My wife and I have four boys: Christian, Preston, Jackson, and Lincoln. When they were little, the street in front of our house was completely off-limits. The risk was too great. But if they were still afraid to cross the street as thirteen-year-olds, or twenty-year-olds, we’d have a problem. I want my boys to wisely take risks that are worth taking, and to not live in fear. But I don’t want them to walk across the street with their eyes closed. I want them to have their eyes wide open and look both ways. And then to walk forward.
In the same way, I’m not asking you to plunge ahead foolishly, but to make a mature, calculated, thoughtful decision to trust because you’ve decided the benefits outweigh the risks.
By all means, be aware of red flags when you sense that someone isn’t trustworthy–they don’t necessarily mean that there’s no way forward, but you should ask where they are coming from, take more careful steps, and set appropriate boundaries.
Not blind trust. Eyes-wide-open trust.
Have you ever known anyone who seemed to think that trust was a sign of weakness, and that putting themselves in a vulnerable position would make them needy? The truth is entirely the opposite.
The decision to trust is a profoundly free act. And, today more than ever, creating a workplace culture where you can trust your team and they can trust your leadership is crucial to the continued success of your business.
However, trust should also not be given blindly. For those situations when it doesn’t seem reasonable to give trust or where there are areas of concern with other parties involved in your relationship, you can approach the situation with your eyes wide open.
1. Determine what is not safe
If you find yourself in a situation where giving trust or entering into the relationship is questionable, determine what it is that makes it questionable. Get to the root and give it a name. Is there question with integrity, are there illegal activities, does violence or harm concern you? If you can pinpoint the area(s) of question, you will be better able to create the boundaries and plan going forward.
2. Determine what is safe
What is the good or the safe part of the relationship? Just like you determined what is not safe, do the same for what actually is good. Is the integrity of the individual good? Are they fully competent? Do they have a good heart and a strong desire to do what is right? Whatever it is, focus on it and draw attention to the good.
3. Create clear (but few) boundaries
Boundaries don’t keep you from playing the game, they allow you to play the game. Creating boundaries is not easy but sometimes it is critical. Determine the few boundaries that will make the relationship safe and use them for managing the relationship. If you are in a position of authority, your boundaries may look very different from when you are not. If someone is verbally abusive, the boundary might be that you won’t accept the verbal abuse and when they do, you simply walk away. If someone fails to meet deadlines time after time, you may ask them to report on progress of their projects at various milestones along the way.
4. Take a step
You will never get closer to someone if you don’t take a step towards them. Hoping and wanting doesn’t decrease the distance between you and another person. You must decide (you want high trust) and then do (take a trust step towards them).
Don’t go blindly into relationships. Don’t close your eyes and walk unaware into situations but also, don’t cripple yourself with doubt and fear. Walk into the relationship, look both ways and take steps forward with confidence.
This is a guest post by Richard Fagerlin, founder and president of Peak Solutions and author of Trustology: The Art and Science of Leading High-Trust Teams. To learn more about trust in the workplace, please join us on Tuesday July 28th, for a live webinar with Richard called Leading in Turbulent Times: Why a Culture of Trust is More Important Now Than Ever. This event is approved for both HRCI and SHRM credit. Click here to register.