Wednesday, April 22, 2015

When Sharing Doesn't Build Trust

I regularly tell groups that there's a strong correlation between sharing information and trust (why wasn't I told; don't they trust me?). However, I was recently in a workshop where it bubbled up that there are times when too much information (TMI in process argot) degrades trust and relationships.

While I believe the principle of information=trust still obtains in most situations (see my blog of Sept 20, 2010, Building Trust for more on this), here are exceptions:

1. Outing someone without permission
This applies when you are privy to private or delicate information about others that they prefer (for better or worse) be kept confidential. If you choose to share this information without getting an OK from people about whom you are speaking, all hell can break loose. At the very least, the people you outed are likely to trust you less in the future. At worst, they'll feel betrayed.

2. Swamping the boat
This is when the volume of sharing exceeds the capacity of the listener to hold and understand. While it may not result in a loss of trust, it will not help build it either, and will teach people to be wary of offering to listen to you. Whence the phrase, "talking one's ear off," which is not a pleasant image.

3. Bad timing
This is insisting on sharing at a convenient (even compelling) moment for the speaker, without checking to see if it's a good moment for the listener. This can land as annoying and disrespectful.

4. Too much intimacy too soon
The workshop leader confessed that she used to have this syndrome, especially when dating. She had gotten into the habit of going deep right away as a way to screen people for potential partner material. It was only later that she realized that her pushiness was driving people away, not her positions relative to what she was seeking from an intimate partner.

5. Ability to stretch is exceeded
Sometimes the information is awkward for the listener to receive. If they aren't able to stretch that far, they can rubber band into shut down mode—something they won't thank you for, and which you won't enjoy either.

6. Malicious gossip
Talking trash about someone behind their back. Listeners may be worried that you might do the same about them when talking with others, and thus become more guarded about what they share with you.

Note that all of these instances revolve around the theme of being unmindful—either of your audience, or of the people you are talking about. If you keep in mind that one of the primary goals of good communication is enhancing relationships, you'll probably be less likely to inadvertently damage trust when your mouth is open.

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