Feedback Skills Will Help You Avoid A Toxic Work Environment

Feedback. This simple word, and the action it represents, has the power to create an open, positive and healthy workplace. When absent, it has the power to promote a toxic work environment.

Feedback is an integral part of organizational life. Evaluations, performance reviews, contract renewals, renegotiations, and day-to-day team conversations that move projects along all require the ability to give and receive feedback.

So how does this skill, or specifically the lack of it, lead to toxic work environments?

First, let’s look at workplaces where feedback is lacking. What happens when you aren’t given performance reviews – especially if wages or promotions are tied to these reviews? What happens when there is no direction for a project, yet you later find out through the grapevine that your superiors were unhappy with your work? What happens when you have a team member that constantly makes mistakes or doesn’t deliver work on time? How is everyone impacted if management will not directly address these important needs?

These are just a few of the ways that the lack of feedback can lead to feelings of betrayal that fuel toxic work environments. As you experience these things over and over, you begin to feel like your work doesn’t matter, that management doesn’t care about you or your success, or that you are being set up to fail. These feelings lead to disengagement.

What’s worse than no (or poor) feedback? Negative behaviors leaders, managers and team members engage in that further the growth of toxicity, such as:

  • calling out others when a mistake is made
  • shifting the blame from one team member to another
  • playing favorites
  • yelling, berating, or overtly abusing others
  • providing only negative input to an action or process

Feedback, when delivered thoughtfully, is a powerful vehicle for building trust, and ultimately, your professional effectiveness.

Feedback Can Fuel or Smother a Toxic Work Environment

It is not hard to understand how important feedback can be to preventing or eliminating a toxic work environment. But how do you give good feedback? How do you tell people their behaviors are negatively affecting performance or your working relationship?

How do you receive feedback without taking it personally, without getting defensive, or without getting your feelings hurt?

The key to giving feedback is to remember that it’s not what you say, but how you say it – and the intention with which you offer your insights.


Good Intentions are Important to the Feedback Process

If your intent is to put a person down, to prove him or her wrong so as to make yourself right, you are getting it wrong! These personal attacks create defensiveness, an unwillingness to listen, and future apprehension about feedback. In essence, you’re promoting a toxic work environment.

If your intent is to make your colleague aware of how he or she is perceived and to strengthen the relationship, you’re on the right track. By focusing on specific behaviors and being true to your positive intention to help, rather than to judge or criticize, you are making your feedback productive. When you extend compassion while giving feedback, you support others to see opportunities to improve something – a behavior, a skill, an approach, a relationship. It is easier for the other person to receive the feedback when they can participate in understanding that their approach to a problem can be changed to achieve a different outcome.

In this way you’re demonstrating that you care for the other person and that you’re willing to invest in your mutual effectiveness. You build a deeper sense of understanding for how to move forward, together, in the most productive manner.


To give feedback effectively, you need to be willing to receive it in return.

When others give you feedback, listen closely for their intentions. Being defensive and focusing on your response prevents you from hearing, and learning. Instead, focus on what is being said, make an effort to be open and show genuine interest in what you hear.

When you practice this behavior people will experience your receptiveness and will feel safe in sharing their perceptions. When people feel that their opinions are both being heard and matter, they are more willing to engage. This dynamic helps avoid the apathy that accompanies toxic work environments.

Having the courage to engage in constructive feedback conversations is an ongoing discipline that demonstrates commitment to fostering strong, trusting relationships that eliminate toxic work environments while building your Trust of Communication and overall professional effectiveness.


Toxic Work Environment: The number one stopper for effective teaming

Gossip is the number one killer of Trust of Communication in teams.

Ninety percent of behaviors that break trust and lead to toxic work environments are small, subtle, and unintentional. Most often, we don’t mean to break each other’s trust, but we all do. One of the most common ways this happens in the workplace is through gossip.

Working with teams worldwide, team  trust assessment results have found that they all share a propensity to gossip.  This is a global phenomena.

When gossip is active team members report that it hurts workplace communication, their ability to work well as a team, to collaborate and to trust in one another.

