Building Trust: “Your Here” and “Their There”

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In my last post I mentioned a time that I lost my students’ trust.

Air Force Memorial

Air Force Memorial

There were several poor decisions on my part that led to this situation, but the clincher came when my students were presenting their research to the program administration.

I teach in a very intensive program, for both the students and the teachers, and the students end up presenting their research two different times. The first time, they present a research update to their classmates and the program administration, and I know that the stakes are relatively low. The second time, they present the results of their research to a much larger audience, and the stakes are much higher.

The Air Force Memorial

The Air Force Memorial

One year, thinking that my responsibility during the event was merely to manage the technology, I wasn’t at my best the day of the presentations; after all, I wasn’t presenting. I would never do this when I have to teach, but I didn’t think that I would need to be at the top of my game during the presentations.

The technology was managed without a hitch; however, I dropped the ball in a big way in an other area. 

From the perspective of my students, this was the largest audience some of them had presented to, and while compared to the second presentation this was a low-stakes event, in their eyes it was a high-stakes event.  Because I was focused on only my role, I was not emotionally available for them during the event.  Afterwards, at least two students (out of 12) stated that they had felt abandoned by me.

When I was not able to provide the emotional support my students needed, I lost their trust.

In their book Real Influence, Mark Goulston and John Ullmen talk about being stuck in your here without considering their there.  What they mean is that most people tend to be so entrenched in their own perspective that they aren’t able to connect with others, they aren’t able to understand someone else’s perspective.  This was the root of my mistake – I was so focused on my own perspective that I didn’t take into consideration the perspective of my students, and this cost me dearly.  Just like the two pictures featured on this page reflect different perspectives of the same memorial, we have to be aware of the different perspectives the people around us bring to any given situation.

Once my eyes were opened to my “blind spot” – how entrenched in my own perspective I was – I set to work on repairing the lost trust.  This wasn’t easy; it required me to apologize to certain individuals, and it was necessary for me to go the extra mile in showing personal concern for the success of each student in my class.  By the time the second presentation arrived, I had gained enough trust that I was able to coach them to successfully present to the larger audience.

However, the entire situation could have been avoided if I had only taken my students’ perspective into consideration from the start.

In what areas are you stuck in your here?

If you need help identifying their there, I recommend starting to practice connective listening.

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