May 30, 2024

Reinterpreting Trust Issues

trust-in-your-wingsRecently, many of my clients are having “trust” issues with employers, supervisors, direct reports, spouses, and family members. Many of us have also had “trust” issues with our presidential candidates. So what is it about trust that gets us so worked up? In the last years of his life, my mentor, Jut Meininger, was attempting to teach me that the foundation of all frustration is expectation. “If you manage your expectations,” he would say, “the level of frustration in your life would evaporate.”  What is trust if not an expectation on steroids?

We can have expectations that we absolutely know have a low probability of occurring, like the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series or Donald Trump being elected president of the United States. Haven’t done it in 108 years; 6–10 points behind; probably not likely now. So if they don’t win, then getting all wound up about it might feel good, but it certainly has no rational underpinnings, right?

Then there are expectations you absolutely count on. Take the all-American four-way-stop intersection. I pull up to my stop sign and another driver pulls up on my left. I expect him to stop. And 99.999% of the time, that’s exactly what happens. So when the car to my left does not stop, my expectation is not met, and I go into road-rage mode—assuming I haven’t been T-boned.

Being let down

Every day, things happen to us that we believe should happen or should not happen.

If we wake up to a foot of snow we weren’t expecting, our reaction can be frustration…until we realize there’s nothing we can do about it and eventually get to the “It is what it is” response and try to find daycare for the kids.

When a person fails to meet our expectations, it’s a whole new ballgame.

I conduct meetings all the time. I put out calendar invites, and people accept them. Then they don’t attend.

My co-worker and I have a joint task, where I do such and such and he wraps it up. We’ve been doing it this way for years. But this morning, he apparently decided not to do his part…and the project failed.

Businesspeople sign agreements to cover failures to perform that each party fears of the other. Still, they sometimes fail and break the “trust.”

Employees can reasonably expect to get paid an agreed-upon wage and receive agreed-upon personal time off. Perhaps they can reasonably expect a performance bonus. Employers sometimes see these things differently. The employee is left with an inability to “trust” his employer.

Presidential candidates promise to cut taxes, dismantle Obamacare, and put a chicken in every pot. Are these really our expectations? If so, then I predict many of us will ramp up our rhetoric about not “trusting” politicians.

Trust at speed

Trust is a huge component of the relationship between a driver and his co-driver in a rally car at speed. We’re flying down a one-lane gravel road at night at over 95 miles per hour, and I tell my driver there’s no reason to slow down over that blind crest ahead (I have cryptic notes that tell me this). If he trusts me, he flies airborne over that crest and continues. If I’m wrong, we could get seriously hurt. If he doesn’t trust me, then he slows down until he can verify the road…and we perform poorly.

Sometimes I fail. All co-drivers “get lost” in their notes from time to time. And sometimes it causes huge crashes.

On the other side of the coin, I also have to trust my driver. He has my life in his hands. And sometimes, he races beyond his level of talent and we crash.

Here’s the thing. When we crash, we never point fingers. No, our expectations were not met. Yes, one could choose to stop trusting the other. But what would that accomplish? Neither of us was purposely in error. We made a mistake. We screwed up. So back in the car we get, and off we go with a new vigor to be as perfect as possible…and trust (or re-trusting) is the only thing that can get us there.

In other personal cases, I’ve noticed that losing trust (unmet expectation of another’s behavior) has amounted to a permanent disconnect between the parties. Perhaps one felt the other failed on purpose. Or that the other was just dumb enough to not “do what he should.” I look at these as more the offended party having an issue rather than the errant party.

It’s a choice

In order to “not trust” someone, I have to choose that condition. It’s my choice (as it is in the rally car). I can figure out why my expectation was not met and decide there was legitimate cause (by operating in my Learner/Researcher and analyzing the facts) and jump back into the car and go racing. Or I can listen to my Knower/Judger and find the other party guilty of not living up to my K/J expectations.

Bingo! There’s the problem. Our expectations are all K/J in scope. I know the other guy should do this or that, and when he doesn’t, he’s broken trust. I’m right, and he’s guilty.

Or…I could look at the data and discover this was the first time this happened out of hundreds of similar situations…and it was a mistake.

Or…I could look at the data and discover that this was the 17th time in a row he failed me. Now I have some choices…distrust him, retrain him, etc. But that’s a choice made from the L/R based on accurate data. Not an emotional “trust” issue.

See the difference?



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