How do I work with a colleague I don’t trust?

When working with a colleague you don't trust, it's essential to clarify the nature of the trust issue by asking two questions:

  1. Do you trust their intentions?
  2. Do you trust their judgment?

If you trust their intentions but doubt their judgment, you can provide clearer guidance, offer more support, and strive to avoid miscommunication. You'll need to assess whether their lack of judgment is a fatal flaw, a fixable problem, or an illusion based on inaccurate data. If it's fixable or based on misunderstandings, there's room to work on the relationship and improve trust in their judgment over time.

However, if you trust their judgment but doubt their intentions, the situation is more complex. In this case, you can limit your engagement with them and minimize exposure to risk. It's necessary to determine whether their intentions are truly harmful, opportunistic, or simply a misunderstanding. If it's a misunderstanding, addressing it directly may help to resolve trust issues.

In both scenarios, it's crucial to invest in the relationship over time, convey your positive intentions, and earn the right to offer feedback. When delivering critical feedback, ensure that you describe specific behaviors rather than general personality traits, disclose your emotional response, and avoid assumptions about their motives or intentions.

Moreover, it's important to consider your own role in the relationship and whether there are aspects of your behavior that need to be adjusted to align with your intentions and emotions. Building trust requires consistent effort, including scrupulously examining your behavior to ensure it aligns with your intentions and emotions, and redoubling efforts to build trust.

Finally, consider the ability of your colleague to reciprocate your efforts. Are they able to manage their emotions, take responsibility for their actions, and actively work with you to repair the relationship? If they lack this ability, you need to determine if this will change in the time you have available.

Throughout this process, it's essential to maintain an ongoing dialogue, consistently follow up on feedback, and make feedback a normal part of your interactions, not just a performance review.

Remember to be mindful of the consumption of your most precious resource—your attention—and the expected return on that investment. If, after careful consideration, you conclude that the relationship cannot be repaired or that the effort required is not justified by the potential outcomes, it may be time to reevaluate the relationship and possibly move on.