The power of trust

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go in a team.” ~ African Proverb

Melbourne … rain.  It’s so cliché, but here I am in Melbourne, staring out at the dismal misty greyness enveloping the city, displacing all warmth and joy.

Perhaps it was the dreariness combined with the light stupor that comes from being in a meeting all day, but as I was watching the incessant drizzling, I drifted into a contemplative trance, pondering the power of water.

By itself, one drop of water can do very little.  No one notices the effect of one drop of rain.  Though with more and more drops comes more and more change.  Wet ground grows puddles, then tiny rivulets, then streams of water which, when they combine, can form a raging torrent strong enough to change entire landscapes in a day.

And then I wondered, what allows something so individually weak to be so forceful en masse?  I don’t want to sound like a B-grade motivational speaker, but I think this is so important for any single person or organisation that wants to achieve anything of significance.

There are two properties that give a stream of water its power.
* A common direction
* A strong bond

As the sheer might of a violent surge so aptly demonstrates, there is immense power when small drops all combine to move together in one direction.  Yet the former property is only possible because of the latter.  Without the strong molecular bonds between them, water molecules would simply dissipate, along with all of their power.

So how can we apply this analogy to an organisation?  Well, if an organisation wants to be successful in achieving whatever plans it has, each part of that organisation needs to be moving together in the same direction.

Ok, that’s rather trite, but bear with me, because my cathartic discourse isn’t about the power of common direction, but about the bonds that confer the power to the forward momentum.

The molecular bond of any powerful organisation is trust.

Stephen Covey wrote that, “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

Peg Streep, writing in Psychology Today, wrote, “Trust is the foundation of all human connections, from chance encounters to friendships and intimate relationships. It governs all the interactions we have with each other. No one would drive a car or walk down a sidewalk, or board a train or an airplane, if we didn’t ‘trust’ that other people took their responsibilities seriously, and would obey whatever rules applied to the endeavour at hand. We trust that other drivers will stay in their lanes, that conductors and pilots will be sober and alert. And that people will generally do their best to discharge their obligations toward us. Culture, civilization, and community all depend on such trust.”

Trust means that we have confidence in the intentions and motives of others.  For example, patients trust doctors because they have confidence that the doctor knows what they’re doing and has the patient’s best interest at heart.  A recent meta-analysis showed that patients were more likely to have more beneficial health behaviours, less symptoms, higher satisfaction with treatment and a higher quality of life when they had higher trust in their doctor.  Trust enables positive progress.

Trust brings cohesiveness organizationally as well as socially.  If employees don’t trust each other or their managers then all sorts of problems start to arise: collaboration and communication stagnates, innovation ceases, employee engagement declines, productivity falls, and in general the workplace becomes unsuitable to be around.

Paul J. Zak is a neuroscientist that has studied the neuroscience and value of trust in the employees of Fortune 500 companies and in mountain tribesman.  His data shows that employees who feel trusted perform better at work, stay with employers longer, and are significantly more innovative.

In order to foster trust, organisations have to build confidence in the intentions and motives of others – between workers and managers and between the workers themselves.  When you have the confidence that your co-workers are going to pull their weight and do their jobs, it makes it easier to get on with yours.  When you know management aren’t going to make arbitrary, selfish or irrational decisions, it’s much easier to follow their lead.

So how do you build trust within a relationship or an organisation?  There are many ways to inspire confidence, but conflict resolution expert, Dr Aldo Civico suggests five different strategies:

  1. Trust generously – or in other words, trust first.
  2. Be patient and flexible. Trust is built over time.
  3. Be dependable and be reliable. Take your own words very seriously. Don’t make up excuses, take responsibility for mistakes.  Don’t be afraid to apologise.
  4. Be consistent.
  5. Be open and transparent in your communication. Don’t undermine or backstab.

The rain has stopped here, now it’s just cold!  I hope that you can grow trust in within your organisation so that you and your team can move forward with strength and purpose.

Bibliography

Streep, P., (2014) “The Trouble With Trust”, Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/tech-support/201403/the-trouble-trust

Birkhäuer J, Gaab J, Kossowsky J, Hasler S, Krummenacher P, et al. (2017) “Trust in the health care professional and health outcome: A meta-analysis”, PLOS ONE 12(2): e0170988. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0170988

Smallwood, A., (2017) “This neuroscientist says work culture can’t thrive without trust”, Collective Hub. https://collectivehub.com/2017/06/this-neuroscientist-says-work-culture-cant-thrive-without-trust/

Civico, A., (2014) “5 Strategies to Build Trust and Increase Confidence”, Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/turning-point/201404/5-strategies-build-trust-and-increase-confidence

 

Advertisements

Black is the new black – Mental illness touches more of us than we realise (or want to admit)

I rarely get sick.

