To Trust or Not to Trust – Is That Really the Question?

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Just this morning, I met with a new group of students for the first time.03850008

Over the years, I have encountered many, many classes for the first time, sometimes as many as 12 new groups of students in a year.  While there are many important things to cover on the first day of class, I have come to believe one of the most important things is to build rapport and begin establishing trust with the students.

 

A Matter of Trust

Trust is the foundation of any human interaction.  Some say today we are experiencing a decline in trust, but I think that Baroness Onora O’Neill rightly states that we are really facing a decline in trustworthiness.

Baroness O’Neill says that to rebuild trustworthiness, we have to show ourselves as competent, honest, and reliable.

One of the way I establish rapport with a new group of students is by highlighting my relevant experience (competence); opening up to their questions, even personal ones (honesty); and following through on what I say I will do, including ending the class on time (reliability).  By doing this, I quickly begin establishing a tenuous trust that will be reinforced in the weeks ahead through  a consistency of competence, honesty, and reliability.

No matter how trustworthy you consider yourself, there are always areas that need improvement.  Which area have you focused on, perhaps to the exclusion of others?  In which area do you need to spend more time and energy?  What can you do today to strengthen – or reestablish – your trustworthiness?

Transformational Trust

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When I was in Haiti a couple of weeks ago, the local people kept their distance from my team at first but warmed up to us as the week passed.  We originally thought it was shyness, especially on the part of the children, but later we were told that not all groups that come to Haiti come with the best benefit of the Haitians in mind.  Many come with a superior attitude, which comes across even when not expressed in words.

In a word, they didn’t trust us when we first arrived.

Trust – a function of character

Stephen M. R. Covey, in his book The Speed of Trust, talks about character and breaks it down into integrity (walking your talk) and intent (having motives of mutual benefit).

It seems to me that Mr. Covey enjoys breaking concepts into small pieces.  He has further divided integrity into courage – when you don’t let fear stop you from taking action, humility – when you put others first, and congruence – when your words and your actions are in alignment.

He also divided intent into motive – our goals, agenda – how we intend to achieve those goals, and behavior – the actions we take to achieve those goals.  I think this is where the mission team excelled; we had one goal – to serve the missionaries and the local churches.

Happily, in watching my team, I saw the members display all of these characteristics:

  • Character.001Courage – for some of our team members, this was their first time leaving the US or being in such a rural, underdeveloped region; it took great courage to step out and join the team.  I was very proud of how the team accepted the rustic conditions.
  • Humility – the team went with the purpose of serving the missionaries and the local pastors, not of imposing our own view of how things should be done.
  • Congruence – we not only purposed but also enacted an attitude of service.
  • Motive – we were there, not to exploit the local Haitians but to do what was asked of us.
  • Agenda – we intentionally did not come with our own agenda but tied our activities to our local contact’s agenda for us.
  • Behavior – we embraced the agenda provided for us and put all our effort into doing an excellent job.

IMG_8119It was only through observing our intentions through how we interacted with them that the Haitians were able to trust us.  By the end of the week, we had formed some wonderful relationships despite the language barrier, in large part due to the team living out a high standard of character.

What about home?

Often, it is easier to put on your best behavior when you know you are on mission for a short period of time.  The real test comes in the mundane, everyday situations we all face.

With every situation, we always have a choice – will we be intentional in choosing the way that benefits all, or will we choose the way that only benefits ourselves?

 

Resources:

Nothing changes by accident.  If you would like to make some intentional changes in your relationships at home and work, I would like to invite you to participate in a free 7-day experiment in intentional living, hosted by John Maxwell.  Click here to get started!

The Speed of Trust, by Stephen M. R. Covey with Rebecca R. Merrill

 

At the Center of Trust

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Have you ever felt misunderstood, that you were being treated unfairly based on someone else’s misconception?

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Photo by Tasha M. Troy

I have experienced this fairly recently with a friend.  On more than one occasion, I’ve felt that he was treating me based on a faulty understanding of me and my intentions.  What’s worse is he didn’t give me the chance to prove myself; as a result, the friendship has suffered.

This is a very frustrating position to be in!

