Trust is by far one of the most commonly talked about and worked through themes of human existence that I see in the therapy room. Trust broken by affairs. Feeling alone because trust has been broken by friends. Being so hurt by someone that there is a conscious decision to not trust again. But then experiencing the tension between wanting desperately to trust but wanting desperately to protect oneself.
“Dare to Lead” by Dr. Brene Brown sorts through the complexity of trusting others. She breaks in down in a really simple story that I’ll share here because its THAT GOOD!
Story of Brene’s daughter
Brene’s daughter had a really hurtful experience that day at school. She came home in tears because she told someone a secret and the secret got around the whole class, who was laughing. Her teacher demonstrated that it was a very poor decision that the class made fun of her daughter and the teacher took half of the marbles out of the marble jar. (The marble jar is a key piece of the story. This is a reward system the teacher used to teach the class about good and poor decisions. When good decisions are made, the class gets marbles put in the jar, and when bad decisions are made, marbles are taken out. Once the jar gets full, a larger reward is given.)
“We trust the people who have earned marbles over time in our life. Whenever someone supports you, or is kind to you, or sticks up for you, or honors what you share with them as private, you put marbles in the jar. When people are mean, or disrespectful, or share your secrets, marbles come out. We look for the people who, over time, put marbles in, and in, and in, until you look up one day and they’re holding a full jar. Those are the folks you can tell your secrets to. Those are the folks you trust with information that’s important to you.”
In a nutshell, she says “Trust is the stacking and layering of small moments and reciprocal vulnerability over time. Trust and vulnerability grow together, and to betray one is to destroy both.” Her description of trust is wonderfully clear and simple, yet in real life gets complex and messy.
My own application
Like any good Psychologist does, I examine my own life and how I’ve messed up trust and vulnerability. In my work life, there have been a lot of organization and logistical challenges in the past couple years. Many of the specific events started as out of my control but how I dealt with them were more in my control. As a reflective person and leader, I’ve spent countless hours analyzing my pieces to “own”.
I’ve always considered myself trustworthy. Why? Well, I am very principled and ethical. I have a strong moral compass that is based on my belief in God and my relationship with Him. I strive to “do the right thing” because I know that is honoring to God, not because it looks good to others. Knowing this about myself, I think, “why wouldn’t anyone not trust me??”. Yet, I found myself in circumstances where it was clear someone didn’t trust me. That frustrated me to no end (at the time). I didn’t understand it. I was open about my actions, tried to verbalize that, and above all, I had never done anything that wasn’t trustworthy!!!
Its about the accumulation of marbles
In light of Brene’s story, I realize that despite my moral compass, I didn’t have enough exchanges with someone to accumulate enough marbles to weather the storm. It wasn’t so much about me as it was about the mutual relationship (and maybe additionally they have had more hurts in the past that have lead them to be more cynical about others). So when the challenges came, they perceived there wasn’t enough of a foundation to rest on. Then the challenge for me as the leader, was trying to build that foundation at the same time it was challenged- which was a near impossible task.
This is my own reflection about how I messed up so that others lost trust in me. I messed up by not more routinely putting marbles in their jar. There is another phenomenon at play too. Dr. Brene doesn’t speak to this, but Dr. John Gottman does. He calls it “negative sentiment override”. The principle is that the more negativity that is present in a relationship, the more negativity is assumed to be present. It really feeds off itself. Likewise, the more positivity that is present, when negative or neutral events happen, people are more likely to assume the best. So there is an additive effect as the marble jar fills up; it will continue to fill up faster as events are more often assumed to be positive and trust building.
Add marbles to someone’s jar today
Think about one of the most important relationships you have in your life at the moment. It could be a spouse, a child, a best friend, a really important colleague or employee at work. How are you filling up their marble jar? It is the accumulation of small things that fill it up more than big events. One thing you can do today to influence your trustworthiness is find moments that you can demonstrate you are listening and you care. That will get you marbles.
Now the business of learning to trust others? Well, that is way more than a single blog post!!!
– Dr. Sheri