BRAVING Trust In A One-To-One

‘Trust is built in tiny moments.’ - Brené Brown

One-to-ones are full of tiny moments where you can either build trust or destroy it in a blink of an eye. When your line report loses faith in you, it’s game over for psychological safety. Neither party will be able to do their jobs to the best of their abilities, and your relationship will not be pleasant or authentic.

I’m a big fan of Brené Browns’ BRAVING acronym when it comes to trust and this article walks through how we can apply it to our thinking about one-to-ones and their content.

B - Boundaries

‘Setting boundaries is making clear what’s okay and what’s not okay, and why.’ - Brené Brown

Everything you do in your one-to-ones, or in any communication or action, sends signals to your line report about what is okay or not okay and if it’s safe or not. You have to set precise boundaries with your report about how you want them to communicate and behave with you. A big part of this is role modelling in your interactions with them.

Therefore, it’s vital that you hold a space for your line report, actively listen, and are fully present. You must never, and I mean never, be on your emails, check Slack, or do anything else that makes it seem like they don’t have your full attention. If you do this, you signal to them that their time with you is not essential to you, making it very unlikely that they will share delicate or vulnerable information with you. You’re also saying that it would be okay for them to act like this in meetings with their reports.

This is also your time to set what is okay and not okay to share with you. As I mentioned previously, a one-to-one with you is not a therapy session, and you have to be prepared to set a rigid boundary here by calling it out and signposting to relevant services. You want your line reports to be able to be their authentic selves at work, in service to the work and in respect to their colleagues and you. If how someone behaves with you in one-to-ones is not okay, you have to deal with it quickly and briefly.

Set a firm boundary around making the most of this precious time with your line report and role model what this looks like to them.

R - Reliability

‘You do what you say you’ll do. This means staying aware of your competencies and limitations at work, so you don’t overpromise and can deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities.’ - Brené Brown

I mention in my previous post about how to rock at one-to-ones the importance of agreeing and designing actions together. It’s crucial that you follow up on these, and if you didn’t manage it, that’s fine, but be honest about it and hold yourself accountable for making it suitable. Few things will erode trust and faith in you more than not doing what you say you’ll do.

Try not to cancel your one-to-ones at the last minute; they are your most important meetings. Doing this regularly will signal to your line report that you don’t value the time with them.

A - Accountability

‘You own your mistakes, apologise, and make amends’. - Brené Brown

We all make mistakes because of being brave, trying things, and learning new stuff. But we have to admit that and make amends quickly. You can use the one-to-one time with your line report to talk honestly, authentically and respectfully about anything that has gone wrong between you both and make sure it gets nipped in the bud quickly. This is great role modelling to your line report about what accountability looks like.

V - Vault

‘You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. I need to know that my confidence is kept and that you’re not sharing with me any information about other people that should be confidential.’ - Brené Brown

It’s vital that you never share anything told in confidence to you from your line report, except having to escalate serious matters to HR or your manager. It would also help to make your line report aware of what you may have to share with who and why.

A related thing that people often don’t think about is not sharing things that other people have told you to your line report in their one-to-one. If you gossip or share something about others, you are signalling to your line report that you will do the same thing to them with others and break trust.

I - Integrity

‘Choosing courage over comfort, choosing what’s right over what’s fun, fast, or easy, and practising your values, not just professing them.’ - Brené Brown

It’s easy to profess to be a great manager, but it’s tough to be a great manager. The reason is that it takes much work outside of one-to-ones to do one-to-ones well. You will need to do some research about your line report so that you can:

  • Regularly give specific praise about things they have done well.
  • Regularly offer constructive feedback and support for anything they can improve on.
  • Take an interest in what they’ve been learning, the challenges, and what they are proud of.
  • Talk about how you have sponsored them and found them growth opportunities.

Remember that constructive feedback is a gift in service to your line report’s growth. It’s essential that you don’t shy away from these conversations. Proper practice and training is required to nail these! As a starter, check out Brené Brown’s excellent feedback checklist if you need to do give constructive feedback. I also recommend reading Radical Candor by Kim Scott or my related blog for a summary.

Another essential but challenging task is to get on the same page about their career aspirations and what they expect from you and the company regarding progression and salary. It’s all too easy to lead them along, saying you’re going to do this and that, and they’ll get a promotion in X months when you know fine well it’s not going to be possible at your company. This is the opposite of acting with integrity and we, as managers, should be trying to do the best for our line reports even if it means the best thing is for them is to leave the company. What a fantastic achievement if they’ve learned everything they can from us and want to spread their wings.

N - Non-judgment

‘I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can talk about how we feel without judgment.’ - Brené Brown

There will be plenty of times when your line reports come to you in an emotionally vulnerable state and need you to listen to them. They are allowed to feel what they feel, and it’s not your place to judge them regardless of how you think about their struggles. Help them work through it as best you can and show empathy for their situation. I strongly suggest getting clued up on Brené Brown’s empathy misses to help you with this. Not many things will destroy trust more than ‘you think that’s bad…’.

It’s also essential not to over-identify with your line report struggles and go on a righteous rage fury on their behalf. Hold a space, stay curious, and empathise.

There will also be times when your line reports need to give you feedback, and it’s going to sting. But you need to listen and stay curious and open about whether there is gold in it for you or not. This is a critical and vulnerable time for your line report, who’s offering you the gift of feedback, hopefully serving your growth. It becomes a setting boundaries conversation if it’s not in service to your development and not supportive feedback. Either way, it’s essential that you never lose your cool; you never get defensive or call them a liar because they will never bring you this gift again.

G - Generosity

‘Extending the most generous interpretation to the intentions, words, and actions of others.’ - Brené Brown

There will be times when your line reports do things that you think are wild. There will be times when your line reports say something that you can’t believe. There will be times when you get feedback about your line reports that don’t seem right. The most important thing is to stay curious and figure out what your most generous interpretation of these behaviours or actions could be and not jump into judgement. Judgement kills trust.

Learn some tools like these rumble starters from Brené Brown that you can use to ask questions to get information rather than judge.

If you found this interesting, you may want to read Brené’s fantastic book Dare to Lead to learn more about building trust and becoming a daring leader that has the courage to be vulnerable, make mistakes and keep learning.