The Courage To Trust

In my last post, I talked about the need to stop treating trust as a precondition for collaborative success. In my work at Mars, Incorporated I ask teams to think of low trust as a symptom of other more tangible issues, not as a problem in an of itself. I also remind them that trust, at its most basic, is an emotion.

Trust is a feeling of confidence that one person has in another. Edgar Schein says that trust can be understood by how well you can predict another person’s actions or reactions. In either case, it’s an internal psycho-biological state. We often treat and talk about trust as if it were somewhere outside us, as if it existed primarily in the energetic field between and among people. “There’s no trust in that relationship”. Other times when we’re feeling mistrust, we point first at the other person. “I can’t trust him,” is really saying, “My lack of trust in that person is their fault.” You see the problem here. Trust is an emotion, right? Only we can own and be responsible for our emotions and what we do with them. I may not like someone else’s behavior, I may even be justified in that view, but my emotional response to them is ultimately under my control. When I make my feelings of mistrust someone else’s fault, I am playing the victim. This becomes a real problem when I am expected to collaborate with that other person. I either A) wait for them to alter their behavior or attitude as a precondition to getting on with the work or B) engage with them, but not fully, thereby undermining our collaboration.

When you mistrust someone that you are depending on, start by taking responsibility for your feelings. Ask yourself, “How have I contributed to the mistrust I am feeling and what can I do about it?” What is it about the other person’s behavior that is pushing your buttons? What are you reading into their actions and words that might not be there?

Spend some time understanding your own feelings and motivations. Then, make a simple plan and act. Have the fact-based conversation that needs to be had. Acting in the face of mistrust can be scary; mistrust and fear are closely related. Here’s the good news: Facing into mistrust is an opportunity to muster one of the most admirable of all human reactions: courage.

Courage isn’t about bravado or fearlessness. It isn’t restricted to heroes or legendary leaders. Courage literally means having heart. It means acting despite our fear. It’s in all of us, just waiting for its time. It turns out that the only person you need to trust is yourself, your heart and innate courage. Even better, courage, like fear, is contagious. Once you step up, others will see what’s possible and they’ll trust themselves to step up. What a great outcome that would be.

Carlos Valdes-Dapena