As human beings, relationships are fundamental to who we are. We know that relationships can be a significant source of happiness and fulfilment in our lives, but they can also be one of the significant sources of stress. So, why is it that we often find relationships so hard?
A few months ago, I caught up with an old friend recently promoted to an executive role within a large multinational. As we discussed her new transition with excitement and concern, I couldn’t help but notice the change in her tone and posture as she spoke about some of her relationships.
I brought it to her attention, which led to an open discussion on the trustworthiness of others in a professional setting. She said, “I don’t trust them; I’m wary of them in my space.” She explained that from her previous experience, people had let her down, and she found it challenging to build trust with new colleagues.
As she continued describing her new professional reality, while her desire was to build a meaningful connection with her team members, she could not help but be a bit more cautious, as something was in the way of her connections. I noticed how stories shared in the office corridors years back was at play, informing her reaction and interaction with her new team members.
Building trust and identifying multifaceted underlying behavioural issues is critical for leaders in the workplace. Without trust, there is no way for leaders to create a collaborative environment that will allow their employees to effectively work together and share ideas.
Stephen Covey, the author of the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, once said: “Without trust, we don’t truly collaborate, we merely coordinate, or at best, cooperate. It is trust that transforms a group of people into a team.”
Trust is a big deal. When people gain our trust or break our trust, it matters. It’s also a big word, packing a lot of weight. We say we trust people or that someone has broken our trust. But what does that mean? What did they do?
If I was to ask 100 leaders in a room about their definition of trust, I’m sure that I would get 100 different answers. Trust is an intricate, versatile concept. The difference in all responses would be connected to our experience of feeling safe, seen, and heard as we grow up and progress in life.
Brene Brown defines trust as “Trust is choosing to make something important to you vulnerable to someone else’s actions.”
“because when we trust, we are braving connection with someone.”
To break down the complexities of trust, Brene uses the acronym BRAVING, which stands for Boundaries, Reliability, Accountability, Vault, Integrity, Non-judgment, and Generosity.
Breaking down trust into these behaviours and qualities clarifies what we mean when we say to someone that we trust them or not.
So let us explore what we mean by the trust through BRAVING;
B – Boundaries : Is making clear to others what’s okay and what’s not okay, and why? How do you feel about communicating what’s important to you to others? When we don’t have healthy boundaries, we extend ourselves beyond our capacity and find it hard to prioritise ourselves and our needs. Saying No becomes very difficult and, at times, impossible.
R – Reliability: delivering on our commitments. Staying aware of your competencies and limitations at work, so you don’t overpromise and can deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities.
A – Accountability: it’s critical to own your mistakes, apologise, and make amends. In the workplace, this will allow people to experiment and learn. We give others the benefit of the doubt.
V – Vault: confidentiality, knowing what I share is safe with you. Gossiping about others or sharing personal stories without permission can only lead to distancing and muting regardless of the intent.
I – Integrity: Choosing courage over comfort; choosing what’s right over what’s fun, fast, or easy; and practicing your values, not just professing them. Our integrity is often reflected by the reactions we get from others.
N – Non-Judgement: I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can talk about how we feel without judgment—being open and curious in our connection and relationship.
G – Generosity: If we make a mistake, others will be upfront about it but assume we have good intentions. This gives us a chance to be accountable and provides us with the space to challenge our assumptions.
Now, let us take a moment to reflect on your own way of building trust using BRAVING as a tool:
- How are you currently building trust with people around you? What do you pay attention to the most?
- Where/when did you learn that?
- When/How does building trust in this way serve you as a leader?
- When/How does it get in the way of your leadership?
- What will lead to someone losing your trust?
- What part of the trust formula do you want to grow and develop?
By reflecting on these questions and applying the BRAVING tool, leaders can re-evaluate and re-examine their own preferences, which, in return, allow us to communicate & also challenge our bias in service of building healthier relationships with people in our team and network.
BRAVING can be a powerful tool to help us uncover where we may have trust issues and why.
BRAVING also helps leaders provide constructive feedback to team members when something is missing or not attended to. Finally, it allows us to stay open and curious with others when we better understand our own ways of building trust.
So how can we increase our level of trust and the level of trust we have for others?
Here I am putting forward four invitations to help us cultivate trust in our personal and professional lives,
- Check-In : Taking a moment before meeting to check in with yourself and notice your state of being can help you re-centre and manage your triggers. It helps you improve your listening stand, be less judgmental, and be more curious towards others. Introducing check-In as a ritual in a team context can deepen the connections and create a safe space for people to bring their potential.
- Body intelligence: practice noticing and paying attention to oneself and others experiences is crucial for a leader’s presence. A daily practice that allows you to come back to your body to centre around what is important and meaningful is the differentiator between a good and a great leader. For example, taking a moment of silence before and during meetings, leading a mindful practice with the team can, in the long run, build individual and team resilience, presence and also help mitigate conflict and misunderstandings amongst team members.
- Braving difference: Create intentional moments for the team to share their diverse preferences, values, and needs as a reminder that we “don’t all walk or stand on the same ground”, can help us lean in to support one another and to leverage the strengths and bring the uniqueness
- Your Personal Energy: Awareness and focus of your energy management are critical. Whether physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual, we need to be aware of how we spend our energy and invest it in a way aligned with our goals. For example, a question such as; what are the situation, conversations, and individuals drains or boosts my energy? Is a good way to help us reclaim our energy.
- Gift of emotions: becoming aware of our emotional state and naming it is a first step to becoming aware of our triggers and Needs. Understanding the language of emotion can help us work on the past wound and restore our resilience and flow. For example, anger shows up to make us aware of a breach of boundaries. Sadness shows up as we are holding onto something ready to be released.
It takes time to establish trust. It demands that both sides have faith in one another’s good intentions. And it certainly requires both sides to be willing to stay curious even when disagreeing.
In his book, Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke writes: “Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”
So, the next time you feel that fear or any disturbing emotion creeping in or that voice inside your head telling you to protect yourself. I invite you to first bring your attention to your body, take note of your felt sense, then take a couple of deep breaths and ask yourself the following questions inspired by Byron Katie The Work:
Is it true that you can’t trust this person?
• Can you absolutely know it’s true that you can’t trust this person? What do you notice that makes you sure you can’t trust?
• How do you react when you believe you can’t trust this person?
• Who would you be without that thought?
• How would you be with the other? How would you feel about yourself?
And remember. “It’s when you experience the best in people that they are able to bring out their best too”.