Before you begin reading this article, you need to know a fact. As those who really know me will attest, I am a trusting person for the most part. I try very hard not to make assumptions based on fear or doubt of another person’s intentions. However, in the human condition, we are all susceptible to fears, insecurities, and doubt relative to others. I own this reality. And yes, this tendency has been reinforced because I have been burned many times in my life and career. Thus, my perspective is based upon my experiences of trusting when the trust has been breached AND those wonderful experiences when a person re-establishes in you whatever faith had been lost through those prior experiences. My intention is that this article will start a conversation for collective sharing and learning around this concept of TRUST. I hope you will read, comment, argue, and offer thought leadership for this community.
Simply stated: I believe that building trust is the secret to strong, sustainable relationships. These can be either personal or professional relationships – the outcome may be different, yet the principles are the same.
I can assure you, each person reading this has most certainly experienced a broken relationship due to the break down of trust. This breakdown could be in the form of a spouse cheating on them or a colleague using information (which you developed or found) as if it were their own with no accreditation to you. It could be someone outright stealing a concept from a keynote or workshop, and using it as if it were their own. Or it could be a so-called friend or colleague saying one thing to your face and calling you a ‘friend’ only to have them back-stabbing you with unflattering commentary or falsehoods behind your back. I have written a blog on Integrity which was one of the most widely distributed the year it was posted, which covers several examples of betrayal. It apparently hit a nerve!
One of the most famous theatrical portrayals of lack of trust is the fabulous old movie starring Bette Davis and Anne Baxter: All About Eve, depicting a young protegé and her web to steal her mentor’s…well, everything! (For my younger readers, if you have never watched this film – do!) This phenomenon is not new…people have always stolen. Yet, as we become more sophisticated, as do the tools to leverage this game, the internet can lead to easy pickings for those with an unsuspecting demeanor. Thus it is an ever-growing reality – this we know.
An author for whom I have great respect, Stephen (M.R.) Covey, wrote the seminal book on trust, The Speed of Trust which has become an international staple for leadership teams over the past few years. Let’s face it, trust is so integral to our relationships that we often take it for granted; yet in an era marked by business scandals and a desire for accountability – we clearly need to nurture trust in our professional and personal lives.
Thus, I want to offer a few observations about trust:
In a compelling article by David DeSteno which was published in the Harvard Business Review a few months ago, he stated that we often assume someone is trustworthy based on their reputation…which is not always the best predictor. We think because someone has become the CEO of a rapidly growing company or a person is achieving success in a new venture or a person has been recently promoted in their company – that their success denotes trustworthiness. Yet…not so fast.
He also wisely states there are always those that are in it for the long haul and those that are in it for the short haul….AND the motivators are different. And their behaviors are different.
My sister and I were taught by our parents that life is a marathon; yet, long-term gain requires that we be more community minded. We have to be diligent, deliberate, AND patient…knowing and believing that the tortoise will win the race. Short-haul sprinters (or runners, as they are referred to in many companies) need and want short-term gains…net: they will take what they can get and run with it. Running the marathon – literally and figuratively – is not for the faint-hearted. It is easy to become disenchanted, disillusioned, and disheartened. Trust me, I know this from more than one area in my life.
Yet, what I also know is that a determining factor of our trustworthiness is what is motivating us at the time AND which urge wins. We have the opportunity to choose which ‘wolf we feed’. Now, for those reading this who will argue that a person can be both a marathon runner AND a sprinter…I agree. However, I will also argue that we can sprint, yet our value system must remain a marathon value system. It is and always will be our choice.
So, how do we know who we can trust? In my first book, Is This Seat Taken?® Random Encounters that Change your Life, I wrote about a real estate tenant in a rental lake property my sister and I owned. It is a dark comedic story…and true. Net: we trusted him. He paid his rent on time and in cash; until one day we learned he was breaking the law on our property in a major league way! (If you want to know what he was doing, you will have to buy the book!). We had entered into this relationship with both eyes and hearts open, only to be proven wrong about him. Whew – what a lesson!!
Yes, this particular circumstance revolved around integrity or the lack thereof. What other variables play into our trusting another person? David DeSteno offers that competence is equally important. We can trust a person’s integrity and character; and yet, if the person does not have the skill set to deliver the goods – despite their good intentions – they will probably fail. I have had this happen more than once in my career; and I take as much responsibility for this as the other party…as I unintentionally set them up for failure. Thus, we need to look at many aspects of a person’s life: skills, competency, previous behavior, choices… to ascertain the level of trustworthiness.
Finally, it goes without saying we have all been betrayed at one time or another. And in my blog outlining 4 Tips to Overcome Betrayal there are a few key strategies on how to get beyond the hurt, anger, and resentment. Yet, I want to close this particular opinion on Trust with a few straightforward tips on how to FOSTER TRUST versus overcoming betrayal. Let’s start from a position of positivity versus negativity! These are not new, nor are they complicated – yet, if each one of us would err on the side of these actions, TRUST would have a more fertile ground from which to grow.
1. Communicate – early and often. Share your needs AND find out what the other person needs. Be real, authentic, and transparent in what you share, what you ask for, and what you need. And receive others’ openness with grateful, accepting love and appreciation. It is simply not all about you…never has been, never will be.
2. Transparency and vulnerability in our interactions builds bridges. Dare to be brave and honest in your dealings. Hiding behind false bravado is just that – false. Give. Receive. And stand strong in the marathon perspective. And if you need inspiration or guidance on how to ‘change the frame’ around vulnerability, check out Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, or her simply incredibly salient Ted talk. Both will give you pause.
3. When in doubt about materials to use or unspoken boundaries – ask permission. When a mistake or breach has been made – apologize, ask forgiveness, and make it right as best you can. There is no room for defensiveness when a breach has been made. Own it. For goodness sake, this is not the time to ‘wah wah’ to your co-workers, your friends, or around the water cooler. This will only exacerbate the problem. Then, finally, treat the other party the way you would want to be treated if you were in their shoes.
4. Assume nothing. My clients know I stand steadfastly by the book The Four Agreements as a salient resource for individual health and team collaboration. They are: Make no assumptions. Be impeccable with your word. Always do your best. Take nothing personally. If each of us could integrate these principles into our work and lives, our collective issues would diminish ten fold.
We are indeed in Earth School. Thus, we are all learning (and teaching) still. (Otherwise, as my father would say,”we would be dead…aka: graduated.”) We each have the opportunity to stop stealing, plagiarizing, not giving credit where credit is due, and not being impeccable with our word. We each have the opportunity to boost those who behave honorably and who set the Integrity bar. Let’s do just that! When we see incredible representatives of honesty and TRUSTWORTHINESS, let’s celebrate that – publicly, visibly, and loudly. By rewarding the behaviors we wish to foster in our world – they will increase and the sprint and marathon races will both be well run.
What examples do you have in your life where integrity has been breached? What did you learn? What did you teach? What examples do you have of behaviors which set the bar for TRUST, HONESTY, and INTEGRITY? Share your stories please!