11 Jul Trust Matters

By Richard Fagerlin

Nobody comes to the discussion on trust empty handed. We all have strong feelings about it. We know how it feels when trust is misused, betrayed, or withheld. Our perspectives are real and have been informed by a lifetime of experiences, pain and broken relationships. Sometimes these conclusions are helpful and sometimes they hold us hostage.

Over the years I’ve come to a surprising conclusion: our most theories about trust are often untrue and almost always unhelpful. What I’m going to share will likely go against everything you’ve ever heard or thought about trust. Of all the flawed theories flying around about trust, there is one that is more prevalent and also more damaging than any other:
Trust’s Big Lie: Trust is something that is earned.
The Truth on Trust: Trust can’t be earned. It can only be given.

I know, I know. This is a lie that even I have believed for most of my life. The problem with it is that it just doesn’t make sense. When we’re deciding how much to trust someone, we uswhether they have earned our trust. That seems like the smart thing to do. Until they earn it, we withhold trust to protect ourselves. We put protective policies in place. We micromanage to maintain control and create limits and boundaries to our relationships. But the truth is, trust can never be earned. Trust can only be given.

Trust is the responsibility of the person who wants high trust. If you want others to trust you – it’s your responsibility. If you want to be able to trust others – it’s your responsibility. If you are committed to giving and building trust, and determined to overcome any obstacles that stand in your way, you will win high trust. If you work patiently and with perseverance to lead your team towards a high-trust, high-performance culture, you can see it happen. Ten of the most powerful two-letter words in the English language are: If it is to be, it is up to me. If you are to have high trust in your relationships, it starts and ends with you.

Let’s address this difficult situation of people that will likely take advantage of you if you are willing to give trust. So let’s play the odds. Even though trust is not safe it can still be a wise investment. The question is, do the rewards outweigh the risks? Everyone will eventually disappoint you in small ways. (And guess what? You’ll disappoint them, too.) A few people may betray you outright. But consider for a moment how many people we’re really talking about. How many people, of all those in your life, are really going to take advantage of you if you offer trust before it is earned? Twenty percent? Ten? Two?

I guess that, on average, the number is closer to two percent than it is to twenty. Yes, a few people may abuse your trust. But do you want to live and act for the two percent, or the ninety-eight percent? Imagine a weights and measures scale. Put the risk of the two percent on one side, and the benefit of a trusting, generous relationship with the ninety-eight percent on the other. Which will benefit you (and others) the most?

I know many of you are sitting there thinking of all the situations where giving unearned trust doesn’t make sense. Keep two things in mind: First, I’m assuming the relationships in question are ones where you actually want to win, where you have a vested interest in the relationship being the best it can be, and where collaboration is critical. If that’s the case, let’s apply these ideas. If not, you don’t need to invest time or energy into building trust. Second, I am not speaking to the extremes. If you have experienced a betrayal of trust amounting to psychological or physical abuse, address it appropriately. Ask a friend for help, get a counselor, talk to a mentor, or read one of the many great books out there that address healing and boundaries on a personal level.

But most of life should not be a crisis. I want to speak to the rest of the time, to normal person-to-person interactions. If you are struggling with the idea ofgiving trust – consider the following 5 strategies:

1. Assume the best and be willing to give the benefit of the doubt. You can assume that people have bad intentions or you can assume their intentions are good. The choice is yours and how you choose will determine the strength of your relationship.

2. Stop worrying about what you are not getting and focus on what you are getting. If you focus only on what you are not getting from a relationship it will be easy to find times, places and situations where you are not getting what you want. This can be a great way to grow frustration and create dis-harmony. Focus on what you do get and work to expand that.

3. Have eyes like mom. Everyone’s baby is the cutest. Nobody loves better than mom does. Start looking at people and seeing them as though their mom does. You won’t be able to send them to their room but you just might start seeing good that you didn’t before.

4. Make it your priority. Simply focus on giving trust. If it is your priority to build trust and to have high trust relationships it has to be an area of focus for you every day.

5. Create boundaries. Not people should be trusted and for those that shouldn’t, you must create boundaries. It doesn’t mean that you can have relationship with challenging people, but you must determine boundaries that are tight enough to protect you but loose enough to not create harm in your relationship.

I realize you may not totally agree, but be willing to challenge your mindset and consider a new approach to trust. Ponder these principles and ideas around trust with me and let’s create a new way of thinking and more importantly, a new way of doing together.

Lead Well, Lead Often and LEAD STRONG!

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