Chapter 5: Trust
“I am looking for friends. What does that mean — ‘tame’?”
“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. It means to establish ties.”
“‘To establish ties’?”
“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world . . .”
“I am beginning to understand,” said the little prince. “There is a flower . . . I think that she has tamed me . . .”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
When you bring home a new puppy, the first couple of nights and days can be stressful. The puppy is taken away from its doggie family. The drive in the car and the first night or a few nights are arduous and stressful. The puppy cries and is very sad as it is in a brand new environment with people it barely met. It arrives at a completely new place — no doggie family. The only familiar thing is typically a toy or a blanket that they give you with the puppy, so it remembers the smell of its doggie family and has at least one thing to be familiar with. How sad! You try to do everything you can to make the environment warm and welcoming for your new puppy. You start getting to know each other. You give your puppy food, pet it, give it treats. You try to make your new family member feel comfortable and create trust. You want to show them that they can trust you and that you are here for them. It makes me wonder, must the beginnings of the majority of dogs’ lives be so stressful?
This beginning was not the same for Alli as she was born into our home. Alli is our second-generation Rhodesian Ridgeback, but her mommy, Aisha, has gone through this process. I still remember the first day (approximately 15 years ago) when we brought Aisha into our home. On the contrary, Alli grew up in our house, and she was very familiar with us mainly because we took care of her since day 1. Although, her birth into this world was very stressful. We were worried about Alli because her mom had complications and poor vet decisions made the situation worse. For the first couple of weeks, Alli was in danger of losing her life. We were seriously concerned she will not survive, but she ended up making it! She was a fighter.
Alli and her mom, Aisha taking a nap.
I brought Alli with me to the USA on a plane from the Czech Republic when Alli was very young. She knew me and trusted me, but she was suddenly in a completely new environment that she had to get familiar with. I remember my little Rhodesian Ridgeback being so tiny she could fit into my jacket. I was worried about how she would handle the long transatlantic flight, but she was a born traveler back then. (Her opinion about plane travel has changed since.)
Alli at the Vienna airport before our flight.
Alli on a flight. She slept almost the whole time.
Alli sleeping — the very first night in her new home in Newport Beach, CA. She was so tiny!
The following year you need to establish trust with your dog, train it, and teach it all the rules. The training part is probably the most difficult one. It requires discipline, time, principles, positive reinforcement, and a lot of repetition combined with more positive reinforcement, as that is how trust gets built. When training your dog, consistency in behavior, commands, and rules are essential. Training is one of the most challenging and time-consuming parts of owning a dog, but I find it very important to create and establish trust. You learn about the puppy, and the puppy learns about you and what it can and cannot do. Rhodesian Ridgebacks are a brilliant, energetic, and powerful breed when they grow into their muscle and size, and if one doesn’t have trust and rules established by that time, it can be a big problem later on. They think for themselves, which can make training a bit harder than with some other breeds, but as trained dogs who understand rules and with established trust, they make a fantastic member of your family.
Alli was a wild child, or at least that is how her trainer, Tami, used to call her. Alli’s biggest weakness was “come.” She was very playful, and so when I said “come,” Alli thought it would be funny if she played the “come and catch me” game. Well, maybe funny for her but not funny for me at all! I lost my nerves with her “come and catch me game” several times. Luckily, she grew out of it at around one year of age. Alli is a fantastic companion, and I trust her more than I can say or describe. I probably trust her more than I trust myself. Does that say something about my self-trust, or does it mean I trust my dog too much? I know Alli so well that I can predict her response and behavior based on her body language and past experiences 99.9% of the time. She is very consistent! When I compare this with other people, there aren’t many that fall to the same trust level category. Perhaps that is the reason why we love dogs so much and why we get so attached to them. We trust them close to unconditionally. We trust them with our whole hearts.
Trust. What a big word!
What does it mean to trust someone or to trust yourself?
What is the trust level in your family, support system, the people you work with, your organization, community, etc.?
How do we create trust, and how much time do we need to invest when creating trust?
