The single most important building block of successful relationship, be it at work or at home, is trust. Without trust, relationships are put in jeopardy. Without trust, people feel unsafe – both physically and emotionally.
Mistrust is a fact of life in many workplaces. But mistrust is brought to the workplace - it doesn't originate there. Mistrust in the workplace is a consequence, often unintended, of experiences individuals had long before entering the workplace.
The voices we heard then
We are not born with an innate sense of distrust. However, long before we could spell "workplace", the seeds of fear, doubt and mistrust were planted in our minds by our parents and other caregivers.
In the early stages of life, from birth to about age seven, we absorbed the seeds of doubt, fear and mistrust. They were nurtured by the voices we heard – voices that communicated to us, in various ways, that:
"You are not good."
"You are not wanted."
"You are not loved for who you are."
"You are not seen for who you are."
"You needs are a problem."
"Your needs are not important."
"You are not safe."
"You will not be taken care of."
"You will be betrayed."
"Your presence does not matter."
"The world is not a safe place."
These messages may not have been delivered in these exact words. They may have been statements and behaviors that made us feel small, ridiculed our efforts and our creations, belittled our imaginations, our ideas, our thoughts, even our individuality.
The many positive voices we so wanted to hear as children - the opposite of the voices above - were often lacking. For many of us, the voices we heard were so often negative that to this day, when we hear someone call our name, we often react in a "startled" way, fearing an admonition that we are "bad" or "wrong". And it is these messages that are at the heart of our most basic fear, doubt and mistrust.
The voices we hear now
Read each of the statements in the list above. Can pinpoint any recent events or circumstances where you interpreted and reacted to someone else's words or behavior as one of these messages? After reflection, ask yourself whether the other person really meant that you are "bad", "wrong" or "unwanted" in some way.
Experience shows that our interpretations of the messages we hear are most often subjective and judgmental, that they are, in fact, most often "stories" we make up. When we move to fear, doubt and mistrust of others, our "story" is usually the cause. The question is, "Is my story accurate?"
Experiencing our family at work
Organizational psychologists have long told us that "we bring our family to work" – that many of the social and emotional dynamics which we exhibit at work reflect the emotions and behaviors that we experienced when we were growing up. Only now, in the present, when colleagues, bosses, clients and customers " push our buttons", we react in the same way as we did when family members pushed our buttons when we were children. When we hear the voices of those who we feel are attacking us today, we are really hearing the voices of those who surrounded us as we were growing up.
So based on our childhood beliefs, we walk into the workplace perhaps feeling small, unworthy, insecure, unsure, even incompetent. And why wouldn't we? If we've not done any personal work to explore the nature of our feelings of unworthiness and deficiency - our fears, doubts and mistrust - that's our wiring. We turn the radio dial in our heads to "vigilance" and allow our preconditioned dispositions of fear, doubt and mistrust to direct our workplace lives.
The antidote to fear, doubt and mistrust
There are six steps we can take to discern whether our fear, doubt and mistrust are justifiable or not and to help us towards being trusting and building trusting and healthy relationships.
1. Uncouple: When we experience a sense of fear or doubt, it can be helpful to ask if the feeling, emotion or sensation is "familiar," that is, whether this seems like an "old" feeling or belief that arises again and again. Telling one's self, "That was then; this is now" in the immediate moment can support one to uncouple from old conscious or unconscious attachments to one's family.
Then we can choose to view the current individual(s) in a fresh light, in a way that is detached from a habitual pattern of (family-related) reactivity and start to see the other as a separate and distinct individual and engage in a "right-here, right-now" relationship with no history
2. Discern the rest of the story: When we tell ourselves a story about the other(s) that results in fear, doubt and mistrust, it's helpful if we look to discover the rest of the story. Saying something like, "I'm having this reaction to what you said/wrote and it's bothering me and I want to check it out with you" can go a long way in both clarifying the accuracy of your story and engendering a trusting relationship.
3. Forgive others if they spoke in a way that was hurtful to you. Forgiving is not condoning their behavior. It is, however, a way to move beyond resentment. Healing occurs when we choose to give up our bitterness, resentment and anger. Remember that resentment is like taking a drug and waiting for the other person to die.
4. Explore your childhood history around issues of doubt, fear, betrayal and trust to see how your issues around trust are "learned behaviors". See (perhaps with the support of a professional - counselor or coach) if you can observe where and when you "project" your fear, doubt and mistrust on to others and whether your projections are justified or, more probably, are "knee-jerk" programmed reactions.
- What can you do to increase your trust? What will you do?
- Can you identify and eliminate blockages to trust, most notably your fears?
- Who and what do you trust? Are fear and doubt much of the fabric of who you are?
- How did you learn to fear, doubt and mistrust as you were growing up? Was it healthy or was it defensive and reactive?
- Are you seen or known as a "doubting Thomas"?
- Do you often doubt yourself? Judge yourself? Mistrust yourself?
- Do you take criticism, constructive feedback and push-back personally? Why?
- Can you see your family in others? How so?
- Do folks ever say you remind them of a member of their family?
- Can you envision a life where you are freer from fear, doubt and mistrust?
- What one step could you take this week to move you closer to that vision?
5. Speak with others whom you trust and air your feelings. Sometimes this dialogue can help you uncover "blind spots" when you are mulling things over in your head and help you gain greater clarity on an issue or feeling. Be sure those with whom you speak are good listeners who respect you, can hear you and don't feel the need to jump in, fix you, educate you, teach you, interrogate you, or hijack your experience.
This dialogue will allow you to express feelings which, if kept inside can only serve to rise up again and rear their ugly heads, often leading to feelings of paralysis, hopelessness and helplessness that fuel fear, doubt and mistrust.
6. Empathize when you are critiquing, disagreeing or pushing back on someone. Remember that everyone has limitations and blockages around trust. Communicating with empathy, understanding and compassion will go a long way in forging healthy and positive relationships - even when you disagree.
It's good to remember that we are all a product of our upbringing and that the way someone relates to you is often not about you. Another's fears, doubts and mistrust, like yours, are more often than not projections they put on you, and if you are caught in an unconscious reaction - you on them. Most often, even though we are adults, we perceive other adults through the lens of the child we once were and judge them according to the recognizable characters of our familial story.
Understanding these voices and how they sow the seeds of fear, doubt and mistrust allows the possibility of communicating as who we really are, in the moment, right here and right now, and invites open, honest and mature interactions that bring us greater wellbeing and authenticity.