Trust: cause, effect or process?

Trust is an emotion based on past experience. In many circles people say “trust is low”, we must fix it and then the team will perform. This view sees trust as a cause of something else, i.e. low trust causes low performance, usually.  Put simply, this is a logical fallacy – if trust is an emotion it arises from something else, not causes something.

Trust is effect more than cause – the level of trust people have with one another arises from a whole host of factors, including expectations and experience, to name but two. Therefore working directly on improving trust is a futile endeavor. One needs to work on other things that result in the effect or increased trust.

The best way to understand how to do that is to look at the trust cycle (see diagram above), a variation of a four element model originally developed by Jack Gibb.

The trust cycle is based on the following steps:

1: Sharing Critical Information

2: Experiencing Openness

3: Experience More Trust

4: Commit to Common Work

5: Learn As You Go

6: Create and Document Results

By sharing critical information people experience greater openness. The openness leads to a small increase in trust among the team members that allows them to commit to a small component of work together. If they build in a learning cycle as they work together, they will create positive results. It is from the results that a new level of realization of who they are and who they can become arises, i.e. willingness to expand the cycle develops. The cycle continues – this builds further trust and allows for more complicated work together.

By following this cycle, the team becomes more compassionate, better able to deal with differences inside the group, more committed to each other and to the goals of the team and organization. Through this people develop more ownership and responsibility for their work – in other words, the group becomes a higher functioning team.

Now to the theme of “Stepping Up.” To me, stepping up starts with the individual rather than waiting for others to initiate change – after all, it is ourselves that is all we can really control.

In the context of trust, one person needs to deeply listen and understand the positions and motivations of all other players in a conversation and to be open to finding a solution that maximizes the needs, desires and values of all the team members. This person must take the risk and put themselves in the shoes of the other person/s and is willing to look out at the world through their stories, histories, beliefs and values.

Putting yourself in another’s shoes moves from “my way versus your way” to a position that reflects “our way” and is what Stephen Covey refers to in his book by the same name as the Third Alternative. A prerequisite for this type of shift is that each of the parties must be willing to operate from the mutual self interests and the greater interests of the clients and system. The Third Alternative is a new way of thinking and operating that is not a compromise of positions. Saying this is of course much easier than doing it.

The big threat that most parties experience is, ‘if I deeply listen and empathize with the other person or parties I will be perceived as agreeing with them – this jeopardizes my negotiating position.” To counteract this seeming dilemma one party must “step up.” In order to step up that person needs to be comfortable with themselves and their own positions – they must be comfortable in their own skin so to speak.  Some useful perspectives and principles that will allow you to “step up” in this way are:

  • Working through trust issues and resolving differences isn’t a negotiation but is collaboration.
  • Maintaining a focus on the benefits of a long-term mutually beneficial relationship rather than achieving a short-term win on an issue.
  • More lasting breakthroughs have more to do with collaboration about shared values and interests than anything else
  • Underlying every behavior is a positive intention.
  • There is an interconnected relationship between you and others that goes on over time.

Stepping Up means taking the responsibility to hold these types of perspectives in our relationships and being skillful in how we convene dialogues with our colleagues.

Steve Zuieback

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