Having tough conversations comes with the territory of management – or at least it should do. But having tough conversations around sensitive topics, politically tricky topics and “the truth that no-one wants to hear” requires skill. It requires confidence, good communication skills and a willingness to be effective at the expense of being liked.

In a nutshell – it’s pretty scary. But necessary.

One such conversation that you should address is if you have a direct report who you do not trust.

When managers don’t trust people, and they lack the skills to have tough conversations, they tend to micromanage, move the employee aside, ignore their ideas, focus on other employees, give them bad work and pull any other lever of change they can that avoids them having to have that conversation.

Please don’t do this. It’s not effective and it’s not the right thing to do for your employees.

Nothing saps a man’s confidence in himself so much as mistrust from those over him. – The Ascent Of Rum Doodle – W. E. Bowman
Here’s what I suggest instead:
  1. Jot down why you don’t trust someone. What behaviours do they exhibit? Why don’t you trust them?
    1. Keep it about behaviours.
    2. By describing to yourself why you don’t trust someone, you may uncover details that change your mind.
    3. You will also have specific and concrete examples of behaviours that lead you to not trusting them – this is the content of your conversation with them.
    4. If you can’t find anything – are you sure the problem isn’t with you?
  2. Simplify your observations and draw out the main points.
    1. When you have the conversation you need to be clear, succinct and accurate.
  3. Find an appropriate time and place to chat to your direct report and be prepared to listen.
  4. Be confident in yourself during the conversation. Be specific about the behaviours (and keep it about behaviours).
    1. Be concrete in the examples you use.
    2. Be specific about the behaviours and the effect they have.
    3. Ask questions and listen deeply to the answers.
    4. Be confident in your appearance and breath calmly if you’re finding the meeting tough.
    5. Observe body language and watch for emotions becoming out of sync and escalating (there is no harm in calling the meeting to a close if you feel it’s not going well).
  5. Keep lots of notes.
  6. Discuss outcomes that will help your direct report demonstrate behaviours that build trust.
    1. Don’t force these though – but it’s helpful for your direct to know what they could be doing to rebuild trust between you.
    2. What could you do differently? Their behaviour may be in response to yours.
  7. Open up regular dialogue after the meeting about the issue, or about the next steps.
    1. A regular 1:1 should be in place already, but if not, get one scheduled – and stick to it

Throughout all of this though – check your own behaviours. You may be seeing something that isn’t there. It’s why I encourage you to always focus on behaviours using observations, rather than “feelings” based on perceptions.

The worst thing you could do though is to ignore this issue and let the distrust grow – that will lead to a much more difficult conversation or situation further down the line.