In my last post, I explored approaches to building trust within institutions. Much of the advice touched on embodying trustworthy behavior, including truthfulness, predictability (boring but essential!), reliability and staying above the fray of petty politics. Now, let's explore how to trust ourselves. Sounds simple, right? Not so much.
The incredibly rich and compelling work of Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman offers a great entry way into understanding that we must trust, but not rely exclusively upon, our instincts. The interplay of intuition and investigation is key. When we develop the habit of balancing on this seesaw, our subsequent decisions and actions are often our very best.
Kahneman’s core tenet is that we can’t leave human intuition to its own devices. We must do the hard work of uncovering our biases, as we bring to any situation both personal and collective history that frames how we see problems and solutions. Our two interlocking systems – one slow, analytical and deliberate, the other fast, automatic, intuitive and largely unconscious (Jim Holt, NY Times, November 25, 2011) – have important roles to play in how we interact with information, situations and each other.
What does this have to do with trust? Everything! We can only truly trust our instincts when we place value on them and ensure they're supported by more dispassionate investigation. Kahneman notes that “The confidence people have in their beliefs is not a measure of the quality of evidence, but of the coherence of the story that the mind has managed to construct.” The stories that have shaped our lives reside within us, and they're very real – even if they aren’t “right.” The challenge is to accept this and to acknowledge that external data and other perspectives are also critical ingredients to making great decisions.
I often joke that my husband, who's a wonderful researcher and thoughtful decision-maker (to my more impetuous approach), made a real leap of faith asking me to marry him when he hadn't done a statistically significant sampling of women around the world. Blending emotions, experience, self-knowledge and good sense of what his dreams for the future looked like, he took a calculated risk. I hope he agrees with me that it paid off...
What we know in our gut, and how it needs to be blended with a bit of heart and head (intelligence, information and an ability to connect) is just as important in work as it is in Iove.
Over a decade ago, I took a full-time consulting gig with a prestigious corporate foundation. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work on the proverbial other side of the table, having spent almost 15 years in non-profits that were always seeking funds. The brand was stellar, but I had reservations given the culture. My gut was telling me to run the other way, but my stubborn head was filled with visions of recognition and reward. I researched the leader and organization, and decided to ignore a number of red flags because I was telling myself a very old story where name brands and stature were the protagonists. As a result, I turned down a competing offer to run a small organization and said yes to the position. On the very first morning I reported to the office I had what I now recognize was a panic attack. My breath was short, I felt sick and I was inexplicably anxious. Several painful months later the engagement was over, and I had learned a hard lesson about the perils of placing too much faith in my irrational story about what success looks like.
Cultivating trust in oneself is about embracing the intuitive and the rational. It’s marrying instinct with inquiry to create smart approaches to how we deal with ourselves and each other. As I noted in part one of this series, if you want to create a culture of trust among a group of people, you must be willing to listen actively, offer honest feedback, share your opinions respectfully, and clearly communicate needs, desires and direction. Trusting yourself – and others – allows you to both stand in your truth and change course when it's merited. Taking risks and making big bets – personally and professionally – requires no less than “thinking fast and slow” (Kahneman), valuing what we know in our gut and what we see beyond the limits of our [limited] perspective. This is how we play big and make great things happen.
May you live happily ever after!