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How to Learn Trust-Building in our Global Environment

Posted on January 03, 2016 by: Lisa Koss

As a part of our ongoing research on building trust across cultures and boundaries, I’m re-reading a book by Stephen M.R. Covey (Stephen R. Covey’s son) called The Speed of Trust (2006).  Covey provides rich coverage of all the aspects and derivatives of trust, makes a clear case how trust impacts the bottom line and has done a great job including compelling quotes throughout, most of which come from various CEO’s and global business leaders.

My experience of the read, however, leaves me both overwhelmed and thus, also underwhelmed.

Overwhelmed because in the 322 page book, Covey lays out his “5 Waves of Trust”, “4 Cores of Credibility”, 13 behaviors, a 3-part “see-speak-behave” model, a series of trust tips, and layers upon layers of bulleted and enumerated sections and subsections to the extent one loses track of which hierarchy of ideas one is wading through. I find some humor in that my reading experience seems to be an antithesis of the book’s subtitle “The One Thing That Changes Everything”.

Underwhelmed because after working my way through half of this book, I have the ongoing experience of not being sure what I’m really learning, except for a few helpful framing mechanisms, such as the fact that trust is comprised of two main buckets:  character and competence.  Additionally, despite the numerous references to global business leaders, there is little mention of cross-cultural aspect of his recommendations.  For example, Americans are susceptible to creating distrust across cultures due to a direct communication style,  so it would be helpful to consider Covey’s chapter on “Straight Talk” in different contexts.  To propose to “tell it like it is”, Covey uses the example of a president of a large division of a public company who tells others “…if you do not do these things, you will be fired.” (pg. 137)  For indirect communicators, the message could easily be interpreted as “Please leave the company now. I’ve lost trust in you and your ability to be successful here.”

A book for a topic like trust can be perhaps be useful to heighten awareness, but as it relates to really meeting the needs of the clients around the globe we work with, a more effective way to explore the topic is in a context of real people with diverse perspectives who are mutually impacted by a lack of trust, and who are motivated to learn through real experiences.

This book makes a cognitive exercise out of a topic that’s better learned experientially.  In fact, the topic of trust is one of those multi-pronged topics like “diversity”, “emotional intelligence” or “leadership” whereby the method of learning must match as closely as possible to real life experience.  In well-designed, experiential group learning events (see “Global Learning Lab”)  people must be asked to make decisions, self-disclose, take slightly uncomfortable amounts of risk, share perceptions, receive feedback, and come to one’s own conclusions about what really matters.  Experiential events should also be complex enough such that each person finds ample ground from which to pull their individual learnings, which will always be somewhat unique from what any other person needed to learn.  To me, the mode of learning must make sense with the subject of the learning.  In fact, I’d say it’s the one thing that changes everything.

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