“Weeds are flowers too, when you get to know them”
Eeoyre, Winnie the Pooh by A.A.Milne
It’s been a good first week back at work. I bounced into the office, with armfuls of edible, very bad for you home-made gifts from my staycation. In years gone by, I would have returned with “back to school butterflies”, dreading what might be lurking in my inbox. So what has changed ? I’ve learnt to trust.
For those of you who work in the NHS, you may be familiar with the NHSManagers.net blog. If not, it comes highly recommended. Its author is Roy Lilley, a highly regarded NHS commentator, who is woven into the NHS through an influential and well placed network of contacts. This week, in a blog entitled “Little things”, he tells us about bumping into his elderly mum’s friend, who had just come out of hospital. After enquiring how she was he steeled himself for her response, expecting another Mid-Staffs-like tale of being ignored and uncared for. Instead, she reported “they were all so kind. Everyone was so kind”.
It seems that sometimes we can’t help ourselves. We instantly assume the worst. Seth Godin, in his book “The Icarus Deception” calls this our Worst Case Scenario Generator.
“Never ascribe to an opponent motives meaner than your own”. J.M. Barrie (as quoted by Stephen M.R. Covey in “The Speed of Trust”)
From childhood I have a vivid memory. I was eight years old and it still hurts as if it were yesterday. My friends and I were in the playground, happily swapping coats and advising each other on which looked best. The next day I was called to the headmaster’s office. He told me that I had made a racist comment. One of my friends was of mixed race, something which hadn’t even registered on my eight year old radar and was upset because I’d commented that a brown coat didn’t match her skin colour. I was threatened with the cane (it was during the barbaric 70s) if I ever did it again. There was no consideration given to whether it might have been an innocent comment or to my reputation of being kind and caring. He broke my heart.
As Stephen M.R. Covey says in his book “The Speed of Trust”, trust is one of the most powerful forms of motivation and inspiration. Extending trust to others re-kindles the inner spirit – both theirs and yours.
“I bring you the gift of these four words: I believe in you”. Blaise Pascal (as quoted by Stephen M.R. Covey in “The Speed of Trust”)
When you read the quote above, think of those people who have given you that gift. Doesn’t it make you feel blessed, valued and like you could take on the world ?
Fortunately for me, apart from the incident above, I had a wonderful childhood, filled with loving family, whose hearts overflowed with belief in me. When I was six or seven I leaned over the garden fence and punched the boy next door on the nose for being mean to my little sister. My mum was really shocked and angry and dragged me next door to apologise. However, she didn’t jump to unfair conclusions. Mum made it clear that she understood why I did it, that my motive was right. It was just that responding with violence wasn’t. She was demonstrating her trust and belief in me. You’ll be pleased to hear that was the last time I punched anyone, but my brother-in-law is always on his guard, just in case I find out that he’s upset my sister and revert to my old ways !
In his short book “Graceful”, Seth Godin quotes from Richard Stengel’s biography of Nelson Mandela”…Mandela sees almost everyone as virtuous until proven otherwise. He starts with an assumption you are dealing with him in good faith. He believes that, just as pretending to be brave can lead to acts of real bravery, seeing good in people improves the chances that they will reveal their better selves.”
Mandela’s belief in people is brave and inspiring and certainly not for the faint-hearted. In “The Speed of Trust”, Covey talks about Smart Trust, which is perhaps an approach more people are comfortable with. It is also about having a high propensity to trust but alongside it, using judgement to analyse and assess what is to be trusted.
Using Covey’s suggested approach, I’ve reflected on how I got to the point of trusting that I’d come back to work and all would be well and have concluded that my decision making was as follows. I considered: the opportunity – I’d have a relaxing holiday and my colleagues would feel confident and motivated by the trust shown in them; the risks – everyone was aware of difficulties that might arise and knew how to deal with them and anything unexpected; the credibility of the people involved – they are highly knowledgeable and extremely competent.
Covey suggests that we should: “Extend trust conditionally to those earning it and abundantly to those who have already done so.” It’s something that works for me.
Next time you find yourself distrusting someone, stop and reconsider. With a bit of courage and heroism, you could instead start from a position of trust. As you do so, imagine the fear and anxiety caused by that distrust evaporating like an early morning mist as the sun comes up. Sometimes we will be let down and we will be disappointed, even hurt. We’ll have to be resilient, prepared to give second chances and realise that to achieve anything we have to take risks.
Perhaps trust will become infectious and we’ll start a pandemic. I hope so.