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Emotional Intelligence

Trust Is An Intelligent Choice


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Written by: Harvey J Loew

In my 30 years applying behavioral sciences to organizations of various shapes and sizes, “Emotional Intelligence” (EQ) was often recognized as common sense, but not commonly practiced. The transition to its acceptability still varies depending on the particular business community. In my work with the Franklin Covey organization over the years,  Stephen R. Covey did not speak of EQ per se in his seminal work on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, or other teachings that I am aware of, but he did speak of common sense quite often.

The choice to trust or not trust was brought to the forefront and well researched by his son Stephen M.R. Covey. It has common sensibilities and may have a place in the field of EQ. The adage, “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me,” represents people’s reactions to real experiences. The same goes for, “Once burned, twice cautious.” We also know that levels of tolerance or thick-skinned reactions can be situational—what the late Steven R. Covey might deem dependent on an emotional bank account of a relationship. One could suggest that if positive experiences were high in any relationship, the bank account would have sufficient assets to sustain withdrawals or to extend trust. However, if experience or familiarity of the relationship was thin, there may not be sufficient funds or occurrences in that emotional bank account to warrant or extend trust.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that distrust is very expensive.

This was before Sarbanes-Oxley and 9/11.  In The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey shows how trust is economic, not soft, but hard, real and measurable. Covey suggests that when trust is high, it acts like a dividend and multiplier. The speed for getting things done occurs more quickly and the cost is low. Conversely, when trust is low it operates as a tax; the speed of delivery is slow, the cost high. These days we are likely more vocal of the fallout from higher financial taxes than the high emotional taxes in our relationships.

How would you consider trust levels at your jobs, with colleagues, management, etc?

What about your social contacts or within your extended families? I imagine in some contexts it would be a dividend and others a tax. Reflecting on your own experience with trust and your relationships, here is a simple exercise you can do for yourself:

  1. Identify a person at work or in your personal life with whom you have a high-trust relationship
  2. Identify a person at work or your personal life with whom you have a low-trust relationship
  • What is the relationship like with each of these people?
  • How long does it take to get things done?
  • What is communication like?
  • How would you describe the strain, tension or stress that exists?
  • What kind of results are you able to achieve?

In the Covey lexicon, trust is rooted in Credibility, which is determined by Character, represented by Integrity, Intent (motive) and Competence, evidenced by capabilities and results. All are necessary to trust (and be trusted), because if one is off, trust may erode.

One of the more difficult things to do, but I’ve seen it done, is to forgive and allow trust to be restored that was broken.

The work of Dr. Fred Luskin on forgiveness is somewhat related to the Covey notion of righting wrongs, one of the behaviors for developing or restoring trust. (Forgiving and allowing someone to restore their trust according to Gandhi, is attributed to the strong, not the weak.) While it may seem counterintuitive, people often have a difficult time forgiving and trusting (themselves and others). We all have had experiences of beating ourselves up over one thing or another, but it’s important to restore trust with oneself and demonstrate the self respect you wish to garner from others.

Covey suggests a number of approaches with self and others that might be helpful in situations you encounter: a) talk straight…and tell it like it is; b) create transparencies by being open and honest about your motives; c) right wrongs where possible; d) show loyalty…especially not talking about others negatively when they are not present; e) deliver results; f) confront reality and don’t avoid or blame; g) clarify expectations upfront; h) practice accountability; i) keep commitments.

Stephen R. Covey once said, “you can’t talk your way out of a problem you’ve behaved your way into….and junior responded…that’s true, but you can behave yourself out of a problem you’ve behaved yourself into and often faster than you think.”

There are two extremes (looking at the bell-shaped curve) and both can be costly:

  1. Blind trust—being gullible, simplistic and naïve.
  2. Not trusting enough—being overly suspicious and highly skeptical.

Covey responded to the polarity by suggesting there is smart trust in the sweet spot of the curve, where good judgment is rendered.

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