Rude The Podcast - Promo

Sharing Personal Information Can Build Trust on Your Team — If You Do It Right

HANNAH BATES: Welcome to HBR on Leadership, case studies and conversations with the world’s top business and management experts, hand-selected to help you unlock the best in those around you.

Some leaders are too comfortable talking about themselves – and others – at work. Their teams may struggle to trust them. Other leaders are reluctant to share anything at all. They risk coming across as remote and inaccessible.

But Lisa Rosh says that leaders who get disclosures at work just right can change the course of their team by building greater trust and stronger communication. Rosh is an assistant professor of management at the Sy Syms School of Business at Yeshiva University.

In this episode, you’ll learn how to think about the timing, the substance, and the process for sharing personal information with your team. You’ll also learn why it’s important to avoid using self-disclosures at work to promote yourself or seek approval from others.

If you’re a new manager or if you’re just trying to build trust with your team, this episode is for you. It originally aired on HBR IdeaCast in September 2013.

And just a note – we recorded this by phone. While the audio quality is not great, the conversation is. I think you’ll enjoy it. Here it is.

SARAH GREEN: Welcome to the HBR IdeaCast from Harvard Business Review. I’m Sarah Green. I’m talking today with Lisa Rosh. She’s an assistant professor of management at the Sy Syms School of Business at Yeshiva University. She is the co-author with Lynn Offermann of the HBR article, “Be Yourself, but Carefully.” Lisa, thanks so much for joining us today.

LISA ROSH: Thank you very much for having me today, Sarah. It’s a pleasure to be here.

SARAH GREEN: So, in the piece, you talk about the importance of using skillful self-disclosure to build trust and to improve performance. So, what sorts of self-disclosure do you mean by that?

LISA ROSH: Well, for effective self-disclosure, we found that there are two main elements. The first, it must be genuine. That may sound like a no-brainer. But you’d be surprised how often we find managers fabricating stories to fit the situation, fudging the details.

If I had one thing to say to an executive, it is do not exaggerate. Do not make up stories. People are smart. They figure it out. And it can do irreparable harm. A less than perfect disclosure that fits the emotion of the situation is much better than being disingenuous.

The second thing I would say is that the self-disclosure must fit and further the task at hand. That means it must include the timing, the substance, and the process. It must help the task. It cannot be for promoting oneself or fulfilling ones need for approval.

SARAH GREEN: So, Lisa, tell us a little bit about the part of this that connects with performance. How can you self-disclose not just to build trust but also to really take the performance piece of it to the next level?

LISA ROSH: Let me give you an example. We were working with a hospital. And they were going through a reorganization. And part of that reorganization was cutting costs.

So, when the hospital chief nursing officer had to go back to her department and announce this reorganization, obviously, what happened? She was met with anger, resistance, and really concern about the potential loss of jobs. So, what she did, she was able to defuse this tension and the anxiety in her department by talking about an experience where she was downsized early in her career.

And then she related that to her vision of the reorganization and cost-cutting that would spare others her same fate. Her department, unbelievably, was the first department to come up with a plan for reorganization and cost-cutting that saved all jobs. It happened within a month.

SARAH GREEN: Wow. So that’s interesting to me, because I think we probably are all aware of people at work who maybe disclose a little too much about themselves or their personal lives. So, let’s be clear. What sorts of self-disclosure would not fit the bill?

LISA ROSH: We found that people make about five different mistakes and things that range mostly from not knowing oneself and also poor communication skills. The first one is very common. It usually is when people don’t know themselves. So, they disclose something that makes them appear phony. Or it makes them look clueless to their coworkers.

Another kind of executive knows themselves but doesn’t know how they’re perceived by others. So, they cannot read social cues. This often happens in cross-cultural situations. A third type of mistake is the executive that you were talking about. This is the person who’s an open book.

Everybody knows this person. They’re chatty. They speak endlessly about themselves, about everything. They’re too comfortable communicating. People may seek them out for information. But really, they don’t trust them, because they have no boundaries.

On the other end of the spectrum, we find people and executives who don’t want to share anything about themselves in the workplace. They come across remote, inaccessible, and can’t create long-term relationships.

And then, finally, we have the executives who overuse external activities. They love team-building and off-site activities. But they don’t reinforce it back at the workplace. And they also don’t model that behavior. So, it doesn’t add to the team’s performance.

SARAH GREEN: Can you give us an example from some of the work that you’ve been doing in organizations of maybe someone who disclosed something in a way that they shouldn’t have and then what they could have done better to make it more effective?

LISA ROSH: Sure. We worked with a regional manager. And he was working in a service organization. He was a chatty Carl we should say. He opened up to his staff concerning office politics, unconfirmed projects.

Staff loved receiving this confidential information. But unfortunately, his board saw it a little bit differently and saw him lacking discipline. And thus, he was passed over for an international position. He needed to understand– and we worked with him– that when the self-disclosure was helping the task at hand and when he was using it because of his need to be liked and the center of attention.

SARAH GREEN: So, this seems like the kind of issue where it really depends on the culture you’re in, whether that’s a national culture or an organizational culture. How can we be more aware of the way that we’re self-disclosing as we move between different kinds of cultures?

LISA ROSH: Definitely, what we know is that individual societies, like America, people are more likely to disclose information about themselves. And they expect others to do the same. However, in the collectivist culture, such as China and Japan, they’re less comfortable with disclosing information about themselves.

Let me give you one example. We worked with a partner in a consulting firm. He was originally from America. But he was assigned to the new Asia Pacific office.

