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Principle 3. Focus on Both the Good and the True

The third principle emphasizes how trust thrives on the good we find in others -- in their intentions, positive attributes and behaviors -- and also in sharing a truth, our truth, about what we see happening. By balancing and combining these elements we reach toward a level of sincere openness where even difficult messages can be shared. It is all too easy to miss the combination, erring on the side of affirming another without giving the person the benefit of our real perceptions, or of communicating those perceptions in a way that is rigid, impersonal, judging or dismissive. It can be a dilemma how the balance must work, but that dilemma is often best resolved when we approach another as a great friend who is in need of hearing an critical message. It is reolved by surrender to the fact that we cannot live either honestly or helpfully by concealing what we see. This means that I cannot approach you on one hand as if you are so fragile or defensive you can't deal with the truth, nor on the other as an object that has no feelings. The message -- this truth -- is for you, spoken to support you in the long term -- I am not against you, nor is the message. The message comes with empathy and refuses to use empathy as an excuse for not expressing difficult points that need to be shared.

Using this principle requires a certain level of self-examination to understand our own personal motives, and it can test negative beliefs about another that are unwarranted by the evidence. I can't exaggerate. I might want to believe that my boss "hates" me, and continuing this belief protects me from action and interpersonal risk. The truth may be different: "my boss is angry about what's happened, but that's not the same as hate." I might want to believe my boss always "takes things personally," and again this protects from the risk of reaching out -- where I might find that my boss, while feeling things strongly, nevertheless is able to work through a conflict just fine. Letting go of my own inaccurate self-protective assumptions leads to a different place, where my actions toward another person -- and tone in approaching that person -- can be open, supportive, generous, and forgiving because there is no avoidance of talking about what has been uncomfortable or undiscussable.

This good and the true go hand in hand -- this is what builds trust. It requires me to to be fully present, to risk, to be vulnerable. In this I may reveal to another person my own imperfect process of personal learning and growth. But instead of hiding that away for fear of mistakes I let you see my incompleteness. I let you see the snakeskin I am attempting to break out of – with you.

Case Study: As a supervisor, Chen found he had a difficult time working with one of his reports, Janice, just as did many of her co-workers did. Janice did her work with great technical accuracy, but she seemed very sensitive to any form of potential criticism, getting defensive and mad if anyone even expressed the slightest problem or had a question about her work. Chen had experienced this himself. Because Janice was going through a painful divorce, others felt sympathy for her to a degree and mostly stayed away from her, but they then also complained to Chen about her "attitude" which several said was "intimidating." Chen knew he had to break down the barriers to better communication. As he considered the situation, he resolved to open a dialogue with Janice about what was happening to her credibility. It would be easy enough to give her negative feedback, but he suspected it would simply be thrown back at him. "Why hadn't he told her these things before?" she might ask. "Who had complained? Why was no one communicating with her? Were they cowards?" As he imagined the conversation, Chen suspected she might display the very behaviors that people were complaining about. Chen also thought about what it would be like to be in her shoes, and the times when someone had not told him about something he was doing that had been a problem. He imagined himself not so much as a supervisor but as someone who needed to share a difficult truth with someone he genuinely liked and believed in. With this mind-set he sat down with Janice, making himself completely truthful, open, and concerned in sharing his observations about her behavior and reputation, and also his desire to help her change things. While she still was initially defensive, she also listened carefully, and eventually thanked him for being "the only one to be straight with her."

Links to the other principles:

1. Draw on inner strength

2. Step away from personal gains and losses

4. Connect through appreciation and ownership

5. Engage to stay engaged