When I first started on the coaching journey 2 years ago, I read studies by Megan Tschannen-Moran about the 5 facets of trust that are important to teachers. In order of importance these are:
- Benevolence: caring, goodwill, positive interactions, supporting teachers, expressing appreciation for effort, being fair and guarding confidential information
- Honesty: integrity, telling the truth, keeping promises, honoring agreements, being authentic, accepting responsibility, avoiding manipulation, being real
- Openness: communicating openly, sharing information, delegating, shared decision making, sharing power
- Reliability: consistency, being dependable, showing commitment, being dedicated and diligent
- Competence: setting an example, problem solving, conflict resolution, working hard, setting standards, being flexible, handling difficult situations
During our 4 day training we were asked to think about someone where we feel challenged when thinking about building trust. We could all identify people who we would regard as caring, yet we felt they were unable to connect in a personal way with what we are thinking, feeling and experiencing. In the same way, I could identify school leaders that I've worked with previously who got my attention (and compliance), but never got my heart. In my last school, one of these administrators told me she wanted to me take on additional responsibility and that she would mentor me for leadership skills. Yet in all our subsequent conversations I never really trusted her, because I never felt that she connected with or empathised with the reality that I was experiencing there.
Being nice is not enough!
Cloud tells us that "trust is about the heart, and someone making an investment in you from his or her heart. And if you gain people's trust, their heart, then you also have their desire and passion." Enough said - I did not feel passion for the job I took on, and now I'm in a different place. During the time I was there I did a good job, was mostly compliant, but could have given better efforts if I'd been able to bring more passion to the role. Now, thinking about that situation, there were other people there who did make a huge difference - indirectly - with my growth as a leader - even though it wasn't part of what they were actively trying to do. And even though there was nothing that they could actually do to improve the situation for me, it was still amazing to feel that they connected with and understood what I was going through. These people were not remote and detached, instead I felt they had a genuine interest in knowing me, knowing about me, and valuing who I was and what I did.
Building empathyA few summers ago, when I did the Design Thinking for Educators workshop at the Henry Ford Learning Institute in Detroit, I learned that the first stage of the design process is empathy. It's important to start with this because it allows you to put aside your own wants and needs that will bring you to what could be the ideal solution for you, but not necessarily for the wants and needs of another person. Empathy forms part of both the IB Learner Profile and the PYP Attitudes. The attitude of empathy encourages students to "imagine themselves in another's situation in order to understand his or her reasoning and emotions, so as to be open-minded and reflective about the perspectives of others."
When I reflect on reasons why it is easy for me to connect with and trust some people and yet hard to do the same thing with others, it comes down to empathy: if we don't feel that someone knows what it is like to be in our situation, then what they say has little credibility. Cloud talks about the character components needed for empathy, one of which he refers to as "softhearted". This means being in touch with your own real feelings, while a the same time realising that someone else's experience is theirs, not yours. Last week, listening to one of the Cognitive Coaching participants talk about a teacher at her school, I realised that I was feeling emotional - that is not empathy and it's also not helpful - it's important to set and honour our own boundaries and not get lost in someone else's feelings.
Building empathy also involves communicating our listening to show our understanding. This is one reason why in coaching the paraphrase is so important and why it's important to acknowledge what people are saying before asking questions that can mediate their thinking. Cloud writes, "If we cannot communicate our listening in a way that lets the other person know we have truly understood, empathy has not occurred."
Trying to shake hands across the Grand Canyon
Cloud also considers the things that can break trust. He starts by writing about invalidation - negating the other person's experience as if it is not real. Again, thinking back to the person I found it really hard to trust in a professional sense, I realised that's exactly what she used to do. Because I was constantly being told things like "you're just a glass half empty person" or "you don't really feel that way" when I raised real concerns, she immediately closed off her heart and mine. This left me with two problems - the initial one and the new one that she did not understand. I love the metaphor that Cloud uses to describe this situation. It is so true: people who try to help others by talking them out of what they feel, are simply no help at all. It was no use to tell me that I should just get over it - all that did was discourage me and make me give up. And this is the dangerous situation. A person who is not being heard still has the problem and has not given up on being heard - they simply look for someone else to listen. This what leads to toxic staff rooms and whispered conversations behind closed doors. We need to address the fact that even if we do not think someone's discontent is valid, right or justified - it is what that person is feeling so it is true for him or her.
Trust allows people to be vulnerable with each other - to be open, creative, take risks, learn from each other and so on. In this situation people can achieve more than if they are in "protected mode". Cloud writes "to get to everything that can come from two people's hearts, minds and souls, you have to get to openness and vulnerability. You have to have access. And access is only given as trust increases."
For you to build trust with people you have to be vulnerable - to allow them to identify with you. And so while you have to possess strength, you also have to be imperfect. It's a hard balance! We don't like weak leaders as we feel they are incompetent and don't want to trust them with our lives or our future. This is why a domineering person is not trusted as much as a competent one. Cloud writes, "Being effective is experienced by others as strength." At the same time we need to be imperfect and not always get things right - and we need to deal with these and overcome them. People who don't want to be seen as making mistakes because they think this is a sign of weakness often appear to be narcissistic or fake. We can't identify with perfect people. Cloud writes:
We can only ultimately trust people who are being real with us. But part of that is transparency not just about the facts, but about themselves as well. We need to see their vulnerabilities, and know how they are feeling about things. We also need to know about their failures and times when they haven't gotten it right.In fact what we need to see is the truth. And this is going to be the subject of my next blog post.