I say this while superstitiously touching my wooden desk to try and avoid putting the mockers on myself.  Thankfully, I have a fairly robust immune system and, after years or working in hospital paediatrics and general practice, and having been sneezed at or coughed on multiple times a day, I have been exposed to just about every variation of the cold virus and influenza possible.

Even for those of us with an immune system as solid as a prize bull, we still get sick every now and then.  We all get upper respiratory viruses so commonly that we just consider it a normal part of life.  Most people will take some paracetamol or ibuprofen and keep going.  Some people will go to their GP, and while a most will (… should …) come away some simple reassurance, occasionally some will need a prescription medication for a nastier bacterial infection.  An even smaller percentage will need admission to hospital because of a much more severe infection.

I read an interesting blog this week on Psychology Today by Dr David Rettew.  Its provocative title was, “Is Mental Illness the Rule Rather Than the Exception?”

The blog discussed the study being carried on in Dunedin which has been following a cohort of a thousand people for the last thirty-five years.  This particular study looked for common factors that were shared by those people who had never been affected by a certifiable psychiatric disorder.  What was interesting was that only seventeen percent of the people in that cohort had NOT been affected by a mental illness at some point in that thirty-five-year time frame.

Now for the average Australian, there are some obvious kiwi jokes going begging here (like, I’d be depressed too if I had to live in New Zealand, or how can someone tell if a sheep is really depressed or not, etc. etc.).  All jokes aside, seventeen percent of people not affected … that’s a remarkable figure.  In researching my latest book (soon to be released …) I had come across the figure of fifty percent of people had a lifetime prevalence of any mental illness.  That’s one in every two, and chances are that if you weren’t the person affected, you would know someone who was affected, but the Dunedin figures are even higher.  If you can accurately extrapolate them, four out of every five people will be affected by mental illness at some point in their lives.

The inevitable response from modern psychiatry’s critics is entirely predictable – there will be claims that the DSM5 is simply making diseases out of normal human life experiences, that our humanity is being pathologised and over-medicated for the benefit of big Pharma.

But as Rettew points out in a separate blog post, something may be such a common occurrence as to be considered part of the normal human experience but it can still be a pathology.  The common cold is so common that it’s a normal part of life, but it’s still a disease.

Whether four out of every five people will be affected by mental illness or one out of two, whatever the number, the idea that most of our population will be afflicted with a mental illness at some point in their lives isn’t necessarily a negative thing.  As Rettew also discusses, we don’t arbitrarily change the definitions of physical illnesses to match how many people we think should suffer from them, and neither should we arbitrarily change the diagnostic boundaries of mental illness so less people appear mentally unwell.

We need to accept that, at times, people will be functionally impaired to varying degrees because of mental illness just like people will be functionally impaired by physical illness.  We need to treat mental illness with the same respect as we would physical illness.

In the same way that not all physical illnesses require medication, neither do all mental illnesses.  By and large, most mental illnesses that people suffer from will be short lived and self-limiting, the psychiatric equivalent of having a cold.  Some people will need treatment for their mental illness, but usually this takes the form of structured behavioural therapy like ACT or CBT.  Occasionally, people will need to take a medication and very occasionally, some people will need to be hospitalised because of their mental illness.

For too long, mental illness has been viewed from an extreme perspective – mental illness is uncommon and severe. The nuances of mental illness have been lost or ignored in the white noise of ignorance and sanctimony.  The lack of subtlety and understanding has failed us as a community.  When treated early, mental illness has a much better prognosis, but the stigma, fear and misunderstanding perpetuated by the all-or-nothing approach has left a lot of people without treatment and therefore with worse outcomes overall.

If people were to realise that most of us will be touched by mental illness at some point, then perhaps there would be more understanding and less judgement, something that would lead to less suffering because of mental illness.

That would only be a good thing.

~~~~~

If you think you might be affected by mental illness or if you would like to know more, see your local GP, family physician or psychologist.  On line information can be found at many reputable sites including Beyond Blue – https://www.beyondblue.org.au