The Science of Trust – Part 1

Last week a CEO asked me ‘if anything had really changed in the people development space over the past 15 years?’

The declining angle of his eyebrows and gaze gave away his real question ‘is there anything that you could tell me, that I don’t already know?’

I love a challenge.

I responded with deep knowing in my belly and firmly stated that the answer was most certainly ‘No!’

He smiled.

‘So what can you tell me about all the things that haven’t changed?’ he asked.

Again, the smirk in his tilting lips masked the real question ‘So why have we not mastered all the basics we have known for so long?’

Again, as if spurred by a rush of adrenaline, I boldly stated ‘in the end, it will always be about relationships, and the pivot of Trust that they are built on. We simply continue to struggle marrying the demands of our work with the sensitivity of nurturing lasting connection’.

For an accountant in a global fund management business, he unexpectedly nodded his head in sage like agreement.

I think I passed.

There is a common thread to this conversation that I regularly have in boardrooms.  All the teams that I work with want to master relationships. They seek to understand the meaning of trust, what it is, how to build it and what to focus on to be more deliberate about it. It’s so fundamental to all relationships and yet we don’t always understand how to build, guard and shape it.

How do you understand the fundamentals of Trust?

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The silent majority may rule

‘It would never happen’ is what they said. They laughed and ridiculed. ‘

Too much is at stake’ they warned. ‘We would wind back the clock,’ they guffawed.

‘Surely not!’ they protested.

And then it happened, exactly what shouldn’t have, and we all had to face the fact that there was a majority of people who remained silent for most of the time, until it actually counted. Literally.

How did we miss that, and was it possible that the turmoil and uncertainty that has plagued society ever since, could have been avoided?

To many the answer is simple, just reverse the Trump and Brexit effect, and we go back to a world in order, with predictability and altogether simpler.

I think not.

These rifts have always been there, dormant and hidden in the hearts and minds of large majorities of people. With lip biting and behind-closed-door-rantings, those sentiments have been alive and yet ignored, and wished away as a minority view. The facts now tell a different story.

I am as fascinated about how the world will respond to this, as I am to reflect on what this dynamic might tell us about the silent majority in organisations. I am not that interested to know who supports which political point of view, but am curious to understand how a dominant view or status quo, might make it ill advised, uncomfortable and difficult for people to express alternative thoughts and narratives. What may be even more relevant to organisations that attempt to perform and execute on their strategy and mandate, is how this silent majority might enact their point of view. If they can’t say it, how will they behave it? Will they do it overtly or without obvious detection?  Equally, how will the holders of the dominant view, possibly the few who hold the most power, respond? At what point might it be too late to arrest a significant rift?

It strikes me that people remain silent for a couple of reasons. Either they wish to protect a secret thought or idea, or no one is listening. My sense is the silent majority might fall into both camps, and so here are a few questions to ponder:

  • What does this mean for leaders in a volatile and ambiguous world?
  • How do leaders of a dominant view allow alternative perspectives in without judgement and exclusion?
  • How do they enhance their depth of listening, to read more than just words?
  • How well do leaders understand the deeper psychological dynamics of change, and threat and survival?
  • How can leaders hold the tension between multiple views of the truth?

In my observations, leaders who are most tuned into their own psychological blueprint and who understand why they behave the way they do, are best equipped to have empathy and curiosity towards those that may sit in the silent majority. They feel less threatened by multiple interpretations of the truth and are not easily shaken by the opposing views to their own. They lean towards the unspoken and taboo, and invite it in to be named and explored. In short, they confront reality, and with that as their foundation see more of what is, rather than what they wish it to be.

That seems to be a critical condition for success.