Over the past week, I found myself thinking a lot about this seemingly trite phrase in connection with the experience of work: Benefit of the doubt. We use it all the time, in many different settings. It basically means that even if we’re not sure of something or someone, we’re willing to give them a chance to prove their worthiness.
Extending a benefit of the doubt may serve as a powerful expression of trust and support. Consequently, it can be enormously gratifying when a benefit of the doubt turns out to be justified. Our trust is strengthened, we see results that make us happy, and — yes — we pat ourselves on the back for our good judgment.
All things being equal, I’d rather be around people who are likely to extend a benefit of the doubt than those who are not, including at the workplace. I think it makes us kinder, more encouraging colleagues and co-workers. And we may very well benefit when others return the favor to us.
However, what happens when our trust is breached? How do we regard individuals or organizations who — by their very actions — reveal themselves to be wholly unworthy of that benefit of the doubt?
A lot of folks who find this blog because they’ve experienced abusive work environments have wrestled with these very reactions, responses, and emotions. They extended that trust, they gave that benefit of the doubt, and they were badly burned for doing so.
We know from relationships in other settings that once trust is lost, it’s very, very hard to win back. I wonder if directors and managers of bad workplaces understand the longer term, cultural impacts of losing the trust of their employees? Are they surprised when people refuse to give them the benefit of the doubt?