In the last few years, trust, truth, honesty and integrity have been through the ringer, courtesy of politicians on all sides of the spectrum and both sides of the Atlantic. We have seen numerous occasions where those we elect to positions of power have said things that have proved to be blatantly untrue, sometimes known by the listeners at the time of speaking, and sometimes discovered later on. There's a leap of faith that exists in a lot of things - politics, media, our employers - where it is necessary to believe that they will do what they say and that when they say things, they're being honest, otherwise those relationships break down. With the amount of information we have at our fingertips, as well as the fact that so much of what is said by our politicians is now recorded or written down and accessible to us all, it's easier than ever to show when these things haven't happened, and therefore more important than ever that our leaders behave in a trustworthy way.
When it comes to our own relationships, trust is a vital component. I recently listened to a podcast which had a very interesting and foundational take on considering whether to trust someone. At this point, I cannot for the life of me find who it was who said it, but I believe it was on an episode of Life Lessons from Sport and Beyond with Simon Mundie, so if you listen back to all of the several hundred episodes on there, I'm sure you'll find it!
What the speaker suggested was that when we are considering whether to trust someone, we should consider this question; does the other party's intent align with your intent?
I recall an occasion when I went into a shop in Edinburgh to buy some whey protein, in an attempt to #getmassive. I had limited experience of this sort of thing, and I hadn't done my research so I left myself in the hands of the salesman. Naturally, they had lots of options, but the kind gentleman steered me towards one particular brand, not one of the name brands I recognised from hearing teammates talk about it, which I settled on and bought. It was some time later that I realised that what he'd sold me, was shite. I was becoming more clued up on supplements and on checking the label of my protein, found that it was a far inferior product to the others I had recognised in the shop. I was annoyed, but better equipped for future purchases, and I reflected on the experience. What had caused the shop assistant to allow me to leave with an inferior product, when I'd been open to anything? I can't say for sure, but I strongly suspect, based on seeing some fairly prominent point of sale merchandising for the brand in the store, that they were being incentivised to sell this protein, over others of a superior quality, for their own financial gain or that of their store. I was there to get a quality product to help with my fitness goals. He was making recommendations in order to benefit himself financially.
I wanted to get the best product to aid with my strength and fitness goals. He wanted to sell the products that most directly benefited him. Ultimately, his intent was not aligned with my own.
What is the intent from the salesman talking to you about a specific model of car or washing machine? Does that align with your intent for visiting the shop or the forecourt?
What is the intent of that guy you're chatting to on the dating app? Does his intent for being on there align with your own?
On this basis, its not to say that you should ignore that individual or seek to avoid them, but simply that you should consider their intent, compare it with your own and proceed accordingly.
This approach can be useful not only when thinking about who to trust, but also when we're considering how to build trust with others. Why should this new potential client trust me? Why should this new love interest trust me? Why should my counterpart from another department trust me? In approaching these situations, it can be valuable to consider both your own intent and what you believe the intent of your counterpart to be.
As a starting point, how well do you know their intent? How could you find it out? Powerful questioning, as well as seeking first to understand, before being understood, can really help here. Of course, there's the possibility for manipulation on both sides - finding out the intent of the other party and then pretending that your own is in alignment - but I trust that there are no shady characters who read my blog!
Another factor that's powerful in building trust is consistency. I'm sure many of us have had that person in our lives (often a boss) where we have to get them in the right mood before we approach, or where we've absolutely no way of telling how a given piece of news or information will be received. One time they take the bad news as though it's nothing - the next time, they go nuclear! It can be incredible difficult dealing with this kind of person and a real barrier to building a trusting relationship. It makes you feel unsettled and can really impact your likelihood of telling them when things haven't gone as hoped - and that's a recipe for more problems down the line.
Time for a mirror moment; how consistent are you? How predictable is your response to bad news? Do your team experience the same version of you every day? Do every one of them get the same experience of you, or have you got your favourites? Sure, we all have times where there are unseen factors at play and we don't bring the best of ourselves to work. That's only natural. But broadly, your people should be able to predict your behaviour and your responses, because that consistency not only helps them make decisions in the same way that you would, when you're not around, but it helps build trust with them. And that's a powerful element of great leadership.