Want to Build Trust? Eliminate Fear.

Picture this scenario: You’ve been given a critical work assignment. The outcome, you are told, will have a tremendous impact upon your company’s future success (and, by implication, on the future success of those involved in the project).

You smile to yourself: You’ve got this. Everything that’s required fits perfectly with your expertise. You’ll pull together the perfect team for the job, and…

Then comes the bad news. “You’ll be working with Johnny and Alice from headquarters. I’ll be introducing you to them when they fly in tomorrow.” Two people who you’ve never met, haven’t worked with, don’t know. And as of this moment, their success or failure on this project stands to have a big impact on you.

What are you likely to feel in that moment? Most likely, it’s a variation on fear, possibly on a range from slight anxiety to mortal terror. The future of your career, it seems, has been placed squarely into the hands of two outsiders who may or may not know what they’re doing, and who may or may not have your best interests in mind.

A measure of fear would seem like an appropriate response. It’s also likely to be a highly unproductive one.

In my last article, I emphasized that by necessity trust comes first in any productive business interaction. There’s no emotion more likely to sabotage that trust than fear – whether your own or that of your colleagues. In the scenario described above, three people are cast blindly into an unpredictable, high-stakes interaction where they are all likely to be feeling very similar fears, and thus laying the groundwork for unnecessary difficulty.

Think about it: It’s nearly impossible to establish a productive, trust-based relationship with anyone that you feel even slightly afraid of. Even if your colleagues are acting competently and in perfectly good faith, any agitation you feel is likely to interfere with your recognizing or accepting as much – and any fear they feel is likely to have the same effect relative to you.

The solution? Identify fear-based responses wherever they reside – and short-circuit them as swiftly as possible. As Frank Herbert’s popular aphorism says, “Fear is the mind-killer.” Stated more clearly, Brain science tells us that fear impedes logical thought, makes objective analysis difficult, and gets in the way of taking the appropriate, effective steps to achieve your objectives. The fear that you (and in all likelihood, your prospective team members) feel is related to the “unknowns” associated with your objectives.

Let’s break your objectives down where this scenario is concerned:

  1. Your primary goal is to achieve a favorable business result for your firm or company. The associated fear: Consequences of a negative outcome.
  2. To achieve this objective, you need to work effectively with others you have not worked with before. The associated fears: Colleagues may not be competent, committed, or willing to work well with you in a team setting.

There are two things to immediately notice in this scenario:

  • Firstly, the fear is based upon hypothetical factors, not real ones – there may be a bad outcome, our colleagues may not do their jobs well. Rationally, there is no reason to respond to possibilities as if they were actualities – fear is a response best reserved for clear and present threats.
  • The second is that we are not powerless in these situations. We maintain a measure of control, or at least influence, over the outcomes – we can apply our knowledge, experience and skill to promote a positive outcome, and we can take measures to help guide the attitude and actions of our colleagues.

When we look at situations this way, feared “unknowns” move towards manageable “knowns,” allowing fear to evaporate and fostering an environment where trust can grow. By limiting or eliminating our own fears, we project an image of confidence and capability, engendering a similar sense in our colleagues. That helps mitigate any fear they might feel, encouraging them to feel at ease – and to develop trust in us.

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