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Teaching others to distrust us


Sometimes, the way we behave shows people that we're not to be trusted; but there is a way out...

We’ve been talking about trust over the last couple of weeks and I want to end this little series by thinking about where trust comes from.  Stephen Covey talks about trust coming from overlap of what we do and who we are: our competence and our character.

This idea is developed in “The Speed of Trust,” which defines competence as our abilities and our track record – can we do what we say and have we done it in the past.  Our character is our integrity and our intent – the degree to which we mean what we say and the extent to which we seek the benefit of others, not just ourselves.  These four areas go to generate others’ confidence in us: other people can be confident that we are trustworthy.  When they have this confidence, they begin to trust us.  As trust begins to grow – within a relationship, a team, an organisation, so everything begins to speed up.  The greater the confidence, the faster and easier things get.

Of course, the opposite is also true: the less confidence people have in us, the less able they are to trust us.  Things slow down; we check for hidden agendas, coded messages; we parse for disguised meanings, search between the lines for the things we’ve missed.  Things slow down, become increasingly difficult; whether it’s a relationship, a team or an organisation, this leakage of trust is dangerous and corrosive, if left unchecked.

It’s very difficult to regain someone’s trust once you begin to lose it but it’s not impossible.  First, you have to examine yourself – your integrity and your intent.  It may be that you have some apologising to do.  If your intent is good, you can demonstrate your integrity through sustained behaviour, building up a new track record.  The key word is sustained.

I talked last week about the box of chocolates example and the way we “teach” others about our integrity and intent through our behaviour.  The same thing happens when you go on a training course or try anything new.  You know what it’s like when you get back: for a few days, you’re dangerous.  You’re full of ideas and enthusiasm (assuming the trainer did his or her job properly) and start all these new plans to do things differently.  And what are the people around you doing?  They look at you with a slightly pitying look and say to each other “keep quiet – this too shall pass.”

Why do they say that?  Because they’ve learned, over the years, that that’s what happens when you go on training courses; that’s what happens when you try something new.  They can’t trust that these changes will last because they haven’t in the past and so they wait; and after a few days, the fire has died and things have started to go back to normal.  You’ve taught them that they’re right not to trust you.  It’s vital that you sustain the changes you make to your behaviour; it’s the only way to show people that you are sincere.  And that you are worthy of their trust.

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