[December 22, 2022] by Kathy Scott, PhD, and Bridget Sarikas
This past week, I (Kathy) learned that one of my childhood heroes died at the age of 90. While I haven’t seen him in decades, when I heard the news, I was immediately flooded with sweet memories of a man with an incredible gift – the gift of inspiring others to be better, do better, go beyond their abilities and keep going. He instilled confidence in me and the people around him, especially the youth.
The news of my hero’s death caused me to reflect back through the experiences and filters of my adult years on what it was that made this man so influential in the lives of those around him. What were those central attributes that made him so special? I landed on the word “trustworthy.” This man always showed up. We could rely on him to do what he said he would do and do it in ways that continued to build our confidence in him and ourselves. He was stable, responsible, and encouraging on good days and bad. He didn’t waiver.
This man was worthy of our confidence. What a gift.
Now let’s fast forward to the dawn of 2023, a great time to reflect on the past as we prepare for a brighter future. We’ve certainly had no shortage of volatility, uncertainty, and chaos to reflect on. And as this new year approaches, we asked ourselves two questions – “Who do we want to be?” and “What does the world need?” And we again landed on the word “trustworthy.”
Our institutions across the country and continents are experiencing trust at an all-time low. We are seeing a decline of our civil society. The social bonds are frayed and unraveling. As our communities and workplaces have grown larger, spread out, and become more complex, we have become more and more disconnected. Our confident trust in a person, group, organization, or system has been severely shook. The future feels risky and uncertain and there is a growing sense of outrage, cynicism and/or detachment. Are you feeling it?
In the workplace this shift is most evident. The workplace hierarchies that once provided stability and clear boundaries, are ineffective for today’s problems. Career security is a thing of the past. People no longer believe that they can rely on the organizations they work for with cycles of layoffs, rehiring, restructuring, revolving leadership, and broken promises. The result is in an unsettled workforce that is suffering – some silently, some loudly, but suffering none-the-less. And this suffering is taking its toll.
While the workforce of the past looked for strong, authentic, trustworthy leadership, now we don’t expect to find it. Sad, isn’t it? We are witnessing a withdrawal, an alienation, a disconnect from the work and the relationships in our organizations and workplaces. We are becoming more self-absorbed as we move away from the bonds of community to hierarchical structures that overwhelm and distance us even further. Interactions continue to deteriorate, bad behaviors expand, cynicism grows, and performance declines.
Yet, our inner desire to trust, contribute, learn, and belong continues on. This is in our human DNA.
Who Do You Want to Be in 2023?
What if a small group of people build on a bedrock belief that trustworthy behavior can transform their sphere of influence – that by showing up, being responsible, encouraging others, staying steady, they can transform a polarized and distressed team, family, or organization into something healthier? What would happen if a small and determined group of people committed to becoming more trustworthy as their way of infusing more positivity into a deeply disturbed world?
What would it take?
First, we would need to learn to trust ourselves. This often requires gaining new insights and skills that stretch us a bit as we get honest with ourselves about our strengths and imperfections and face down the reality of the gap between our real self and our ideal self. Be brave here – it’s worth the journey. The more we know ourselves, particularly how we filter and react to others, especially those not like us, the more trustworthy we can become. When we develop a knowledge of self in different situations, we can learn to better manage ourselves so that we consistently behave in trustworthy ways. WE CAN DO IT!
So, think about the situations that trigger your aggression. Learn to recognize fear, anger, and anxiety when they arise. Recognize when you are relying on hope and fear rather than intention and right action. Learn to notice your judgements as they appear. Tune in and get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
When we are motivated to be more in control of ourselves, we will get in the way less often. When we become more steady, more reliable, we are better able to be in service to others. Doesn’t this just sound like a healthier place to live?
Then, practice those behaviors that promote trust. Three core drivers of trust are authenticity, logic (judgment and competence), and empathy. Let’s take a look at these three attributes and their associated behaviors.
Authenticity. People tend to trust people when they believe they are interacting with the real you, versus the inflated “ideal self” we often try to portray. Do you know people who only call you when they need a favor and then they spend the conversation time telling you how talented they are, or clearly hide the facts of a difficult situation so that they look better than perhaps the situation warrants? Social media helps portray the “perfect life” that doesn’t exist and often results in a deep distrust of those pedaling their great worth. Trust is promoted by individuals who are able to acknowledge where and who they are but not succumb to it, demonstrating a commitment to increase their capacity to be generous, reliable and kind.
Logic. Logic is a particular way of thinking, especially one that is reasonable and based on good judgement. It includes being accountable for our words with awareness of their impact, and a willingness to hold off on the debate and look for the right opportunity to share our views in nonthreatening ways rather than go into fight mode. It is the ability to provide a reasoned explanation. This sounds logical – but is often one of those skills that needs ongoing development. Being logical also includes having the courage to admit when we don’t have all the knowledge, skills, or solutions and are able to reach out to others for help. It’s not necessary or even feasible to be the smartest person in the room. Rather, keep learning, ask for help when needed. Stay thoughtful and steady.
Empathy. People are more willing to trust those who demonstrate the ability to sense how others feel and show interest in their perspective. When we demonstrate this in our every-day interactions, interventions, and responses, we communicate to others that they are of value, and we touch the human spirit. What a gift this is! Responding with empathy can also turn down the temperature of a charged situation and change the conversation in the room. In a day and age of pervasive anxiety, suffering, and outrage, leading with empathy is strong medicine.
Our families, teams, and organizations need people more than ever that they can depend on, look up to, and feel safe with. We all need people who have earned our trust and give us confidence to connect, contribute, learn, and belong in an unmoored world. Imagine what could happen if we each make an investment in infusing more trust into the world around us.
“Oatmeal raisin cookies that look like chocolate chip cookies are the reason I have trust issues.”