting relationships? “Which comes first,” I asked my friend.
After some reflection, she concluded that conflict comes first. Compassionate conflict, that is.
Drama Based Conflict
Only Compassionate conflict builds trust in business relationships. Drama-based conflict is what erodes trust and weakens relationships. That’s what everyone is afraid of, because that’s mostly what they’ve experienced. Drama-based conflict includes:
- Passive-aggressive behavior
- Running away from vulnerability
- Dismissing or minimizing someone’s concerns
- Blowing up or counter-attacking
- Maneuvering and manipulating
- Lack of empathy
- Shutting down
Compassionate Conflict Builds Trust
A strong, trusting relationship can weather a little bit of drama, but over time, drama will destroy even the most trusting relationship. Compassionate conflict is distinctly different because it balances care, kindness, and concern with attention to the real issues. Compassionate conflict;
- Doesn’t shy away from tough conversations.
- Separates the person from the behavior.
- Speaks honestly with respect and dignity.
- Takes responsibility for emotions without blaming.
- Owns up to behaviors and asks others to do the same.
- Deals with issues immediately instead of letting them fester.
- Communicates directly and candidly.
- Shows vulnerability and openness.
- Struggles with others instead of against them.
Compassionate conflict builds trust in business relationships because;
- It sends the message you care enough to talk about the real issue.
- It puts the relationship above your own discomfort, embarrassment, anger, or resentment.
- It gets the real issues on the table so they can be solved.
- Your vulnerability creates a safe place.
- Struggling together builds a bond.
If you are waiting for trust to grow before you engage in real, healthy conflict, you’ll be waiting forever. Compassionate conflict is the mechanism to build trust in business relationships and partnerships. And it starts with you.