For the past two months, I’ve been accosted with a certain phrase: trust but verify. Reagan used it to get into Gorbachev’s head during negotiations in the 1980s, and now I’ve heard it first from a client and second from my rally car driver. So I dissected the concept, and here’s what I’ve concluded.
If I trust, what value is there to verification? If I don’t trust, then why kid myself? If I feel (from my Knower/Judger) that I need to verify, where is the trust?
Trust, I think we all agree, is a valuable contributor to a productive relationship, whether that’s between spouses, business partners, or rally-racing teams. When you and I trust each other, we can count on each other to be accurate, timely, supportive, etc.
But trust implies an expectation. I trust that you will do what you say you will do. Most of us take our fellow human’s word as reliable, right? But some folks continually tell us what we want to hear, and then perform below our expectations. “Sure, I’ll bake cookies for the sale.” Yeah, right.
Remembering my mentor’s warning that expectation is the source of all frustration, we see a spiral of dysfunction being generated.
A. You trust me.
B. I don’t follow through.
C. We discuss this, and your K/J tells me I was wrong.
D. Now you feel the need to verify.
E. Maybe I now follow through.
F. So you trust again.
But eventually, I’m going to fail you again. I’m human. Why can’t you handle my human frailty? Mostly because your K/J rule says your trust must be honored.
Verifying Slows Us Down
In some cases, a breach of trust is inconsequential. At the other end of the spectrum, it can be deadly. Military training builds unquestioned trust into its vertical management model. On the battlefield, one cannot spare the resources to verify that the ammunition said to be coming is indeed coming.
But your son telling you he’ll clean his room is another story. Most of us will not die if the socks aren’t picked up.
In the middle of this spectrum is my hobby of rally racing. A few weekends ago, while flying along an icy one-lane road in Northern Michigan, my driver (a very talented one) began to repeat back to me every other “note” I read him. “Right five over small crest.” “Right five?” It was as if he’d lost all trust in my calls…and we’d already been racing quite successfully for three hours. When we stopped for a moment, I asked him about his responses, and he quoted Reagan with a chuckle: “Trust but verify.”
That got me thinking. We can race that way. I’ll speak a “note” into the intercom and wait for his verifying question, and then acknowledge his verifying question. But at speeds approaching 90 miles per hour on glare ice, there’s not going to be enough time for that transaction, so we’ll probably need to slow down. And that’s not what we want.
How fast can your operations work when you stop to verify? Will things work better if you just trust? And what will you do when the inevitable human failure arises?
Taking Another Road
If we’re truly gifted with free will, then you can choose to launch back into verification. Or you can forgive. The verification path is the K/J route and not really a choice but more of a knee-jerk reaction. Forgive? Now that would be the Learner/Researcher route.
Forgive? Are you kidding, Kim? I know. The high Dominants out there reading this will feel somehow threatened and that they’re enabling failure. But I know that when I blow a call at speed in a rally car and it causes my driver to quickly correct in a panic, or worse, go off the road at high speed, I have already learned, and it won’t happen again. Nothing he says to me is going to make me adjust any faster, but dropping it and continuing to race will maximize our performance.
If both parties know what the desired outcome is and are on the same page, my experience is that “trust and forgive” will get you up to speed faster than “trust and verify.” Obviously if the failures continue, you might want to change the rules, players, or communications channel.
The continuous pattern of verifying and being frustrated will take its toll. And this mechanism feeds on itself. The more you verify…the more opportunity to find fault…the more fault found…the more justified the verification process…and trust evaporates.
A successful team’s success runs on trust. Period. No time for verification. Sure, mistakes are made. Corrections are made. Then you do it again. Better.