Trust before truth

Julie Thorson
Julie Thorson

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” It's all fun and games until someone's feelings get hurt. 

You might be thinking I'm talking about an elementary school classroom, but, no, I'm talking about our professional work. Specifically, the work we do in long-term care.

Maybe it's because we invest so much of our personal lives in the work we do and we share so much of ourselves with our residents and our teammates that the hurt cuts deep.

I like to think we have a healthy organization. I also know that in the heat of the moment when decisions are made not everyone has had a say, and when people tell themselves a story rather than go to the source, feelings can be hurt. I also recognize when people attribute poor decisions they may have made to their surroundings or situation and don't attribute it to their own personal behavior, feelings and relationships can be damaged.

As I considered this topic, I struggled. I thought, “What advice could I possibly offer readers on how to stay engaged in leadership when you feel hurt by someone else? I was reminded (as I often am) of Patrick Lencioni's “Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team.” His “Field Guide,” specifically. I have had the great fortune to try and facilitate from this book a few times and have found the “Personal Histories Exercise” to be very powerful. As Lencioni references, “In addition to helping people open up, it helps everyone else overcome one of the great destroyers of teamwork.”

Let me explain. When we are hurt by someone else, in my opinion, it boils down to not truly knowing or trusting that person. Think about it. The people you trust the most, hopefully, are the ones that can lay the heaviest of truths on you. In other words, they can point out your weaknesses in a way you will respond to. Sure, it might hurt, but you know without a doubt it's coming from a good place, and ultimately they want you to become a better person or leader by sharing with you.

If you don't have that trust, the negatives that are pointed out or shared (sometimes with someone else) are just cruel. There is nothing positive about it. If it were meant to be positive or helpful, why wouldn't they just share it directly with you?

Recently, while facilitating this exercise with a team as we were working through the Personal Histories Exercise, something quite remarkable happened. First of all, the team learned very important pieces about who they were as individuals, which shed valuable insight into who they are today.

Secondly, later in the day because they had become more vulnerable with each other in the morning and worked towards establishing more trust, they were able to share specific things about one another's professional performance they may never had otherwise shared.

They also felt comfortable telling each other how comments or words were hurtful in the past and because of the time together this day they actually let one another know how they feel. This leads the way to healing. One retreat does not make a team. This work takes time, but again Lencioni reminds us the most important ingredient in building trust isn't time but courage.

The bottom line? This work is hard. Relationships and having a team that builds each other up rather than tears each other down is perhaps one of the most difficult but rewarding aspects of the work we do. Having the courage to understand and appreciate each other's perspectives rather than jump to conclusions is tough.

I felt so strongly about this particular topic, I posed this question to our team: “How do you continue to be a strong leader when you are feeling personally attacked or hurt by another person who claims to be a leader?”

In considering this leadership topic, I was pleasantly reminded of how insightful our team is. The responses were very thought provoking and I would encourage you to ask your team the same questions. It's sure to provoke strong reactions. I would like to share some of their recommendations and tips with you during the next installment of this blog, so stay tuned. In the meantime, take some time and consider as a leader your reactions to these feelings.

Julie Thorson's “Living Leadership” blog was named the 2016 “Best New Department” Bronze Award winner by the American Society of Health Publication Editors. The president and CEO of Friendship Haven, a continuing care retirement community in Fort Dodge, IA, that earned the Governor's Award for Quality under her in 2014, Thorson is a coach's daughter at heart. She is a former part-time nursing home social worker who quickly ascended the leadership ranks. Now a licensed nursing home administrator, she has been a participant in LeadingAge's Leadership Academy and LeadingAge Iowa's Mentor of the Year.