There are a variety of reasons why people struggle with gossip in the workplace:

Lack of information

  • Hurt feelings
  • Retaliation
  • Unsolicited feedback
  • Trying to fit in
  • They don’t feel safe to talk openly
  • Envious of others
  • Dismissive behavior

As the behaviors continue, mounting unaddressed issues get funneled into the grapevine and are turned into major conflicts later, resulting in things such as damaged reputations, loss of opportunities, the spread of misinformation, and a general distrust among team members. Morale tanks and people stop working with and engaging other members of the team. This leads to workplace communication being hindered and to an overall toxic work environment.

Gossip Seems ‘Safe’ Yet

Creates A Toxic Work Environment

Most people will say they rarely gossip. Yet, in our experience, when we start discussing what gossip is and how it contributes to a toxic work environment, people often realize just how often they participate.

Part of the problem is that gossiping seems to be a “safer” behavior. It allows you to surface an issue or frustration without the fears of confrontation. In fact, gossiping is a part of the pattern that contributed to toxic work environments. When people gossip, it contributes to a feeling of being connected to those with whom they share information. This is especially true when someone is struggling, and feels the need for affiliation or validation.

Unfortunately, this can have the opposite impact by leading to distrust, fear, and breakdowns in individual relationships as well as in overall workplace communication. Simple venting readily can quickly become trust-breaking gossip and it creates feelings of betrayal and distrust throughout a team. Once those feelings are present they don’t go away until they are addressed and some rebuilding of trust is supported to take place. When trust rebuilding doesn’t happen a permanent toxic work environment is likely to take over.

When you talk about your concerns with others rather than with the person with whom you have an issue, talk behind people’s backs, or relay information you’ve heard about the company without verifying it with a boss, you are fueling the rumor mill and contributing to a toxic work environment where agitation and speculation steal focus from where it belongs – on relationships and on the work itself.

Exploring Gossip in Toxic Work Environments

In order to explore the impacts of gossip on workplace communication and its contribution to toxic work environments (even when unintentional), give some thought to the following questions:

What is the impact of gossip on the person being gossiped about?

When people think about the effect gossip has on an individual, they often think about how gossip:

  • Taints or ruins a reputation
  • Hurts feelings
  • Causes individuals to shut down or isolate from others
  • Decreases willingness to collaborate and provide input
  • Adds to anxiety, skepticism, paranoia, suspicion
  • Leads to low engagement, energy and productivity
  • Has you looking over your shoulder

What is the impact of the gossip on others – the team, organization, and workplace culture?

When teams begin to reflect on how the team unit and the organization are impacted by gossip, they often identify that this behavior:

  • Hinders workplace communication between teams and departments
  • Creates anxiety and mistrust
  • Causes distraction
  • Reduces productivity
  • Creates an insider-outsider dynamic
  • Stagnates creativity
  • Brings down morale
  • Creates divisiveness
  • Fosters disengagement

What is the impact of gossip on the Gossiper?

As with all things, we must also look at the person who is gossiping. We often hear that the “gossiper” is:

  • Not being true to self
  • Demonstrating a lack of integrity
  • Breaking others’ trust and altering their reputation in the minds of others
  • Creating disruption and distraction

When you engage in gossip, you not only lose the trust of the individual you’re talking about, but your behavior is noted by others.

Remember, trust is reciprocal. You have to give it to get it. By not engaging in gossip and, instead, directly engaging those with whom you have issues, you will help improve workplace communication, build team morale, and increase personal relationships. This all leads to increased business performance.

Business photo created by katemangostar –

3 Benefits of Allowing Other People to Make Decisions

Trust of Capability

Handing over the reins.

Letting people work autonomously.

Encouraging others to voice their opinions, call the shots, and make the decisions. These are all easier said than done, right? Especially when the margins are slim and the competition so fierce.

And now, with the uncertainty that has taken the world hostage the stakes are even higher. But, trusting in the capability of your team, your staff, and those your work with is the only way to successfully navigate the uncertainty.

If you’re one of the many leaders that struggles to let others run with your vision, and have the final say, you are not alone.