When he was in America, he found sharing mistakes was always encouraged to get his subordinates to trust him. And then they would share alike. So, when he went to the Asia Pacific office and they lost a big account, he thought it would be a great idea to tell a story about losing his first client. Not such a good idea.

In this culture, his colleagues were uncomfortable. They thought their leader was risking his honor, his reputation, and his influence by admitting weakness. So, we always tell people, you have to investigate the national and organizational norms about sharing, so you know when it’s best to be quiet.

SARAH GREEN: Well, and that’s interesting, because that actually reminds me of another, I think, piece you had in the article where you talked about just the importance of time duration in terms of don’t disclose things right when you meet people, because use disclosure to, I think I’m getting this right, cement trust, not to build rapport. I’m not quite remembering exactly right. But tell us about that if you can.

LISA ROSH: Sure. You can’t have an intimate interaction with somebody when you first meet them. It’s uncomfortable for everybody around. Intimacy and sharing information must follow behavior.

Let me talk a little bit about team-building activities, for example. A lot of times people spend a lot of money on team-building activities that are about sharing intimate information or falling off trees, climbing rocks, walking on fire. They want people to get to know each other better. But they don’t work. And, in fact, they’re not related to team performance.

What we find is that if you put it in an intervention around setting goals and roles together, and the group comes together and works on the activity, cohesion and relationship building naturally follows. So, we always suggest things such as visioning exercise followed by developing goals or a role establishment in negotiations, such as responsibility charting, where people decide who’s responsible for what different goal and who has to be informed about different goals.

From those type of discussions, people form trust. And bonds develop. But to go right to climbing walls and falling off trees may actually do harm rather than good.

SARAH GREEN: So, that’s interesting, because I think we tend to make a lot of jokes about those kinds of trust fall wall-climbing exercises. Is it safe to say that those never really work?

LISA ROSH: I wouldn’t say they never really work. I think they’re very good for building leadership skills and development. I think people get to test their own boundaries, what they’re willing to do, and what they’re uncomfortable doing and really push the boundaries and learn about themselves. But to start a team like that, I would never suggest that.

SARAH GREEN: So, let’s talk a little bit about and non-physical kind of trust, the virtual trust. It seems like today with a click of a button it’s so easy to over share, especially on social media or on email. Or you can accidentally bcc the entire office. Actually, I was thinking about it. And I longed for the old days of the company office party, where there’s only one day a year that you might over share something. How can you use social media to connect with colleagues but still keep it professional?

LISA ROSH: Well, we suggest with your Facebook page, keep it private but assume that it’s public. And thus, even if you think Uncle Joey will laugh at the photo but HR would think differently, don’t post it. On your LinkedIn account, connect to groups that reflect your professional interests.

On your Twitter, reread your tweets numerous times and make your tweets related to business and your knowledge base.

SARAH GREEN: But I guess with that is there a danger of seeming too pat and smooth? At the same time, is there a way to, to your point, skillfully self-disclose a few things, maybe reveal a few flaws or elements of character, that would make people trust you more?

LISA ROSH: The problem with social media is that it reaches all cultures. And the problem with that is that you can’t read the situation that you’re in. So, we tend to advise people be more on the careful side in a social media context, because the world is your audience, not just the work team that you’re speaking to right there.

SARAH GREEN: Well, and this raises the question for me, and to go back to something you mentioned earlier, the cross-cultural example, is it ever really OK to admit weakness in a professional setting? Or is that something you should avoid except maybe under very certain circumstances?

LISA ROSH: That’s interesting. Lynn and her colleagues have just finished some work on this. And they found in the US culture that genuine apologies from leaders actually makes people in the workplace trust the leader more and more satisfied with leadership. They must be genuine. And they also increase organizational commitment.

However, all types of negative emotion, such as grief, fear, hatred, anger, they’re still dangerous in the workplace, especially for women we find, that women who express anger in the workplace, they’re usually seen as out of control or less respectable. Whereas men expressing the same emotion are often viewed more positively.

In general, we tell people positive emotions, such as enthusiasm, happiness, can be displayed openly. But the expression of negative emotions, you’ve got to be careful with still.

SARAH GREEN: So bottom line: if you’re going to leave the people listening today with one piece of advice on how they can use self-disclosure to build trust and performance on their teams, not just trust but actually take it the next level, what do you want to leave them with?

LISA ROSH: I want them to make sure that they know themselves. I want them to make sure they know the environment they’re in and to make sure when they use the self-disclosure that it’s for the furthering of the task at hand, not for their own needs, not for their own satisfaction. As the article says, be yourself but be it very carefully.

SARAH GREEN: Lisa, thanks again for joining us today.

LISA ROSH: Thank you. And I really appreciate the time to speak with you.

HANNAH BATES: That was Lisa Rosh in conversation with Sarah Green on the HBR IdeaCast. Rosh is an assistant professor of management at the Sy Syms School of Business at Yeshiva University.

We’ll be back next Wednesday with another hand-picked conversation about leadership from Harvard Business Review. If you found this episode helpful, share it with your friends and colleagues, and follow our show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. While you’re there, be sure to leave us a review.

When you’re ready for more podcasts, articles, case studies, books, and videos with the world’s top business and management experts, find it all at

This episode was produced by Anne Saini, and me, Hannah Bates. Ian Fox is our editor. Music by Coma Media. Special thanks to Maureen Hoch, Nicole Smith, Erica Truxler, Ramsey Khabbaz, Anne Bartholomew, and you – our listener. See you next week.

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top