Last week we talked about 5 ways to focus your efforts when things go awry.  We believe it’s critical that you attack the problem and leave the people associated with the problem intact.  Number 3 on that list was: Get participants to move forward because of a commitment to the organization rather than getting caught up on the notion of “trust”.  At that time, we promised to share more of our thinking on trust, so here goes. 

In our experience as consultants to organizations and coaches to executives, we are struck with how often executives and staff alike will lash out with the statement “I can’t trust them,” when someone that they are working with, or for, does or says something that they disagree with or don’t like. It’s a statement that has great power to knock the feet out from under the accused.  Really, what harsher thing can you say about someone than that they are not trustworthy?   

We’d like to take some time today to discuss three ways in which the concept of trust is used to avoid talking directly about the problem at hand.

1. Hit with the words, “I can’t trust you” most of us will recoil and withdraw from the person who has made the statement.  When someone talks about “not trusting” us, they are saying that we have a character flaw – something about us is essentially wrong.  Whether the words are said directly to the person, or spoken behind their back, the result is the same: the person being discussed is hurt and maligned and not given the opportunity to have a thorough discussion about the real issue.

2. Focusing on whether or not someone should have been trusted with a project, avoids dealing with the actual problem. It’s not about “trust,” it’s about stepping forward to solve the problem that is in the way of success.  Whether there is a problem with a project or a problem with performance, it’s an issue that needs to be addressed with thoughtful review and management.  Trust doesn’t come into it.  Often, we hide from blame by proclaiming that we trusted so-and-so to take care of it….

3. Often, when you are criticizing someone for not being trust-worthy, the opposite is actually true.  It’s not that you don’t trust the person, it’s that what you have come to trust is something you don’t like.  For example, Shelly described her boss as someone she didn’t trust because every time they met, he’d focus on her team’s results (whether good or bad) but would never discuss how stressful the current staffing situation was for her and her team.  Once she stepped back, she realized that she could trust her boss completely.  He always focused on results and rarely addressed feelings.  Once she learned this, she could stop hitting him with the “I can’t trust you” weapon and learn to talk to him in ways he could understand about the need for better staffing.

 We would like you to spend some time this week and notice if you use trust as a weapon in order to avoid dealing with actual problems in your work.  Don’t let the concept of “trust” whitewash the true problems facing you or your organization.