We say that there is another way, a better way, and that is through Trust Building – and more specifically, through building Trust of Capability.

As you build Trust of Capability you will experience three significant benefits:


1. People stop waiting on you to tell them what to do.

People who hold on to every detail become the bottleneck. They become the leaders that hold up everything. Issues big and small accumulate instead of being dealt with. See, small decisions can be made by your direct reports. Small issues could be addressed and managed by other people on your team. That would leave you open for handling the tougher problems.

But when you have to touch everything, decide everything, everything piles up on your desk – blurring the line between what’s urgent and what’s not.

Meanwhile, people wait. Not just on the issues they put in front of you, but on the other decisions they can’t make until those issues are resolved.

You have the ability to liberate the workflow and release people from their holding patterns. Extend trust that they’re able to do the jobs they’ve been handpicked to do. Trust in their experience and expertise. You will feel much better for it, progress will speed up, and you will take a large step towards improving your leadership effectiveness.

As you improve this behavior, you will notice that your work load will get lighter. Your staff, reports, and coworkers won’t bother you with as many problems, and you will be able to tackle the issues that are fit your unique skill set.


risk-management-dial-trust0in-capability2. People will start taking appropriate risks.

No team, in any industry, in any part of the world, can survive through a cookie cutter approach to anything.

Everything – every idea, process, and product – must continuously evolve as a customized solution to a current, nuanced need for your specific customer base, audience, or market.

Customization can’t happen without innovation.

Innovation can’t happen without appropriate risk taking.

And risk taking can’t happen if people don’t feel trusted to direct their own work.

Effective leadership means that you help people feel safe to stick out their necks. Let them known they’re trusted to take the ball and run with it.

There will be mistakes. They should be addressed, discussed, and then a new approach taken. But as the leader, you must not take the initiative away from the person that made the mistake. Support them to complete the job, show them you trust their instincts, experience, and talents.

Pretty soon, you will have a team that is willing to take appropriate risks to the benefit of your initiatives and goals. And, they will do so without having to get your approval every step of the way. This is how successful teams run, and it is how they excel.


3. People will take greater responsibility for addressing the impacts of their mistakes.

Mistakes will happen…

Let me say that again – They Will Happen…

But, when people feel trusted to move their own work forward, a beautiful thing occurs. Those same people feel responsible for cleaning up their own mistakes.

Think about it.

team-capability-and-trust-in-capability-brings success-graphWhich would kick you in to crisis management mode faster: A messy situation someone else created, or a messy situation you created?

Most people feel more driven to address and remedy mistakes that are 100% theirs. They feel pride in their success and their crisis management. No one wants to fail, and so when they can own a project they will turn ‘failures’ into success whenever possible.


Effective leadership goes hand in hand with employee engagement. By allowing others to make decisions in their work, exercise their expertise, and by allowing them autonomy to do the job that they were hired to do, your team’s engagement levels will vastly increase. You’ll see productivity and innovation grow. And the trust between you and the people you work with will grow, creating a stronger unit that makes this progress the norm, not the exception.

The Power Of Trust Building® in Uncertain Times

During these challenging times, people are experiencing uncertainty and ambiguity as it pertains to their work and working relationships. It is at times like this where Trust becomes essential. The 7 tips shared in this video will support you in creating effective, productive relationships.


two figures with a broken idea bulb - teamwork

3 Top Trust Breaking Behaviors in the Workplace

Signs and Symptoms That Trust is Being Eroded Within Your Team

What this Article Covers:

3 Symptoms of Trust Erosion 
Trust Breaking Behavior #1: Gossip at Work
Trust Breaking Behavior #2: Breaking Confidentiality
Trust Breaking Behavior #3: Getting Even
Building Trust in the Workplace

The simplest things can turn a productive team into one where gossip, backbiting and other trust breaking behavior overshadow the work.

It is because the level of trust within a team and between individuals is eroded. It worsens with each small betrayal and each negative encounter. Without good communication, that damage is never fixed, leaving the core foundation of the relationships crumbling.

It is ultimately up to leaders to identify that there is a problem and begin building trust in the workplace.