What can you do to resolve such a situation and move forward?  The root of it all is an issue of trust – it became clear to me that my friend did not trust me or my intentions.

A Crisis of Trust

Stephen M. R. Covey, son of the famed author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says  that today “we are in a crisis of trust.”  Trust is truly a highly precious commodity that is in short supply today.

One could say social media plays a role; social media ensures that secrets don’t stay secret for long, and it is easy to become cynical when exposed to everyone’s dirty laundry.

However, I think the issue goes much deeper than that.

In his book The Speed of Trust, Mr. Covey describes “5 Waves of Trust” as ripples in a pond: self trust, relationship trust, organizational trust, market trust, and societal trust.  It all starts with the individual – to what extent are you a trustworthy and credible person?

At the Center of Trust

Mr. Covey goes on to say that “trust is a function of two things: character and competence.” It seems to me that most people spend a lot of time and energy on developing their competence – pursuing advanced degrees and certifications, building their skills and expertise on the job – but few pay attention to building their character.

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You always have a choice – which path will you choose? Photo by Tasha M. Troy

Character has its source in our daily decisions, which forms our habits.  I recently described it this way: we can choose to make any situation better or worse.  If we consistently choose to make the situation better, we build the habits that lead to strong character.  However, if we consistently choose to make the situation worse (including choosing inaction), we build the habits that lead to weak character.

 

Self-Trust

The first wave of trust, according to Mr. Covey, is self-trust, by which he means personal credibility.  Are you able to trust yourself? If you can not trust yourself, no one else will be able to trust you.

I find this closely related to self-discipline.  So many times, we hold ourselves to commitments made to others but neglect the commitments made to ourselves.  How many times have you made the same New Year’s resolutions and yet failed to keep them?  Every day you can choose to keep your commitment to yourself or you can choose to break it, choices that form your character and either establish or corrode your self-trust.

Looking Forward

At one time, it seemed all my efforts to reconnect with my friend simply made the situation worse, so I opted to give him the space he needs to develop some measure of trust in me.  This has proven to be moderately effective, and there is evidence that we can become closer friends again in the future.  Until then, I can only focus on strengthening my own self-trust and reliability.

If you want to grow in the area of trust, Mr. Covey suggests starting with your commitments to yourself.  For me, this means strengthening my self-discipline – getting up when I intend to get up, exercising when I intend to exercise, and following through with commitments both great and small.

What about you?  What commitments to yourself are you going to follow through on this week?

 

Resources:

The Speed of Trust, by Stephen M. R. Covey with Rebecca R. Merrill

Conflict Handling – The Collaborative Style

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Over the last five to ten years, one of my greatest pleasures has been working with my co-teachers.  In fact, because we teach the same students  in different contexts, the last few years I’ve had to work particularly close with my fellow instructors in planning and implementing lessons.

Photo by Tasha M. Troy

Photo by Tasha M. Troy

As we are discussing an upcoming lesson, I might suggest an activity that my colleague doesn’t particularly like for some reason.  Then she may suggest something I’ve tried before that didn’t go over so well.  Then we come up with a third version, a hybrid that addresses the issues that didn’t work in the past and emphasizes the skills we want the students to focus on.  By taking multiple perspectives into consideration, a richer, more inclusive plan can be crafted.

As Colonel “Hannibal” Smith of the A-Team used to say, I love it when a plan comes together!

Sometimes referred to as “win-win,” the collaborating style of conflict resolution usually produces the most lasting results.  When both sides have a voice in crafting the solution, both can walk away happy with the conclusion of the matter, not merely mollified.

This style is as much, it not more so, about the process of reaching an agreement than it is about the agreement itself.  It requires a high level of self disclosure from all parties if a truly collaborative result is to be achieved.  Of course, this also requires a high level of trust, which doesn’t come easy in most cases.

Drawbacks

While it may produce the most favorable outcomes, this style also takes the most time and effort to reach a resolution. The tricky part is that it depends on both sides being committed to seeing the process through.

Additionally, if trust has been eroded prior to engaging in this process, that must be addressed before any other issues can be resolved.  Incremental progress on smaller issues while trust is reestablished is essential.

