There is no trust, but there is plenty of risk

One of the things that seems to be in really short supply these days is Trust.

We have stopped trusting doctors, politicians, lawyers, the police, teachers, newspapers, our leaders, and so the list goes on. And this is debilitating in so many ways because it is only through Trust that we can grow and change.

So what do we mean when we talk about Trust? For me Trust means choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions. It’s not my definition, but it’s one that strikes a chord with me. How many relationships fail because we don’t trust the other person enough to share our thoughts and feelings with them? We don’t choose to put either the relationship itself or ourselves at risk and by not taking that risk we often end up losing the relationship, sometimes hurting ourselves in the process.
Of course, sometimes you will take the risk and that which you value may well get damaged. But not to put it at risk, risks so much more. It risks never finding friends, never allowing yourself to grow and learn, never trying new things, never changing.
Oddly enough we daily put ourselves at risk and trust the designers of cars, other drivers, ourselves, the builders who made our homes – that we will be safe. So why is it so hard in relationships and at work. Maybe it’s because we can’t measure trust. We can’t check whether it’s there. But you can measure when it’s not. When you have a difficult relationship with someone, how many people do you talk to about it before you talk to the person themselves? And how long do you wait? There are two powerful measures. Or if you are in a meeting and agree to do something – do you? Or when there is something controversial to be discussed, are you reluctant to state your opinion first until you’ve heard everyone else’s views, or your boss’s? Or do you hold back from giving someone feedback?
Every time instances of mistrust happen the meter clicks one more time and trust is eroded a little more or sometimes collapses totally. It’s so easily done and so quickly. How then to lower the mistrust count? I find four things help and all four need to be there.

Contracting. It’s a ‘management speak’ word perhaps, but it’s a powerful one. Taking the time to be clear about what we are committing to, what we are asking, what assumptions we are making of and about each other. Taking the time to stop and make sure we are all on the same page. It’s so simple but so rarely done and we end up working at cross purposes and so our mistrust meter starts ticking away in the background.

Sincerity. Say what you mean, check that everyone is hearing the same message, live what you talk, say the same things about people as you would to them. It’s so hard to do – we shape our words so as not to hurt and are misconstrued; or we seek advice and it gets portrayed as moaning. being sincere takes the next attribute. Skill. You need to have interpersonal skill as well as technical skill. Be good at the tasks you do, to discuss your skill levels, to be prepared to show what you can and can’t do, asking for help and helping others as appropriate.

Care. But most of all you need care. Because without care you are unlikely to do the other three or if you do they won’t build trust for you. This doesn’t mean you have to give away everything you stand for because care is a two way thing. It means you care about the other person and what is important; and for you and them to care about you and what is important to you. And crucially in organisations that there is something you are trying to achieve together that you both care about.
Contracting without care becomes mechanistic and the domain of formal contracts and not relationships. Sincerity without care becomes cold and harsh and bruising. Skill without care is soulless. Who wants to see a great doctor who is technically proficient can proscribe you the right medicine but who doesn’t care about you? They may cure you, but chances are they’ll never heal you.

Care doesn’t mean not having difficult conversations, it means having them skilfully, setting the boundaries and being sincere. Most people come to work to do a good job, they want to succeed. Wouldn’t you want someone to tell you if you weren’t performing? When people don’t perform it impacts on the rest of the organisation – if you care about them you’ll have the conversation. If you care enough to have the conversation skilfully you give the other person the opportunity to change or to get better or to seek to out something else. Care is the key.

It’s not a certain formula, but if you want to re-build Trust, you first need to re-discover care.