Finding your way: earning trust in a distrusting world

Courtney Thompson
July 8, 2020

In today’s world — of COVID-19 and differing views about how to prevent its spread, social media bots, “fake news,” economic uncertainty, racial inequality and overall heightened raw emotions — it can be hard to know where to go for trusted information. Add the dynamic of the employer-employee relationship to that uncertain stew, and you have a "perfect storm" in employee communications.

No matter your organization, we communicators are contending with new and evolving challenges, at a time when clear, accurate and trusted employee communication has never been more important.

At ROC Group, we spend a lot of time learning about human psychology and how our brains are "wired."  We've been fortunate to work with influencers like story scientist Kendall Haven and neuroscientist Dan Radecki to understand why we humans respond the way we do, especially when those responses may not be intuitive. Did you know our brains will change what we hear to fit pre-existing narratives that we hold dear? Or that the way the brain responds with distrust is similar to how the brain responds when faced with something you find disgusting? Those are just a few reasons why distrust is such a strong and difficult belief to change.

In these challenging times, what can communicators do to strengthen the effectiveness of workplace communications? The key to all of it is understanding the levers that encourage trust or create distrust. Today, earning trust — even in the most trustworthy environments  — is tough and complicated. Here are three practical steps to help:

1.) Focus on the EQ. A better understanding and appreciation of emotional intelligence can help you be more self-aware, embrace change, and communicate more effectively. Knowing where people are in a moment is harder today, when we are all minimizing casual interactions and working from new distances. It was a lot easier to check in over a real-time cup of coffee. Today, schedule virtual coffee by camera instead, even in brief 15-minute increments, to engage more personally and observe body language and reaction.

2.) Talk about your benefits. Be sure people know where to go for more information about their company benefits — physical, mental and financial — and what they can do to protect themselves and their families. Update your employee handbook, dedicate more resources to annual enrollment communications when employees and their families make their benefits choices for the following year, and keep your COVID-19 related information and return-to-work protocols up to date. Most of my clients found it made sense to create dedicated COVID-related microsites this year, so employees and their families could easily learn more whenever they had a question.  

3.) Trust but verify. You build trust with accurate, timely and clear communications, so be sure you have full command of verified, proven facts. Cite your sources. Provide hyperlinks to source material for easy access. And help employees navigate the volume by clearly separating info that is "need to know/action required" from good information that is "nice to know."

We’d love to share more of our tips, thoughts and brains with you.

Stay well and keep communicating.

Courtney Thompson
Courtney Thompson
Managing Consultant
A former communications executive at Boeing, Courtney Thompson has spent nearly two decades helping large employers communicate with clarity and urgency during a wide range of crises and change.