When I say I trust, or don’t trust, someone, what am I actually saying? What is it that I am trusting or not trusting?
Trust is one of the fundamental aspects of the relationship between leaders and followers – whatever it is, it lies at the core of leadership and all human relations.
Some questions: How do you think people trust you? How trustworthy do you think you are? How much do you trust other people? Your answers can give you a real sense of what trust means for you.
Another question: How well can, or do, other people know you?
Nobody can actually know me as well as I know myself (although they may see aspects of me that I cannot, of course). And if that is true for their understanding of me, it is true for my understanding of them. This means that when I think about other people, what I am actually thinking about is a collection of assumptions based upon my experience of them – not about “them” at all!.
So now I can begin to get a sense of how I relate to other people when I trust. What I’m trusting is my complex of assumptions about that person – not who they actually are, because I can never really see a person in their totality. Which is why, of course, some people are quite happy to trust those whom I distrust, and vice-versa – they literally “see’ another person.
So one of the important things about trust is that when somebody ‘lets me down’ – when somebody ‘betrays my trust’ – they are not actually betraying my trust, what they’re doing is displaying an aspect of themselves that I were previously not aware of. So they are asking me to change your assumptions about who they are and how I relate to them.
What would I rather put my trust in – the ever-changing evidence of my experience, or an unreal level of expectation stemming from … who knows where?!
This does not mean that I don’t feel hurt and upset when someone “betrays” my trust. An essential part of our humanity is our empathy and connection, and with those close to us we develop emotional dependencies based on conscious and unconscious “contracts” and expectations. The question here is, “Did the other person know about the contact?” and if not, what prevented me telling them about it? … The less conscious I am of my expectations/one-sided contracts, the more upset I am when someone breaks them – even when they don’t know they’re doing it! What I find “outrageous” is often just “normal” to them …
If I say people have to “earn” my trust, or that they have to “lose” it, I’m not really talking about other people at all. I’m talking about an expectation I have, based on my past experience or conditioning, which may be totally irrelevant to the people involved!
I often say that I trust everybody 100%, 100% of the time. When I’m questioned on this I say ‘I trust them to be who I know them to be’. When I know different things about them so the basis of my trust will change.
Just as my personal journey of self discovery is never ending, so is my journey of discovering others in all their complexity.
In the professional sphere it is particularly important to make our assessments of our colleagues’ trustworthiness as clearly as we can, without the obfuscations of self-serving emotional dependencies.
And in both personal and professional lives, isn’t it better to always try to see people as they are, rather than try to maintain a fantasy about who we want them to be? Are we big enough to let people grow and change to be themselves fully, even though that may be difficult for us in some way?
After all, to quote an old saying, “the fool may be happier than the wise man … but the wise man would never consent to be a fool”.
Next time: building and maintaining trust …