Trust in the workplace is a lot like oxygen. You don’t notice it until it’s gone. And then that’s all you notice. One of the challenges of trust is that people understand it with different metaphors.
Some people see it as a blank slate. They are willing to extend trust to others unconditionally. Trust is lost only after behaviors compromise it, yet it can be extended again. Turns out this is a quality leaders with high emotional intelligence have in common. They use their ability to trust to foster trust between others.
Other people see trust as a bank account. In order to draw on it, you need to build trust slowly over time. These folks usually wait for others to make a deposit before they are able to. The challenge occurs when no one is willing to trust first.
And then there are metaphors that speak to levels of trust. Imagine how many times a day you put your trust in drivers across a yellow traffic line not to swerve into your oncoming car. But would you trust the same motorists with the keys to your house? My guess is that most of us would laugh at the absurdity of trusting so many unknown drivers (a.k.a. strangers) with something so personal and precious.
Maybe a few of us would be the first to extend our radius of trust out to other travelers. We saw more of that roadway trust in the U.S. during the 1960s-80s when hitchhiking seemed a viable alternative to owning a car. But not so much today. Or does my age limit this metaphor for me now?
That connection between trust and our behaviors touches on a deep challenge of trust: fear. It is our fear of being unsafe, of being hurt (emotionally and perhaps physically), of feeling shame for putting trust in others who might not deserve it—that causes us to hold back our trust. (I love that we talk about holding trust, as if it has physicality like you or me.)
I watched the short video I trust you. Do you trust me? Hug me recently and began thinking about the metaphors we use to speak of this instinctive bond we create or destroy with each other, and the impact that has on our level of safety, compassion, comradery, happiness, and results we achieve with others.
I admire how this video provokes a realization about the oddness and daring to trust complete strangers. And yet how delightfully human if we manage our fear of others.
What might be possible to attain at work, at home, if our metaphor for trust becomes a hug? And if the physicality of this metaphor pushes against you uncomfortably, what might we achieve through verbal hugging?