Daily Paradox - Written by John Bittleston on Wednesday, October 17, 2012 5:28 - 2 Comments
The Fourth Answer
We tend to think that trust is about honesty. It is an important part of it but trust is about much more. How do we distinguish between loyal obedience and dishonest sycophancy, between creative challenge and agenda pushing? Not to do so is to lay ourselves open to simplistic trust with its attendant lack of collegiality. Trust is not simple and both earning it and giving it require sensitive and robust relationships.
A man misled me about the performance of his department in a business. I accepted his reports because I trusted him. He landed us in trouble. I fired him but thought about my role in his dishonesty. For certain I had one. Nobody cheats you without some part of the theft being down to you, however remotely.
Why did he do it? He wanted to look good, to report success when he actually had failure. He wanted to please me, to avoid being criticized or fired, to appear successful in front of his colleagues. His self-image was poor, he needed to bolster it. There was another reason. His vision or view of life was short-term. His domestic situation was uncomfortable with dependent parents and an unsympathetic wife. Everything seemed to crowd in on him. He could not see ahead.
We cannot lead other people’s lives; it would be an impertinence to try to do so. Nor is it possible for us to know all of someone else’s circumstances. Aiming off for another’s unknown pressures is a risky business and can benefit the genuine crook as well as the victim. Using our imagination is the answer and doing so should lead to action.
To manage people I have always spent more time with them casually than in meetings. The formal meeting elicits little useful information; the informal is better. Knowing your colleagues, what drives them, what inhibits them, what frightens them, what makes them laugh is better than the rituals of management beloved of the business schools.
One of my mentors taught me to ask questions of people whose businesses and lives seem to be doing exceptionally well and wait for the second, third and fourth answers before responding. The first answer will be the polite, publicly acceptable answer. The second will be a not quite so polite repeat of it with different words. The third, a tetchy repetition. The truth will begin with the fourth answer.
Raising the eyebrows, nodding understanding, encouraging further words, smiling – all these make the person being questioned aware that more is expected. Very few can resist. Even a top lawyer in Britain could not resist filling the silence left when an interviewer did not ask the next question.
Other people’s trustworthiness does not come without effort. We all know that. What we sometimes forget is that a lot of that effort must be ours.
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