The Trust Axis
June 5, 2014
When I bought a new car a couple of years back, I was very possessive about it. I did not like even a speck of dirt or a single scratch on it. The time for the first service came and the Service center promptly sent out a driver to pick up the car. Although it was me who requested for a pick up, I did not think it through. It started pricking me when I was supposed to hand over the keys to the pick up driver. I reluctantly handed over the keys. And after the service, I did a thorough review of the car for any scratches. Now, i.e. 3 years later, this is now almost a routine. I does not bother me so much hand over the keys to the pick up driver.
3 years back, when I was supposed to handover the keys of my new car to the pick up driver, I did not trust the driver that he would drive the car carefully. But neither did I know for sure that he would damage the car while driving. I was not sure if he could be trusted with the car or not. This is the point of “No Trust”.
Mistrust, No Trust, Trust are the 3 points on what I call the “Trust Axis”. This probably holds good in any situation. Whenever a new relation is beginning, whenever you meet someone for the first time, there is no reason for you to trust nor there is a reason for you to mistrust. This point is called the point of “No Trust”. You tend to remain neutral at this point. This state is often mistaken for mistrust, which it is not.
Point of “No Trust”
The point of “No Trust” is an interesting stage in every relationship, be it professional or personal. This is where you need to invest your time and effort to build trust. We need to slowly start trusting the person in smaller aspects and gradually reach a point of Trust. This involves taking smaller but incremental risks. For example handing over a small but important task to start with. The journey is not one sided and requires efforts from both sides. This is where empathy, forgiveness and magnanimity comes handy. This requires you to prove your trustworthiness to the other side. This stage requires both parties to understand the fact that they are investing on each other to build trust. This is a delicate phase I would say. The best example of this is between a manager and a newly joined team member for an important role. Any new, starting relationships also form a good example.
By the way, this holds good for teams as well. Imagine a newly formed team and how it follows the Tuckman’s group development model of forming, storming, norming, and performing. This is how teams move from the point of “NO Trust” to “Trust”
Further, this is a make or break stage. No matter what we do or not do we are not staying in this stage for long. you either move to “Trust” or you move to “mistrust”. While you need to put a lot of effort to build trust but it is only half as difficult to slide on to the other side.
It is very easy for a relation to land up in this area. The slide from the point of “No Trust” to “Mistrust” can happen in just one meeting, one conversation, or even a hearsay, which is unfortunate. I have personally experienced one key professional relationship of mine slide into “Mistrust” in just one email. I was in Paris, sent an email to my new associate, and followed up with a phone call. But the damage had been done. The email apparently was too “bossy”. In retrospect, I changed my habit of listing down all my thoughts as questions, in an overdrive to be objective, that too in the initial days of relationship. The mistrust that we slid into that day, still exist and is beyond repair. Although, I have honestly put my efforts to change this and build trust with that person, but I haven’t any seen results so far.
So the initial days of the relationship is very crucial and both parties need to understand the need to build a relationship, build trust and both parties need to work towards that. Recovering from a point of mistrust needs a whole lot of thought and space which I wont include in this post.
Building trust should not be that difficult. Let us see what it takes. Building trust takes both people in the relation to
- appreciate that the fact that they need to build trust
- have an aligned roles and clear objective,
- not have conflicting interests,
- be open and transparent
I welcome you to take some relationships that worked for you and some that didn’t and try an map it to the above 4 points. You will probably appreciate it better. Are these the only factors, I dont think so. If you find anything interesting, do point out. It is not difficult to build trust, most people do it easily. Although it is easy, it is not effortless. One needs to put efforts.
Moving on, with “Trust” comes responsibility. Once you reach the point of trust, the responsibility of maintaining the trust comes up. Again it is very easy to slide down to the point of of “Mistrust’ from here. This is the worst thing to happen of course. This not only creates mistrust, but also makes one question the intent, means used to build trust. For example, if you have gained the trust of your manager by sheer hard work and for some reason you let him/her down, you not only loose the trust, but your hard work will also be put to question.
You trust someone with something. And that something has a value. You send your kid to a school, you trust the school with your kid. You trust the bank with your money. You trust Google with your email communication. And when you trust, you know what is at stake. And more often that not, you put your checks and balances for the safety of your valuable. Even in relationships, you trust someone. Like everything else, even this needs checks and balance.
I was having a discussion with one of my colleague on this topic and she made an interesting point – that we need to balance trust. There are only a few relationships in the world that can be unconditionally trusted. For everything else you need a balance. If you happen to trust someone too much and you are absolutely convinced about the trustworthiness of this person, you need to find something in this person that you do not trust about. Initially it sounded like being too pessimistic, but if you think through, it is actually help you make better decisions. This exercise will help you ensure that you remove the permanent positive bias that this person has in your mind because of his trust worthiness, when making decisions. Balancing trust is what I could call this. Interestingly this holds good for mistrust also. In order to remove the bias, if we can think of one thing that we can trust in this person who we mistrust, it will affect our decision making greatly.
I believe this will help you not to get too far on the trust axis on one side. Let me know your thoughts about this. I welcome your comments.