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On The Edge: Building Trust in Relationships

I bet we’ve all had the experience in a work or personal relationship with someone of having something to say or do but we stop. We feel a tension between what we are supposed to do in the natural exchange of relationships and pause. We just don’t feel right about this. What we have to give and share may not be safe with the other person. We might feel a tightening in the chest or throat, our shoulders rise, and our jaw clinches. Then we over-filter our words and think of ways to work around having to engage with the person, anything but trust them. We might then talk about the person with a trusted colleague or friend. The outlet feels good and safe.

I also bet we’ve all had those moments in which we realize that the only way to accomplish what we need is to engage with the person. After exhausting other options to manage around working with the person we are nearly resigned. We know what we have to do. We are on the edge.

But how to work with someone we don’t fully trust?

We reach the pivotal moment, the oh chit moment. We must decide whether to extend or withhold trust. This is hard. The emotions and how we feel in our bodies are signals that help us safely exist in this world, signals we should not ignore. Our brains, bodies, and experiences tell us trusting this person could end badly but we also need to move forward somehow. There are important things to think about to help us decide which fork in the road to take:

  • Why do I feel that I cannot trust this person?

  • What am I protecting by withholding trust?

  • What is at stake?

  • What might be gained from extending trust?

  • What might be lost by extending trust?

  • What are the implications for me? The other person? The team? The organization?

  • How do the options before me align with my values?

  • What are the possibilities if the relationship is healed?

I encourage us to explore these questions and discuss the answers with someone we trust. The very act of putting the swirl into words helps us make sense of what our emotions and bodies are telling us, why we hesitate to trust the other person. I also encourage leaning toward repairing the relationship and building trust, wisely. There is often much more to gain than to lose by taking the leap.

But, how? This often requires a courageous conversation:

  • In tune with our values

  • Focused on what might be gained

  • Staying curious about the other person and how they view and experience the relationship

  • Openness about our opportunity to learn how we can show up better

  • Clarity on what we need from the other person

  • Optimism that the relationship can be healed

The beautiful thing is that trust is a set of skills that can be strengthened and employed for healthy working relationships. Trust can be developed over time. The tension and reservation can be replaced with a healthy relationship that allows individuals and teams to move forward and accomplish great things. On the other side of the oh chit moment might be a creative working partnership. On the other side of extending and receiving trust might be more influence in cross-functional partnerships and strategic planning. On the other side of trust might be the difference between leading a team that meets expectations and leading a healthy, high-performing team.

Trust might be the missing piece. On the other side of the oh chit moment are endless possibilities.

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