Benefits

The key benefit of spending all the time necessary to work out a truly collaborative solution is that all involved will ideally buy into the solution.  The best solutions take everyone’s concerns into consideration and create a unique answer to the problem or conflict.

 

 

Links and Resources:

“Conflict Resolution:  Resolving Conflict Rationally and Effectively”

An article that explains the five conflict handling styles as well as the “Interest Based Relational Approach” to dealing with conflict, an approach based on the concepts of the book Getting to Yes by authors Roger Fisher, William L. Ury, and Bruce Patton

Trust: The Linchpin of Influence 

Are you ready to become a REAL Success?  Check out the schedule for a Mastermind Group starting soon.

 

Check out the rest of this series!

The Competitive Style

The Avoiding Style

The Accommodating Style

The Compromising Style

Building Trust: The Role of Biology

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Dr. Paul Zak researches the effect of oxytocin, sometimes referred to as “the bonding hormone,” in the realm of general human interactions.  His research indicates that oxytocin may have a strong impact on our ability to develop trust with each other.  In this TED Talk, he makes a very technical subject very easy to understand as he describes his research.

In his talk, he says, “We don’t need God or government telling us what to do. It’s all inside of us.”  I  have actually come to a different conclusion; I am amazed at God’s design, how He has hardwired us for connection and community.  

Who do you need to connect with today?  How can you use this information about oxytocin and how important it is to help you connect better with those around you?

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.

Building Trust:  The Linchpin of Influence

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A few years ago, I lost the trust of my students.  IMG_6954

I had made a few bad decisions, and about two-thirds through the program the situation reached a crisis point.  I had to make great efforts (and to humble myself) in order to sufficiently regain their trust so that I could coach them through their final projects.

When I lost their trust, their success was jeopardized.

Trust is the linchpin of relationships and the one element that makes lasting connected influence possible.  Professor Stuart Diamond, in his book Getting More, says, “Trust is something that develops slowly, over time.  It is an emotional commitment to one another based on mutual respect, ethics, and good feeling.”  Trust is a characteristic of relationships that are in it for the long haul, whether they are interpersonal, professional, or communal relationships.

Starting from Scratch

How can you build trust to begin with? First, understand that building trust will not happen quickly.  While some people are naturally trusting, most people living in the modern world are a bit skeptical of anyone they’ve not known very long.

IMG_6956Next, I think the focus should be to establish a personal connection to the person or group you are wanting to build trust with.  In so doing, you have the opportunity to build a track record of keeping the other person’s interests in mind when interacting.

In describing the Law of Connection from The 21 Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell says that “the heart comes before the head.” You must first show that you are truly interested in the person and what is important to that person.  This can best be accomplished through connected listening.

Establishing a connection will get you an opportunity; character will take you the rest of the way.

In addition to building connections with people, you must also demonstrate a strong moral character in order to gain and maintain trust with people.  John Maxwell sees character as the foundation for trust; he says that “character makes trust possible” by demonstrating consistency of results, releasing the potential of others, and earning the respect of others.

The importance of character is so great that I will have to address it more fully in a later post.

Repairing the Breach

How can you recover once trust has been lost?  This is much more difficult, but it is possible.  The first step is to admit your mistakes.  Everyone knows you made a mistake, so you lose nothing from owning it, and you gain credibility when you do.  It does require a bit of humility, but if you can get past your pride, you may find yourself with a second chance.

John Maxwell compares trust to change in your pocket – good decisions increase the change in your pocket, while bad decisions decrease the change in your pocket.  As long as you have some change (i.e. trust) remaining, you can likely recover.  The consistency, potential, and respect that are reflected in your character must shine through if you are to regain lost trust.

 

I learned a hard lesson a few years ago when I lost and later regained the trust of my students.  As a result, in the past few years I have been more intentional about connecting with my students and guarding the trust I have with them in order to more effectively guide them into becoming better communicators themselves.  My efforts have been rewarded by seeing them exceed my expectations and achieve both personal and professional success.

 

Links and Resources:

An article from Success Magazine on building trust