Recognizing that collaboration is critical to our success at Small Army, we recently invited an expert on the topic to conduct a few workshops to help us improve our skills. Overall, we walked away better because of it. However, there was one part of the session that caused me a bit of discomfort (and, honestly, frustration).
With about 20 people in my workshop, the moderator asked everyone to write down a few things that I could do better (yes, he asked everyone to provide feedback on me) and then hand them in. I was a bit surprised by the exercise, but played along – and in the spirit of always being open to feedback, I thought it would be good to read these comments when I got back to my office later. However, rather than keeping them private, the moderator proceeded to read each anonymous note out loud (an approach I would not recommend – I believe more in open and honest communication).
Most comments were things that I know I could be better at (or things like “I need to give bonuses more often”). However, one comment caught me a bit off-guard – it was related to “not trusting everyone.” I was surprised because I believe I have a high level of trust with everyone who works at the agency – and trust is critical to good relationships.
This comment caused me to think quite a bit about the topic and, in doing so, I came to realize that trust is not as simple as we often make it seem. Here are some of my thoughts:
- Trust is a judgment of character, confidence is a judgement of skills. In my opinion, trust related to character. We trust that people will do the right thing, try their hardest, provide help when needed, keep their promises, be kind, etc. However, when it comes to skills/capabilities, it is less about trust than confidence. I certainly don’t have the same level of confidence in everyone’s ability to deliver “client-ready” work – often, the more junior the person, the lower the confidence. But that should not be confused with lack of trust.
- Trust is not all or nothing. We don’t simply trust people or not trust them. There are multiple levels and dimensions of trust. For example, I may have a high level of trust that someone will try their hardest on a project, but I may have little trust that they will deliver when they say they will. Each dimension should be considered separately.
- Trust is a two-way street. You can’t expect people to trust you, unless you trust them. And, the more you trust to others, the more likely they will trust you. For example, if you trust that someone is giving you constructive feedback and suggestions because they want to help you succeed (as opposed to “because the don’t trust you”), they will likely trust that you will always listen and be open to feedback.
- Trust can be lost as easily as it is gained. My general rule of thumb is that you should trust people until/unless they give you reason not to. It can then grow stronger with every interaction. However, once they give you reason not to trust them, it can all be lost (especially on that specific dimension). At that point, you will need to earn it back – it is difficult, but not impossible to do.
- Trust is transferrable. One of the best things about trust is that you can pass it on to others. If you trust me a lot, and I tell you that I trust someone else a lot, it is likely that you will trust them a lot as well. Of course, the reverse is also true.
So, the next time trust comes into question, I encourage you to first take a step back and consider if trust is truly the issue. If it is, take a moment to determine what dimension of trust may be low, and why that is. From there, talk with the other person about how you can earn it back. Without it, the relationship will not be sustainable. But with it, the sky is the limit.
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