On the matter of Trust…

Well, well. Liam Barrington-Bush and I have not completed our joint blog post/article. And that’s okay. It isn’t because we are struggling with it, but we’ve both deprioritized it amidst various matters arising in our respective lives. Life is like that.

While that post is no doubt brewing away in the back of each of our minds, at the front of my mind is the matter of Trust. I capitalize the word because it is an important one when we are talking about relationships. Whether we are talking about collaboration, creativity, or community (I’m sure there are a host of other ‘c’ words/spaces you can think of) relationships are an essential element. And these relationships are most fruitful if they are rooted in trust.

If you don’t trust someone you will have a tough time collaborating, creating and being in productive company with them. Without Trust, we become defensive, guarded, and afraid to be vulnerable.  We find it hard to be open and expansive.

Yet, I’ve noticed this past few years that we – people who might think of ourselves as progressive and wanting to build a fairer, more equal society – do not talk about trust much.  Nor do we explicitly work with it. I wish we did. I wish, for example, we would be more open about the possibility that in many spaces where it is critical for people to be collaborating and creating together, people are distrustful of others – and thereby limiting the potential of their joint activities.

Am I wrong? Are people regularly talking about Trust, but I’ve just not been hearing it? Are people examining where, when, and why we have low levels of Trust? Are they looking at how to build greater levels of Trust? Are people exploring they ways in which we’ve been misguided in our Trust and the damage it has caused?  Have they sought out to examine and explore the nature of trusting relationships in highly creative and innovative (to use popular jargon) spaces?

Trust was front of my mind last year when a taster survey I did with the Runnymede Trust (forgive the pun, if it is a pun) came up with the following stat: 38 per cent of Black and minority ethnic professionals say the statement ‘I trust my colleagues’ is accurate as compared to 77 per cent of White professionals. (See their Snowy Peaks report). Wow. That is a large gap, isn’t it?  What’s going on with all those people who don’t feel comfortable with the statement ‘I trust my colleagues’? What does that feel like everyday to go into your workplace and be distrustful – which presumably means you are afraid – because don’t fear and distrust go hand in hand? How sad it must be to go to work everyday and not trust your colleagues. In workplaces and out, we talk a lot about cohesion (another ‘c-word’!), tolerance (can’t stand the word – but that’s for another post) and living together harmoniously and productively – but how, how can we come together if we don’t trust each other?

So much going on in all the c-spaces: community, collaboration, creativity, civic society. What’s up with Trust? What do we know, what are we learning? Who is trusting whom? And who is not trusting whom? Why?

I’ve got trust on my mind right now because of an incident I had this weekend – where I realised I’ve been finding it hard to trust someone (or perhaps more accurate to say, I’m quick to enter a state of distrust): my new plumber/heating engineer.  This is specific kind of relationship: client/service provider. I’m heavily influenced by my previous client/service provider relationship. Basically, it turns out my last heating engineer was a shyster.  And this is one way we become distrustful – experience. If we are treated badly, if our trust is abused, we then find it heard to trust people in the future.  It is understandable. But it can also be debilitating.

In a client/service provider relationship lack of trust on the part of the client can result in a tension that eventually can make a service provider feel ill at ease, and limit their ability to serve well. Imagine being constantly questioned, being subtly accused of being deceitful. That’s what happens, isn’t it, when someone doesn’t trust you? In the end, the person who loses out the most is the client – moving about their days distrustful, s/he can easily end up without someone to do what they need doing.

In something like heating service, we do have some checks in place for the basics, e.g., if someone in putting your boiler in they must be a registered gas service engineer. Beyond that formal credential, however, it’s a matter of trial and error. Usually the way we navigate this is by getting referrals/recommendations from others (I got my new plumber from a friend’s recommendation).

Okay. So, in other situations – more collaborative and creative, not involving direct monetary exchange – How do we (re)build Trust? What causes us to enter relationships with distrust? How is Trust lost?

I don’t have any specific suggestions or actions around Trust – I’m just wondering where it fits into all the c-space activity and have a feeling that we need to give it more attention. What do you think? When is the last time you thought and/or talked openly about Trust?


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2 Responses to On the matter of Trust…

  1. Veena Vasista says:

    After posting, I realised that the person I’ve discussed Trust with the most in the past year is Liam – yup. We’ve had long conversations about Trust – particularly in relation to funding. We’ve been interested in the question of how do you base funding relationships less on compliance and contractual type relationships and more on Trust. Would love to know what others have been thinking/asking about Trust…peace and metta.

  2. Liam Barrington-Bush says:

    Thanks for this Veena! My favorite subject!The phrase I’ve quite liked in relation to trust-building is ‘conscious vulnerability’… giving others the opportunity to hurt/take advantage of you, on the assumption that they won’t.This might mean lending someone your house keys, it might mean requiring one less form or signature, it might mean admitting to someone you manage that you screwed up and are sorry for having done so…If we take the pro-active step and actively Trust in others, my experience tells me that *almost* every time people will reciprocate… 2 disclaimers:1) This can’t be faked – if you add a suspicious ‘I’m Trusting you…’ at the end, this may in fact be read as coercion and have the opposite effect.2) You will sometimes get burned. I don’t have the answer to this one, but I know that your choice of getting a plumber recommended by a friend is the kind of thing that will often prevent this from happening, because, unsurprisingly, you Trust your friend!, which gives you reasonable, if not foolproof grounds, for Trusting the plumber.When you do get burned, it is all the more important to actively offer Trust. This one is easiest to demonstrate in personal relationships, partly because we’ve just about all been hurt in them at one time or another.If you build up walls after opening yourself up to someone and then feeling betrayed by them, you are guaranteeing you won’t have as meaningful a relationship next time, because you are holding so much back, out of the fear of being hurt again. As you say, this is a natural defence, but in the longer term, we continue to hurt ourselves by denying ourselves the opportunity to connect with someone else as meaningfully.There are no shortage of parallels with lots of less intimate relationships; creativity is less likely to flourish in a professional space if you’re worried about your colleagues nicking your work and passing it off as their own, or insulting you for the ‘stupid ideas’ we all come up with on the way to discovering our better ones. In the moments when we most want to defend ourselves, it is an important challenge to stay Trusting… it takes a lot of effort to re-build Trust, but that effort, in my experience, is still very worthwhile compared to trying to navigate a range of situations without Trust…Thanks again for posting! :-)Liam

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