Breaking Trust in Teams: The Fish and Snitch Approach

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The Fish and Snitch Technique

Trust is an important part of any team environment. A leader approached me to tell me about an incident that I have tagged “the Fish and Snitch”. The lessons are many for all in corporate leadership roles.

The Fish and Snitch approach occurred when a peer rang and spent a deal of the time “fishing” for thoughts, suggestions, comments and the like. He would start with an inflammatory statement and went fishing for support. This conversation lasted approximately an hour, and my client felt unease during the whole time. What was the purpose? What was the reason? He was guarded in response, and never took part in the unpleasantness, but felt uneasy.

The next day he found out. His immediate line manager rang him, quite displeased with “statements” that had been attributed to him in a conversation. Unsure of which way to turn he took the call, and attempted not to further inflame the situation. He held his image and integrity and vowed to move on. The line manager, went to great pains to dissociate the “fish and snitch” (the Peer) from the statements, which re-inforced the fact that my client had been the victim of a “fish and snitch” and that the comments had in fact come from the peer.

So what happened. Still unsure, all it takes is a simple statement like “I was talking with X about……”  You become associated with the issue, whether real or imagined. My clients guarded approach, was not enough to be disassociated with the comments and hence was all tangled in. It was clear, that the peer (who just happens to be favourited by the line manager) had spoken about the “issues” with the boss.

The fallout is immediate. The Line Manager’s obvious favoritism, and reactive manner has driven a wedge through this team. The favourite peer, may have no idea of the impact on the others, but potentially does what he does to maintain his confidences with the boss and to keep the other leaders down. This team can be best described as dysfunctional, driven from the top by a poor leader. Of course, these are my observations, which I don’t share with clients as our focus is our our actions and behaviours, not others. They talk about transformational leadership and it is clear that this team needs it.

So my advice is simple. When something doesn’t feel right. It usually isn’t. That Leadership intuition kicks in. When it does, you need to act with courage. You need to be bold and clearly disassociate yourself with any comments/statements that you do not agree with. And if the relationship is scarred and trust not displayed, be very mindful on what you share.

The corporate world, at times, is not the hotbed for values based leadership. Career ambitious people, attempt to win at all costs, and usually have no thoughts about who they have to defeat to get there. Unfortunately for the leader that approached me is that his boss and a couple of his peers, act in this way. My leader friend, needs to maintain his integrity and show performance at all times. Results with integrity. He needs to “connect” with his boss by understanding what motivates him, and do his best to deliver for him, as long as this is done without impacting on his personal values. If this cannot be done, then a change of job will be required.

As for the “fish and snitch”. Clearly and courageously disassociate with anything outside of the job role and performance. Maintain integrity, discuss issues, not people. Come up with solutions, don’t put down people. You can stop the “fish and snitch”.

Tony Curl

Tony Curl

Tony Curl

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