Trust is the currency of a manager. It takes a long time to amass and can be lost abruptly. Building it across an organisation is your number one priority as a manager. Alongside understanding the company, processes and product, scheduling regular 1:1s with your reports is paramount. Creating bonds with the immediate team takes months. Building them with people you don’t work with directly will take longer. Patience is an important trait to cultivate. As a naturally impulsive person myself, I often jump into situations that require more trust than I have. Requiring more trust means that trivial situations, like providing constructive feedback, can become a difficult endeavour depending on who’s receiving. A person with whom you spend several months building a relationship with, will gladly receive it. An individual with whom you spoke with on a few occasions might not. There are times where the latter might work well. The person might be in a good mood, or have a disposition to receive feedback that way. If you notice that mentality in an individual, even if explicitly, I recommend taking the safer route and spend time knowing them, before giving it. Beware that public consent to receive feedback can be a function of optics, and not a genuine wish.
Remote work makes interactions between humans more challenging. More so in asynchronous-first environments, where text is preferable over video or face-to-face. Building relationships becomes a deliberate and conscious undertaking. No longer one can rely on the sporadic lunch, coffee, or quick chat in the corridors. As a manager it’s your responsibility to create and nurture these occasions. Not just between you and your report, but between you and the whole team. Showing more of your private side, like hobbies, family, aspirations and whatnot does speed the building-trust process. One shouldn’t do so if it goes against their own way of doing things and identity as a person.
In low trust scenarios it is wise to not get involved in a crucial conversation, even if you have good reasons to do so. If there’s a chance, delegating the problem to a peer, who has an established relationship with the other person, will lead to better results. If one must push forward, there are tools to enhance the chances of success:
- Provide context, or background about why you are initiating the interaction.
- Be transparent and assertive about what’s your goal.
- Make an honest effort to understand and empathise.
- Find common ground. There’s a high chance that you already agree more than 80% with the other person. First identify the agreeable part. Discuss the contentious 20% afterwards.
Software engineering is about human problems with some tech in the middle.