Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Building Trust

I was working this past weekend with Durham Central Park, a newly built intentional community in downtown Durham NC. We ended the first day with a focus on trust. While there was quite a bit of trust that had been built by folks that had gone through the fire of development together (it took about six years of faith and dedication to turn their dream into a beautiful three-dimensional reality), people also noted that there have been some bumps in the road during the first year of living together, and thus there arose the desire to give attention to building (or rebuilding) trust.

We wound up devoting about 30 minutes to going around the room inviting everyone to share what trust meant to them and how they build it with others. (The default is that people assume that others see trust as they do and offer what they'd like to receive—but as a community veteran I knew that it wasn't that simple.)

From 28 people we got this range of responses:

o  Developing knowledge of the other person through a wide variety of ways, many of them informal (not just in the context of meetings or working together).

o  Assuming good intent.

o  Being emotionally authentic.

o  Following through on commitments (that you'll do what you say you'll do). [This was the most common response, mentioned by a quarter of the group.]

o  If favorable stories about a person match with independent observation.

o  If the person accurately shares relevant information (rather than withholds).

o  Establishing connection through empathy; feeling heard by the other person.

o  Being vague and avoiding engagement undermines trust.

o  Going through the fire together (considerable trust was built in the process of developing the community over a period of years).

o  Being consistently kind.

o  Trust and familiarity are not necessarily related.

o  Emphasizing showing up more than performance.

o  Willing to honestly share reactions.

o  Trust is built through repetition and time.

o  Acting with courage.

o  Acting for the good of the whole (in contrast with self interest).

o  Moving slowly enough to make sure everyone has been heard. Emotional expression needs to be authentic; not calculated or manipulative.

o  Trust is built on a wealth of common experience.

o  Predictability; deep knowledge of the other person's background.

o  Honesty.

o  Sense of being in it together (fellow travelers).

o  Exchanges that are caring.

o  Feeling safe; honest and direct communication.

o  Being thoughtful and forward looking.

While this list unquestionably contains many similar comments (and probably few surprises), it's noteworthy how rich it is and how varied are people's points of entrée to trust—a concept that everyone immediately identifies as desirable, even though it turns out to come in more flavors than Heintz has pickles. All without anyone being off the wall or inappropriate.

If you reflect on this list you'll be able to see the potential pitfalls. For example, if you highly prize direct, honest communication, you might experience kindness as pussyfooting around. Going the other way, direct feedback might land as an attack—which is not all consistent with caring. In such an exchange, each party may come away with the mistaken notion that the other doesn't want to build trust, when the actual message is that the two parties go about it differently.

That's the gold in this kind of exercise: uncovering that good people can reasonably have a wide range of preferred ways to create and nurture something as universally desirable as trust. Just because we all have belly buttons doesn't mean we all build and sustain close relations the same way. Trust me.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Acting for the good of the whole (in contrast with self interest)."

For this to happen, people must feel that their own self-interest does indeed lie in protecting the group interests.

It may be anathema to the intentional-community crowd, but one context where we can witness this time and again is in the military during times of warfare. There is no apparent self-interest in rescuing a fallen comrade amid a hail of enemy bullets. Yet that happens all the time.

The Army may have mastered the art of intentional community to a degree far beyond what any hippie commune can dream of.