There is good news in all of this: there are very obvious symptoms of trust erosion. Once you spot the three early signs of trust erosion, you can take action right away to stop the damage—an even reverse it.

1. Gossip At Work

gossiping women in office cubicalEveryone wants to be on a team where they feel free to share ideas, where they can communicate openly and honestly about issues and challenges. Building trust in the workplace creates an environment where people want to work.

Yet every day, trust is tested in team relationships, especially in the form of gossip at work.

Gossip is the number-one trust breaking behavior within teams. Rather than going directly to the individual with an issue or concern, members talk to everyone else. The grapevine begins to flourish.

As the time goes on, if the gossip is unchecked, it becomes more prevalent, happens more often, becomes more disruptive. Soon people began to hear about things a co-worker said behind their backs. They in turn gossip. Negative feelings grow. Distrust grows. Once the feeling of distrust takes hold, team members no longer work well with each other—they watch what they say, don’t voice ideas and exhibit other coping behaviors. Stress rises, as do other trust breaking behaviors.

When you notice team members talking about one another behind each other’s back, this is an immediate sign that there has been damage to the foundational level of trust within your team. It must be addressed to begin building trust in the workplace.

2. Breaking Confidentiality

breaking confidentially in the workplace breaks trustSimilar to gossip at work, breaking confidentiality has to do with how people in your team are communicating—it also says something important about trust of character.

Sometimes a personal issue may interfere with a person’s ability to meet deadlines, or how they are functioning at work. Being able to share issues with leadership or team members so they understand the outside pressure or an extraordinary circumstance is a factor in maintaining trust and keep projects on track.

But people are reluctant to discuss personal matters in a climate where confidences are broken and rumor mills are fed.

This is also true of professional confidentiality. From company trade secrets, to intellectual property, to individuals’ ideas for market growth with a new product or system. When these things are publicly shared, others become suspicious about whether their information is safe.

Building trust in the workplace means that people feel their personal and professional information is safe. Disclosing information members have been trusted to keep private—whether it is personal or professional—violates trust. Breaches of confidentiality encourages misunderstandings.

When a leader hears that confidentiality is being broken it should be immediately addressed as a trust breaking behavior that threatens to weaken teams.

3. Getting Even

Getting even in the workplace two men with boxing glovesGossip at work and breaking confidentiality lead to defensiveness and a “get even” attitude among team members. For example: “they said something about me, so I am going to share personal information about them.” Or: “she didn’t get me the information I needed in time, so I’m not going to worry about this deadline I committed to meeting for her.”

This tit-for-tat behavior will continue to escalate if not addressed: further decreasing the effectiveness of the team, eroding trust, creating deep feelings of betrayal and causing stress in the lives of all team members involved.

This trust breaking behavior is easy to spot because it to will get shared through the grapevine. People will begin to gossip about perceived wrongs, or use one person’s past behavior as an excuse for their current bad behavior.

When a leader hears or sees this “getting even” mindset, it must be addressed immediately to stop the erosion of trust within the team. Once this behavior is turned around, people feel less worried about making small mistakes and are able to begin building trust in the workplace.

Building Trust in the Workplace

Trust is fragile and our everyday behaviors—even those that are unconscious—can break it.

female coworkers celebrating a successAs a leader, you can turn your team around by modeling behavior that begins building trust in the workplace. People unconsciously follow behavior modeled by leaders, bosses and even administration. If leaders allow a behavior to persist, they are unconsciously saying to their team that this behavior is acceptable.

Trust begins with you!

The first step in correcting trust breaking behavior is to consider how your behavior has contributed to the presence or absence of trust in your team dynamics. From there, model the behavior you wish to see, address the issue by discussing how things should be handled you’re your team and follow through. When you see one of these behaviors, address it with the offending team member. Make it clear to your staff these behaviors are not tolerated and provide them with healthy ways to communicate to avoid eroding trust.

By addressing common trust breaking behaviors and creating a culture that encourages building trust in the workplace, you will transform your team into one that can transcend any challenge.

