Trust is a Mirror

May 7, 2019

Here is an interesting conundrum. Everyone else on the planet knows how you are coming across to them. The only person who really does not know how you are coming across is you.

Basically, we cannot see ourselves the way others do.  You know how other people are striking you, but you are really blind to what others are thinking about you in the back of their minds.

Of course, you can learn to infer how your actions and words are being received as you listen to others and observe their body language. However, both of those things can disguise what the other person really thinks about you.

Would it be valuable to have a way to see yourself clearly as other people do? I think that would be incredibly valuable.

I believe there is a kind of “mirror” that will allow you to see yourself as others do. When you develop a relationship of high trust with another person, you create a mirror where you can accurately know how you are coming across at any point in time.

With trust, you will have the blessing of knowing, real-time, when you are coming on too strong, when you are being too pedantic, when you appear uncommitted, when you seem duplicitous, and any number of other maladies or admirable actions.

Why does trust enable this kind of magic feedback that is so powerful? Trust allows other people to feel safe telling you what they are thinking without fear.

In normal relationships, people are on guard, because giving direct feedback will often lead to unintended consequences, and that means damage control. Trust allows people to give you feedback with love and care that prevents the need to protect themselves from your reaction.

I believe that trust and fear are incompatible; when you remove the fear between people, trust will grow spontaneously. My favorite quote on this phenomenon is,

“The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.”

Key Point:

Once true trust is established, then you have the gift of knowing how you are coming across to other people.

We are all a work in progress. Nobody is perfect as we exist today. In fact, a major part of life is learning and growing. I have always believed that when you stop growing, it is time to order a pine box.

If you believe what I have written thus far, then the obvious question is, “How do I go about building relationships of higher trust?” The answer is as simple as the question. You build trust by creating a safe environment for the person who would share information with you.

If, by your past reactions, you have convinced the other person it is safe to share things that may be difficult to say, then you have enabled trust between you and the other person to kindle.

The analysis may sound like circular reasoning, but it has the simplicity and validity of all truly universal laws.

When you take a baseball and drop it out of a window, the result is without question due to a law we call gravity.

Trust is the same way, if you create an environment where people feel safe sharing difficult messages with you, then you develop trust. That trust means that you will now have the ability to see yourself the way other people do. This knowledge will allow you to take corrective or preventive actions that you would otherwise not even consider.

An additional benefit is that by creating a “real” environment with other people, where you are not playing games, you now have the ability to tell them things that will help them improve. That reciprocal relationship is the basis on which two people can help each other on the journey that is life.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


The Virality of Trust

January 17, 2015

SynapseI wrote an article a while ago about whether trust can scale. My conclusion was that trust does scale because it is measurable and has properties where it can grow or shrink.

The ensuing discussions between two of my good friends brought out an important nuance. Both Bob Vanourek and Fred Dewey came back with the concept that while trust can expand and contract based on what is going on, it is not linear at all.

A small increase in trust due to an action will tend to grow exponentially as the news spreads through cyberspace. Actions that build trust will become more powerful as a result of the viral nature of information.

Of course, the same phenomenon happens on the negative side. If a leader does something that has a damping effect on trust, that negative impact will become more hurtful as the information spreads virally.

So while the nature of trust is that it does scale, we need to be constantly aware of a “hockey-stick” situation, where one small misstep magnifies in time and in space.

I think this observation has always been true, but as we trend toward a greater percentage of information being conveyed virtually, the leverage increases.

There is an opportunity to intervene that may be helpful. When something unfortunate is done, and it is picked up on the social networks, the person who committed the sin is usually aware of the bad press. It is a kind of moment of truth where the damage is either made much worse or can be muted somewhat. This public relations problem can make or break a person’s reputation.

Let’s take a case as an example and dissect the likely outcomes. Suppose a CEO puts out a note to the senior managers that refers to some problem (unnamed) employees as “knuckleheads.”

One of the managers gets a chuckle out of the wording and elects to pass it along to a couple underlings as a joke. One of the underlings is familiar with a person who has been under scrutiny for some attendance problems. He writes a note to that person attaching the CEO’s message and asks “Wonder if you are one of the knuckleheads?”

That individual sends it out to everybody in his group, and the cascade is on. Within an hour, the entire organization knows the CEO considers some of the employees to be “knuckleheads.”

The CEO will quickly become aware, through feedback, that his note is out all over the plant. Let’s look at a few possible approaches for the CEO:

1. He can call a quick meeting with his senior managers to try to find out who leaked the information. That “Witch hunt” reaction is unfortunately pretty common, when the real witch was actually the CEO.

2. He can ignore the situation and let people calm down over time. That “head in the sand” approach is also a common ploy that only feeds the rumors of clueless leaders.

3. A better approach might be a humble apology where he admits to what is already obvious and indicates that his choice of words was inappropriate. Rather than try to justify what is already known (like… “we are under extreme pressure right now”), he indicates sincere regret and a desire to not repeat it.

You be the judge of the outcomes under these scenarios. Perhaps you can think of other methods of handling the situation.

Undoubtedly the best cure would be prevention where the CEO would not send a note like that in the first place.

Even more important, would be to have a CEO who does not even think in terms where he or she has to guard his wording so the spin comes out right. If your private thoughts show the proper level of respect and trust, then you do not have to scrub your communications. You are free to be authentic.

Of course this example was a small situation that was contained within one specific organization. Many times people get into trouble when they communicate inappropriate things about people outside the organization, like customers, insurance companies, the government, law enforcement, or any number of other situations.

These lapses can lead to embarrassment, loss of one’s job, jail time, or worse. When people compromise trust in any type of communication, there is no telling how much damage will ensue.

With the growing percentage of communication happening in the online environment, it is time to redouble efforts to phrase things correctly at the start and avoid embarrassing slips. It is also important to check our personal self talk to ensure our attitudes reflect a trustworthy rather than duplicitous person.