Last week, we discussed the crucial matter of trust within a virtual environment. In particular, we explored swift trust, a phenomenon that takes places when a group of diverse individuals come to quickly trust one another because they are all working toward a common goal. We saw that swift trust tends to develop in a virtual environment where team members do not have the opportunity to build trust in a more traditional manner. We also mentioned that though swift trust is important, it is a temporary phenomenon that holds a team together until a stronger, more trusting bond can form. This week, we’ll explore exactly how virtual team members can transform their temporary bonds of trust into deeper, longer lasting, and more effective relationships. Specifically, we’ll examine ways to develop interpersonal trust.
Many managers tend to assume that virtual team members are only interested in their co workers’ professional capabilities as opposed to who they really are as people. You might be surprised to learn that this assumption is, in fact, false. When you think about it, why do people include sections in their resumes that list their hobbies and interests? It’s because this information gives potential employers a better sense of the applicant’s personality. One theory suggests that we tend to trust others whom we perceive as similar to us. This is because we assume that those who have many things in common with us will likely react to situations in ways we can expect.
For this reason, it is important for virtual managers to encourage their team members to develop personal, empathetic connections. What exactly is empathy though? Simply put, it is the ability to relate to and understand another’s feelings; to feel what they feel and “walk in their shoes”. Empathy is different from sympathy because sympathy describes feelings of pity or sorrow for another’s predicament, whereas empathy involves more of a personal connection between individuals, and for this reason, can go a long way to building trust.
How might we become more empathetic individuals? Well, firstly, those who have been exposed to multicultural environments whether through work or personal travel tend to experience first hand the differences between people. Being aware of the inherent difference between ourselves and others helps us realize that our point of view is only one among a range of diverse lives and personalities. By exposing ourselves to a multitude of cultures and traditions, we can become more empathetic individuals who are better able to make personal connections with others.
Getting in touch with your own emotions is another way to become a more empathetic individual. Make an effort to identify your feelings about any given scenario and learn how to distinguish between emotions such as frustration and irritability, happiness and excitement. Having a better understanding of your own emotions will enable you to quickly and easily relate to the emotions that your employees display, so that you may offer assistance or a helping hand if it’s needed. This, in turn, will increase the likelihood that your employees will come to trust you simply because they feel as though a personal connection has been forged.
Another way to become more empathetic is to routinely inquire into the emotions and perspectives of your employees. Ask them how they feel about a particular project or how they are handling their work load at the moment. Actively listen to their answers and make them truly feel as though they’re being heard. Also, be sure to ask about their personal life as well; you may simply ask how they’re feeling that particular day, what the weather’s been like in their region, or whether they have plans for the holidays. Personal questions such as these make the employee feel valued as an individual and connected to their manager on a more personal level.
There are plenty of other ways to develop personal, empathetic connections with your virtual employees. Managers can begin meetings with a “Take 5” session, where team members take turns discussing what’s been happening in their lives, on both a personal and professional level. It would also be worthwhile for virtual managers to invest in intranet sites with social networking features that give team members the chance to casually interact with one another. These features create a kind of “online watercooler” to make up for the fact that virtual employees cannot bump into each other in hallways or kitchens and make small talk.
As you can see, there are several methods of developing interpersonal trust, which as we’ve seen, is the more lasting trust that develops between team members after the phenomenon of swift trust has faded away. It’s definitely worthwhile for managers to develop personal, empathetic connections with their employees because these connections go a long way toward building trust and ensuring that a team will be the most effective one possible.