A few definitions of trust:
I have been thinking about writing this TRUST chapter for way too long, and the one thing I know is that trust is complicated. It is not static. Trust goes up, and trust goes down. We all know and feel what lack of trust feels like, and we all know how it feels when we trust someone. Earning trust is not easy. It takes time and effort, and yet at times, we can lose someone’s trust very quickly. I trust that we all have been in situations when we trusted a person, and then the same person broke our trust. It hurts. We don’t forget people and situations that broke our trust quickly or easily. Those trust-breaking moments typically stick with us for a while as the emotional intensity that our brain remembers and associates with lost trust is generally loud.
I believe trust is so complicated because it originates in our ancient neurological and biological wiring. While science is progressing fast, there is more about the brain and consciousness that we don’t know than there is the information we know. Trust and judgment allowed us to survive. Trust is more connected to our “gut feeling.” It is something that our ancient intelligence calculates automatically in every situation and conversation. Our brain is constantly measuring — can I trust this person, or should I fight-or-flight? Almost a year ago, I took a Stanford course taught by Amy Eliza Wong named “Conversational Intelligence: Increase your impact one conversation at a time.” It was a fantastic course I highly recommend where Amy explained the foundational importance of trust and how our biological responses (hormones) and brain work together to evaluate trust. If you want to dive into this topic a bit deeper and understand the hormones that create and destroy trust, you can find my article here.
To simplify this article, I will divide this topic into two categories — 1. Trusting yourself and 2. Trusting others.
1. Trusting yourself:
As a former tennis player and from a competitive athlete’s perspective, trusting yourself is one of the most important things. I would argue that none of us can achieve anything of great significance — in sport and life — without self-trust, confidence, and believing in ourselves and the goals we set for ourselves. In tennis (unless you play doubles), you are out there alone; thus, you are the only person who can impact the outcome and determine whether you win or lose that day. As such, the game of tennis is quite transparent — there is nothing and no one to hide behind. There is no one else to blame but yourself. You are the only one out there to praise if you win and blame if you lose. The result always tells the truth about who was the better player on the court that day. That’s the beauty and also sometimes the frustrating part of the sport that can get very lonely as you progress.
If you go into a tennis match thinking that you are not good enough and not believing you can win — you will lose 99% of the time even if the person you play against has a worse game than you. The mindset that a tennis player holds for that match determines a lot of success and failure. Especially as you progress, get better, and the competition gets fierce, I would argue having the right mindset is more important as it determines your ultimate success or failure in the match. Don’t get me wrong, you need to know how to hit the ball, but there is a lot one can influence on the tennis court just by your thinking. To some degree, tennis is a game of personal energy. When you compete, you need to go out there with complete confidence trusting and believing yourself, knowing your game and the effort you have put in before the match. Believe you are prepared. You need to go out there knowing it is your tennis court! You own it! Go out there and fight for it! Perform! Get the job done! Leave all doubts behind! You did all the hard work, go out there, and Just Do It! (As Nike would say.)
Now, that is easier said than done. For some people, this mindset comes more naturally than for others. I was part of the latter category. I had to learn this mindset as it did not come naturally to me. I would argue that learning what I call the performance mindset is more complex than learning technical and athletic skills of the game. Everyone can learn how to play tennis (the game, technique, and strokes) if they have commitment, dedication, and put in the time and effort. However, not everyone learns how to win and how to master their mind.
Additionally, we all have great and not-so-great days. The top tennis players learn how to create the performance mindset and influence their thoughts to be in that mindset even if they got up on the wrong side of the bed that day. The most helpful thing for getting into a performance mindset is creating habits and rituals and discarding and re-framing thoughts that are not useful. I find different physical, breathing exercises, and meditation routines very helpful in helping you to achieve this state of focus. When I played tennis, I had all kinds of habits and rituals I implemented. They helped me focus on what I need to get done and create the mindset that allowed me to be centered. As many meditation courses tell you, awareness of your thoughts and your state of mind is the first step to successful self-regulation.
What if we were to apply self-trust, performance mindset, and confidence not just to our sport but our whole life? I am grateful that my tennis journey helped me understand the importance of self-confidence and self-trust. I find that sports are great for allowing us to explore mindsets as one sees a direct impact on their performance. Sports are a great way to experiment with and measure how one’s state of mind directly impacts our physical performance. We get a relatively fast and tangible result that is either positive (win) or negative (failure). Sports are very black and white. However, trusting is not always that straight forward and having confidence in one thing doesn’t always mean that we will trust ourselves and have confidence in another dimension of our life. Based on my observations and experiments, trust has multiple levels and dimensions; thus, I want to invite you to examine:
What is your level of self-confidence and self-trust in all aspects of your life?
