‘Trust me, it will all be OK.’

‘Trust me, my intentions are good.’

‘Trust me, just trust me’

Usually all said with a glint in the eye and a warm, nodding smile.

It seems trust is preoccupying not only my thoughts but my work too. Trust me, it must be important then (I write that with a grin).

Interesting how often we use the word, and yet may not fully understand what it means.

A cohort of leaders with whom I have worked for a number of years were recently discussing a series of events that transpired at a work function. The leader decided to take the management team to a fancy restaurant to celebrate recent results. Some team members made the most of the occasion with a bottle or three of wine. Others expressed their concern that those behaviours were not consistent with the values of the business, and set an inappropriate example. In my presence the conversation simmered, and both sides gathered their support. It was becoming real and dropping to the level of depth and insight that the team needed to explore (Trust and Conflict require attention in that team).

The leader then dropped the mute bomb, ‘You just have to trust my intentions’. Silence.

That was followed by a stern rebuke ‘We need to be careful about the perceptions we have about behaviour and rather focus on the facts about the behaviour.’

For a few moments I was impressed and genuinely beguiled by the seemingly coherent jumble of big words.  Then confusion. So what was he saying?

Partly I heard blame for something that someone did wrong. Maybe that impression came from the stare he aimed at the person who started the debate.

I basically heard him state that his intent should ‘just be trusted’ because it was more representative of the truth. And that is what made no sense because the assumptions we make about someone’s behaviour IS our truth, and the only way to shift that perception is to change the behaviour, or seek to understand directly from that person what their behaviour was intended to communicate. Boom.

My interpretation (maybe cynical but I believe well informed), is that he wanted the group to always give him the benefit of the doubt without having actually earned that right. That was a big mistake because it immediately closed any further conversations about the various perceptions and assumptions that his behaviours created. No matter what others may interpret from the behaviour, he expects everyone to assume positive intent. La la land theme song.

And then to the blame. Do you know that over 90% of all managers believe that a blame culture is the greatest destroyer of trust? What they mean is that when there is an error, a mistake or a less than desired outcome, if a leader hones in and loads blame onto an individual only, it sends tectonic reverberations through an organisation. Trust shatters.

In contrast, the leader who chooses to explore all the conditions that enabled the mistake or failure, starting systemically and ending with the individual, is likely to solve the causes and bolster trust.

To summarise. I won’t just trust you because you say so. I will have no idea what your intentions are unless you tell me, and in the absence of that, I will interpret your intentions through your behaviours and habits. As much as you might want me to trust your intent, your behaviour matters more, and leaks your true intent. And finally, when you single out individuals as the primary cause of discontent, I trust your judgement even less.

Here is a tip.

Be consistent and demonstrate your intent through your actions. Seek causes for what goes wrong from all the places where it might have started and depersonalise your perspective with curiosity and not blame.

Then, and only then, may I trust you.

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