A Question of Trust

By Leigh Johnson – Affiliate Parenting Coach at The Family Counselling Centre

At a recent presentation I gave at The Friday Network to practitioners in the Learning and Development field, I was reminded of how fundamental self awareness and growth is in order for us to impact others. No matter what roles we perform in life, there is an essential need to start growth and change with ourselves first. We often look to the systems we are a part of – families, organisations, communities, nations – and bemoan the problems we see there, when the place we really need to start with is: me! The conversation emanating from my presentation on Trust highlighted this powerfully.

My presentation was called ‘The Business of Trust’ and focused on the importance of, and skills needed in, developing trust in the workplace. What struck me was that, although my audience were there in their professional capacity and came from the perspective of how best to support their clients in organisations to improve relationships, the key learning almost without exception was around two things:

  • Our own trustworthiness – can people trust us?
  • Our ability to trust ourselves – how often are we breaking promises to ourselves, thereby breaking our trust of ourselves?

I found it very interesting that, even in this professional context, the importance of self-development and mastery stood out.

The first of these learnings – trustworthiness – considers the fact that a core component of trust in a relationship is our own trustworthiness. By being trustworthy, reliable and operating with integrity, we automatically invite this behaviour in others. It is ultimately their choice to act in the same way or destroy the trust. What is often the most difficult part of behaving in a trustworthy manner is that it requires us to know ourselves deeply, and be true to ourselves with courage and authenticity – which often goes against the grain of what we want to do. How many times do we fail to speak up when we don’t agree with what is being said, or try to fit into a group just to be liked?

The second one, our trust of ourselves, is an interesting one. I often use the work of Vanessa Hall, an expert on the subject of trust, when working with this topic. Hall has created a model that depicts trust as being the interplay between Expectations, Needs and Promises*. When one of these is compromised, trust is destroyed. She challenges with the question: “How often do I break promises to myself?” Every time we do, we erode our trust in ourselves a little bit more, and this results in increasingly poor self-esteem, and increasingly untrustworthy behaviour.

“I don’t break promises to myself”, you say? Or “I’m the only person I can trust”? Well, I thought this too, until Hall illustrated just how often we break little promises to ourselves: “I’m going to lose weight”; “On this project, I am going to delegate more”, “I will spend more time reading to my son”, “When I’m next in an argument, I’m going to bite my tongue and listen before I speak”, ‘I’m going to go to the gym this weekend” or “I will visit him tonight”…. Each of these is a promise. And we break promises like these all the time.

An uncomfortable truth that came up in our discussions at the Network was that most of us are not aware of our own trustworthiness or our ability to trust ourselves, even though it is crucial in all our relationships. Personally, I’ve been reflecting on the fact that all of the challenges I am working through with my coaching clients, are linked in some way to this need for self awareness – and I suspect that in many there is a strong link to trust itself.

We can reflect on Mahatma Ghandi’s famous words: ‘Be the change you wish to see in this world’. I don’t know about you, but I would love to see a more trusting and trustworthy society than the one we’ve got at the moment. And the hard work starts with me…

 

*Read Vanessa Hall’s book: The Truth About Trust in Business; Emerald Book Co.; 2009.

Visit: www.leighjohnson.co.za

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