What is your level of integrity with your personal goals?
Is your self-trust aligned with your goals and what you want to accomplish?
Where might you doubt yourself, and how is self-doubt serving you?
If you would trust yourself more in areas x, y, and z, how would it manifest in your life, and what feeling would that create for you and the people around you?
How can you cultivate bigger self-trust and confidence in those areas?
Is there an opportunity to treat your confidence and self-trust, similar to the relationship you have with your dog?
Are you too harsh or too soft on yourself? Do you need to give yourself space and be kinder, have more self-love and self-compassion, or is there an area where you need to be more disciplined and principled and take ownership?
2. Trusting others:
In principle, establishing trust with your dog and establishing trust with a new person or someone you want to become a friend with is not that different. They both take time, effort, and demonstration of integrity, reliability, credibility, sincerity, consistency, competence, good intentions, and caring. We all have families we are born into, families we choose for ourselves (friends, spouses, life partners). When we reflect on the quality of trust in those close relationships, we can quickly point out what bothered us and broke trust and the things that helped us create trust. We all have or had jobs (maybe even careers) where we are / were part of a team and an organization. We live in a neighborhood or are part of a community (athletic, religious, cultural, etc.) which we choose for ourselves. Our social lives and the quality of our social relationships are created based on trust. Trust is the foundation of any relationship — which can be love, friendship, organizational/ employment, or a business relationship.
How do we build, grow and maintain trust with the people we care about?
Who is part of your support system, and how strong is the trust within it?
I listened to a great podcast that my friend shared with me where Esther Perel and Adam Grant talk about WorkLife and trust. It is a fantastic episode, and I highly recommend you listen to it. What stood out to me from this podcast is that we cannot make anyone else trust us. The fact whether another person trusts us is solely their decision. We don’t have control over the other person’s decision. We can focus on how we act and showcase values that demonstrate trust and leadership towards the other person. Sometimes it means taking a risk, a leap of faith, making the first offer, and see if a mutual trust-building opportunity unfolds. To build trust with others, we must focus on ourselves and our actions and behavior. As such, I am inviting you to reflect on:
What does trust mean to you personally?
Who are the people you trust, and what are the values and qualities they demonstrate that helped build trust?
How are you showing these trustworthy qualities to the people you want to create or strengthen trust with?
Is there an opportunity for you to intensify your efforts to be more trustworthy?
Trusting someone takes time, but the only thing we can do is commit, get on the court, and practice. Show up and play your best game no matter what the weather conditions are. Trust is the foundation of leadership. We cannot be influential leaders without trust. Watch a fun short video by The Alchemy Group:
Final disclaimer and my observation and hypothesis for building trust in organizations:
I believe that building trust is something personal, and so there might be a different approach for different people as our values vary. For some people, demonstrating some values may be more critical than others to evaluate one’s trustworthiness. I hypothesize that for that reason, leaders tend to recruit people who are more similar to them than different. Demonstration of values that the leader holds in high regard will naturally lead to better trust between the specific people who work together. That is why diversity in the workplace is an excellent idea; however, it is challenging to achieve as we all are humans, and our biological responses, emotions, and hormones impact our decisions. In essence, we all want to be logical and rational human beings; however, most decisions, especially when it comes to hiring people, are typically done based on connection, relatability, and “gut” feeling. It is natural for us to have a better, closer, and more trustworthy relationship with people who are more similar to us, those who hold similar values and think similarly. From my observation, most of the time, leaders choose candidates who are more similar to them than different. I don’t think this is necessarily bad. I think - it is what it is. It is a reality, whether we want to accept it or not. One can scale this to a bigger concept — a corporation. Each corporation has a specific culture, vision, mission, values, and goals. It recruits people who fit their ways of working and whose mindset and thinking are more closely aligned with the way the corporation goes about its business. There are many different organizations and organizational cultures out there. To close my hypothesis with one of my favorite quotes: