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Restore Trust at Work with These 3 Words


Jul. 10, 2014 HBR Blogs

We are allies. Three simple words. Yet when spoken by a manager to an employee, these may be three of the most powerful words possible.

Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work, on our way to and from work, or thinking about work. When we meet someone new, the first question Americans ask and are asked is typically, “So, what do you do?” When we describe someone else, we usually lead with their profession: “She’s a doctor.”

Given how important work seems in our lives, it is tragic that most employment relationships are built on a lie.

Managers pretend that employees have a job for life. Employees pretend that they intend to work for their company for the rest of their careers. But deep down, both parties don’t believe their own words.

You can’t build a trusting relationship on a foundation of dishonesty and self-deception.

Yet the “honest” approach of considering every job temporary, and every employee a “free agent” leads to a bleak, cynical world without trust or loyalty.

The answer is for managers and employees to treat each other as allies: Independent and autonomous players who voluntarily come together to work towards mutually agreed upon goals.

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