Daily we see headlines that suggest we are becoming mired in distrust, at high cost to our organizations. As our trust bank accounts are depleted, we run out of currency to invest in the future. And trust is not a currency we can easily print to offset the deficit.
Sadly, it seems that smog of distrust is settling over our cities. Bill O’Reilly opines: “There has been a drastic climate change in America, but it has nothing to do with the temperature. There is a climate of distrust in our leaders.”
Last year’s headlines were filled with tales of dysfunction, discord and distrust, providing multiple confirmations that our organizations aren’t working well, notes Adam Geller, a New York-based national writer. One Gallup poll found public confidence in Congress at the lowest level for any institution on record! More than 85 percent of Americans surveyed by the Harris Poll said the people running the country don’t care what happens to them, up from 50 percent in 2010. And an AP-GfK Poll found two-thirds of Americans expressed mistrust of one another, continuing a four-decade slide.
The information society buffets us with examples of institutional dysfunction, making misgivings self-confirming, said Sheila Suess Kennedy, author of Distrust, American Style. The news last year fed distrust unimaginable just a few generations ago, when people were less aware of institutional misconduct. Pope Francis acknowledged misdeeds in the Catholic Church and named panels to help reform the scandalized Vatican bank and overhaul the church’s tangled bureaucracy. Capitalism, itself, is broken, he said, warning against a culture that fosters "the globalization of indifference."
Sadly, many individuals, teams, and organizations operate in a perpetual state of distrust and fear. Consider this simple analogy: a door guards the entrance to our inner self. When we feel trust, we readily open that door, leading to an exchange of thoughts, feelings and dreams with someone else. When we distrust someone, thinking that he or she is somehow a threat, we slam our door quickly and begin to defend ourselves.
Unfortunately, our brains don’t always make the best judgments relative to our long-term interests when it comes to deciding what to do with that door: our neural programming is designed to make split-second decisions right now, not consider the consequences down the road. That’s why, especially in times of stress, we can find doors slamming left and right.
The downside of making snap decisions is that we might be misinterpreting the signals we receive from our bosses and co-workers, leading us to mislabel friends as foes. Or, perhaps we have trusted someone in the past, only to have that person stab us in the back (ask any of Bernard Madoff’s investors about that dilemma). We might even be unknowingly sending out signals of our own, causing others to distrust us even when we think we have that other person’s best interests at heart.
Take Five Steps to Build Trust
Conversational Intelligence is our hardwired ability for understanding how to create cultures of trust. While it may take many steps over several months to restore lost trust, we can start now by taking the five steps outlined in my TRUST Model.
Step 1: Transparency. Be open and transparent about what’s on your mind. Transparency quells the reptilian or primitive brain, which reacts to fear, threat, and loss. When we create conditions favorable for trust, people begin to talk openly about their threats and fears. We start reconnecting with others. Transparency is also about sharing our intentions so people don’t read into them. So, talk about the doubts and fears that stand in the way of building trust. Communicate openly with others to quell threats. This sends messages of trust that the amygdala understands: “I trust you will not harm me.”
Step 2: Relationship. Extend the olive branch, even with people you may see as a foe. Connect and engage to build relationships. Extending trust sends messages of friendship to the brain that shift the energy toward appreciation.
We now know from researchers at the HeartMath Institute that focusing positive energy toward a person (Heart Appreciation) shifts our attention and intention to seek connectivity, reduces the fear of power-over energy, and builds power-with connectivity.
When we refocus on heart appreciation, we create greater heart coherence—when the heart waves reflect a smooth wave. This feeling is then transferred or picked up by others with whom we engage. Rebuilding relationships activates the heart brain, and we pick up positive signals of friendship in our conversations. We sense: “I trust this person to have my best interest at heart?” Partnering Conversations shift relationships from judgment to respect and create the conditions and agreements that enable people to collaborate productively.
When we feel that others respect and appreciate us, the mirror neurons located below the prefrontal cortex are activated, enabling us to identify with others and create a bridge of empathy with them. We activate our ability for bonding, collaborating, and experiencing high-point emotional moments, meaning that the levels of oxytocin are increasing as we interact. This influx of neurochemicals reinforces trust.
Step 3: Understanding. We learn what is really on people’s minds by seeking to understand their needs and emotions and seeing the world through their eyes. When we stand in their shoes and understand their perspective, we are in a better position to honor them. I believe understanding means we “stand under” the same view of the world. People naturally trust us more when they believe that we have their best interest at heart. Seek to understand their context and perspective by listening without judgment to how they hold their reality.
Step 4: Shared Success. Create a shared vision of success with others. When we have a common view of success, we start to intuitively trust that others will make decisions similar to ours, and we trust they will work out conflicts fairly. Our neo-cortex functions to help us shape strategies for success. When we are attached to being right and advocate only our point of view, we give the impression we have an agenda. Entrenchment in our point of view leads to distrust, driving conversations that elicit protective behavior. Trying to persuade others to want our success only creates resistance.
Step 5: Testing assumptions and telling the truth. Test perceptions and assumptions about reality. Close the gaps between what you expect and what you get with others. Step into the other person’s shoes, and see the world from his or her perspectives—empathy is the highest level of trust that we experience together.
When truth is discovered together, one view of the world emerges. Engage the prefrontal cortex—the executive brain—by shaping conversations that let you see the world from another’s perspective. When you test assumptions, tell the truth and rebuild trust, you can see the bigger picture. You’re not attached to being right and finding fault. As you see people or thing in a new way, your mind opens up to new insights and awareness—you access the truth. Truth-telling starts with being able to see the truth about your own behavior.
We are designed for connection with others, and when trust is broken we recoil and close down. Conversational Intelligence is teaching us that because we are designed to be social, our brains are sensitive to the signals of trust and distrust. When you use the TRUST Model effectively, you are sending signals of trust to others, and they will pick up these signals as you openly engage. By taking these steps, you activate the trust networks in your brain, located in the prefrontal cortex, and you strengthen your capacity to connect with others in more healthy and supportive ways. By listening to connect, and by learning to see the world from another’s perspective, you can attain the highest-level of relationship and partnership with others. You will connect with people differently—and your conversations will reflect this new and powerful insight.
About the Author
Judith E. Glaser is CEO of Benchmark Communications, Chairman of the Creating WE Institute, Organizational Anthropologist, and consultant to Fortune 500 Companies and author of four best- selling business books, including Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results (Bibliomotion). Visit www.conversationalingelligence.com; www.creatingwe.com; or reach Judith E. Glaser at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 212-307-4386.