August 1998 / Special Feature : An Issue Of Trust
Trust In Whom
by Peter Block
Emergency Room Physician
Air Traffic Controller
Trust In Whom
Most of the time we talk about trust as if it has its own independent existence. We can build trust, we can destroy trust. This treats it like it is an aspect of a relationship and is based on how people behave with each other. Are we trustworthy are they trustworthy? We talk of others violating our trust. Often in the workplace, it is management who gets more than their share of the blame. We expect leaders to be congruent, to walk their talk, and if they dont, we think we have a trust problem. Or, if we are the leader, we are puzzled as to why the employees dont trust us.
This frames trust as if it is determined by behavior. I want to offer another point of view. Trust is more an expression of our own inner-world, not an outside-in reaction to people and events as they affect us.
Trust is a State of Mine
As with hope, trust may be something that we carry within us and is, in many ways, a projection of our own internal struggle onto those around us. If we distrust others, it is that we are asking them to carry a weight that we cannot bear within ourselves.
Trust is more an attitude about myself, an estimate of my own capacities. For example, if I do not trust management, a more accurate statement is that I am not happy with the way I act or I feel when I am around management. It is my response to their power that bothers me. My caution. My speaking in generalities. My quickness to back down in the face of an indifferent or controlling act on their part. My short-fused cynicism may be more the source of my distrust, than anything they do.
So What if they dont Walk the Talk
You might say that management should have done a better job of handling that meeting, and, of course, this is true. What went unsaid was that no one in the meeting stood up and asked the bosses whether their actions in this meeting were a sign they were changing their mind about employee involvement. Mostly people were silent and they left the harassed project manager to fend for himself. They did not find their own voices until they had left the room. So, where is the problem? Why did so many people give so much power to two men allowing them to undermine the trust in an employee involvement effort that people held so dear?
Distrust is too often a projection onto powerful others of our own ambivalence. Ford employees instant skepticism about Peterson and Polling was more an expression of their own timidity, fear and internal doubts about employee involvement, than a reflection of the actions of top management.
I can create a high trust environment anytime I want. All I have to realize is that I am creating the environment in which I live. We are afraid of being naive and a fool if we continue to trust in the face of others betrayal. Well, what is so great about being strategic and clever? And what is so wrong about being a fool? Maybe the willingness to be a fool is the exact means of creating the high trust world that we each long for.