Build and Maintain Trust in Workplace Culture through Mutually Serving Intentions

Build and Maintain Trust in Workplace Culture through Mutually Serving Intentions

Trust Tip #1


Mutually serving intentions and outcomes build and maintain trust in workplace relationships

We are all familiar with the expression, “What’s in it for me?”

Now, this is an appropriate question and has a place relationships throughout workplace culture. But, it can’t be the ONLY question.

colorful hands reaching out to help

Assessing what you are giving to the situation as well as what you are receiving, about what you hope to gain and achieve through this mutually serving relationship, can help you build your team and work toward common goals making you, and the team as a whole, more productive.

Often a breakdown in trust occurs when team members perceive other members’ intentions as being selfish, that others are focused on what “is in it for them.” There becomes a reluctance to trust those team members, to ask each other for help, or to reach out and offer help.

In turn, people become defensive as they feel that others aren’t willing to help. People stop offering help and more breakdowns occur. Before you know it, there is no trust remaining in the team and there is a pervasive feeling that each person must be in protective mode, must “own” everything because others can’t be trusted to complete tasks or do what is needed.

But if each team member is essentially working alone, then what is the point of the team? How are each person’s skills being leveraged to increase efficiency and productivity? The answer is, they aren’t.

Mutually Serving Intentions: Supporting others and operating with a sense of shared purpose to create products, finish projects, serving customers builds Trust of Character and increases productivity.

Remember, building trust is reciprocal; you have to give trust in order to receive it.

From Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace

By Drs. Dennis and Michelle Reina


Help People Learn Skills: Build Trust at Work, Part 3

Did you watch the Olympiad rowing races? We were just talking with a client whose son was at one time an Olympic rowing hopeful.

When he competed at the national level, he had to earn his spot on the team not by how well he performed, but by how well the crew performed when he was a part of it.

Olympic rowing crews have eight athletes who’re nearly identical. Raw skill, talent, physical strength – there’s not much difference among them.

The competitions are 1.24 miles. The margin by which those races are won or lost?

2 inches.

What do you suppose allows the winning boat to pull ahead?

Rhythm. Chemistry. Teamwork.

Technical skill? Tenacity? Strength? Not enough. Olympic rowers make the cut by tuning in to how their individual efforts contribute to – or get in the way of – the team’s objective. By being empathetic.

By caring more about the boat than themselves.

Does this sound like your team? Or is your team not that in sync – yet?

Your team can develop this level – a world class level – of teamwork. Working with other people fluidly, collaboratively, trustingly is a skill. An acquirable skill. A skill you can lead the people in your team to acquire – through working this week’s Trust Tip:

Build Trust of Capability: Help People Learn Skills

Helping people learn new skills is a behavior that builds Trust of Capability. You can use this Tip to support people to develop a range of new skills. In my experience, the skill people need the most support to master is building and sustaining high trust, highly collaborative relationships that produce results.

This Tip will help you take a step to master that skill…and help others take a step to master it, as well.

If you’re already signed up for Reina’s newsletter, this Tip will be delivered straight to your inbox. If you haven’t signed up yet, please do.

You’ll not only get this Tip, but also get on the list to regularly get fresh, research-backed tips and tools to help you and the people in your team work together more effectively.

Yours in trust,

Dennis Reina, PhD


What you can learn from over a million people who healed their relationships

“It is well with me only when I have a chisel in my hand.”

– Michelangelo


I don’t do well when I don’t know what to do next.

When I spin.

When I’m riddled with doubt.

I actually feel physical pain when I’m deeply uncertain about which course of action will produce my desired result.

How about you? I’d imagine you’re not a big fan of ambiguity, either. Especially when it comes to negotiating your relationships. And especially when it comes to healing relationships that have gone off track.

Here’s where I can help.

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3 ways to leverage self-awareness and keep from hurting people

Do you remember when you learned to read a stop sign? Probably not. You were pretty young.

But now that you know, you can’t go back to seeing just a bunch of white squiggles on a red background, right? You’re aware.

This awareness is potent. It keeps you from hurting other people or yourself when you’re behind the wheel.

Self-awareness keeps you from hurting people, too.

