During a recent TrustWorks! training class for a client, I was leading participants through a process of crafting an outline for holding a conversation with someone to address the state of low trust in their relationship. At one point a participant asked, “Do people really do this? I can’t imagine having a conversation with someone and saying ‘I don’t trust you.'”
That question prompted a rich discussion on the emotional courage and personal maturity it takes to address issues of low or broken trust in a relationship. As I’ve thought about courage, the image of the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz keeps popping into my mind. Not to over-simplify the complex and difficult issue of rebuilding trust, I think the Scarecrow, Tinman, and Cowardly Lion offer some insights into what it takes to address issues of trust in relationships.
A Brain – You need to be smart about the way you approach the situation when you’re rebuilding trust. I wouldn’t recommend opening the conversation by saying “I don’t trust you.” Before engaging in a conversation, you should think through the reasons why you don’t trust someone. Ask yourself a series of “why” questions to narrow down the cause of low trust to specific behaviors. When you do have the conversation, use “I” language to take ownership of your own feelings and to lower defensiveness with the other person. Keep the conversation focused on the specific behaviors that are causing low trust rather than attacking the character of the other person. Going into a conversation to discuss trust issues without being prepared is a recipe for disaster.
A Heart – Trust is built when you demonstrate care and concern for others. If you don’t care for the quality of your relationship with someone, it will be tough to build or rebuild trust with that person. I’m not saying it’s a requirement to have a deep, personal relationship with someone in order to have a high level of trust, but you do need to recognize and appreciate the value of the relationship, both to you and the other person. As part of your preparation to address an issue of low trust, make a list of qualities you appreciate in the other person and reasons you value your relationship. When dealing with trust issues, it’s easy to only focus on the negative aspects of the relationship and disregard all the positive things that may exist.
Cowardly Lion: “All right, I’ll go in there for Dorothy. Wicked Witch or no Wicked Witch, guards or no guards, I’ll tear them apart. I may not come out alive, but I’m going in there. There’s only one thing I want you fellows to do.”
Tinman, Scarecrow: “What’s that?”
Cowardly Lion: “Talk me out of it!”
Courage – Addressing an issue of low or broken trust can be a daunting task that requires a high degree of personal maturity and emotional courage. Courage can come in many different shapes and sizes. When speaking of this topic, Winston Churchill said “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Depending on your role in the situation, you may need to muster up the courage to do the speaking, or you may need to humble yourself to do the listening. If the situation is just too sensitive for you to address on your own, seek out the help of a qualified third-party to help mediate or facilitate the discussion.
We all wish that rebuilding trust was as simple as seeing the Wizard of Oz and having him bestow on us a medal or proclamation that solves our problem. Rebuilding trust isn’t that easy, but it is possible if we courageously and intelligently approach the situation with care and concern to restore the relationship on solid ground.