Here are 3 ways to develop it:

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Are you willing to grow your leadership trustworthiness?

The manager who took his manufacturing plant from lowest to highest producer nationwide within 18 months.

The VP of Finance who increased engagement by 25% and got a faltering $30 million initiative back on track.

The Nursing Director of a renowned research hospital who spearheaded a controversial, hardline “no gossip” policy…and saw employee and patient satisfaction scores increase by double digits.

The team leader who stepped away from a meeting to call his wife, and ended up having the best conversation he’d had in 10 years.

What do these people have in common?

They know their success and satisfaction – both in business and in life – depends on trust. They know trusting relationships are built by making certain choices. Specifically, choices around how they show up in their relationships with other people.

In other words, their behavior.

Are you willing to make different choices about your behavior? Choices guaranteed to build trust in your ability to lead, both at work and outside of work?

After all, you don’t need direct reports to be a leader. You’re already accountable – to yourself. You lead your own life, right?

My partner Michelle and I built a new tool for you. It’s an online trust quiz, it’s free to use, and it only takes 60 seconds. Can a 60 second quiz actually help you become a stronger leader…both of others, and of yourself?

We’ll be straight with you: building and sustaining trust is hard work. It’s not a one-and-done, plug-and-play exercise. To become a high trust leader – a high trust person – you’ve got to work at it. We all do.

But that’s what leadership’s all about, right? Working at it. If you agree, you’re in the right place, because we‘re here to support you.

We built this quiz for you – to help you take on trust, build trust, and sustain trust in the relationships you most value.

The quiz is scientifically proven. It’s actually a thumbnail sketch version of our statistically reliable valid and assessments, which are backed by 25 years of trust-focused research and global application.

Take the quiz. It’s free, and it only takes a minute – literally.

You’ll learn key behaviors you already practice to build trust. You’ll learn how to do more of what you’re already doing right!

And, you’ll learn where you can make stronger choices in how you behave. You’ll discover where to devote your focus, energy, and attention.

You’ll come away with scientifically proven tips, steps, and tools to dig in and take trust in your leadership to the next level. You can’t find these resources anywhere else. Why?

Because we’re the only trust experts around who’ve devoted our entire professional lives to trust building.

Take the quiz. Invest 60 seconds. Learn what you can do to truly connect with and bring out the best in other people…and in yourself.

Yours in trust,

Dennis Reina


5 Trust Building Tools from the International Space Station

Astronaut Scott Kelly just spent an unbroken year in space, setting a U.S. record. TIME Magazine chronicled Kelly’s time aboard the International Space Station in its documentary, A Year in Space.

As I watched Kelly’s story, I was riveted. Not just by his passion and commitment, but by his remarkable capacity for trust. Trust in himself. Trust in his fellow astronauts. Trust that a million moving parts would get him safely into space and back.

Trust that when he returned, everything he left behind on Earth would still be here, waiting for him.

Among the many tools Scott Kelly gave us to develop our own capacity for trust, here are the 5 most critical:

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stepping stones across turbulent waters representing seven steps to telling difficult truths

How to Tell a Difficult Truth in 7 Straightforward Steps

Telling the truth can be difficult.

In my work, people ask me to help them strengthen trust in their relationships. I work with individual leaders; other times with teams or entire organizations. Regardless of the scope of the engagement or place in the world I’m working, however, I’ve found that when it comes to trust, the same core issues surface. Among the most challenging of these issues?

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Do your relationships have cracks?

Over the years, people have asked us why we called our book Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace.

Betrayal is a strong word. It’s complex and emotionally provocative. For some, it’s downright off-putting.

“When you used the word betrayal,” people have said, “surely you knew you’d risk losing potential readers. If you wanted to make a contribution – to make people’s lives better – why would you use a word that could make people uncomfortable? Or, even push them away from your message?”

The truth?

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Spark a Cycle of Reciprocity

You want to be trusted at work. We all do. We all want others to believe we’re good, capable people, guided by the best intentions.

A truth about trust? It’s reciprocal. To get trust, we have to give it first.

What does it look like when we give trust?
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