To Reach Out, Reach In

Using MITATM to Design a Trust-Building Conversation

Dan Oestreich, M.A.

The outcome of this process is a conversation that helps you build or rebuild
an important relationship by intentionally bridging a trust divide.

This section of the Team Trust Survey website is designed to help you reach out to one other person. It teaches a nine-step process incorporating Mita brain-based learning theory. The steps are described through a series of linked pages that guide you to pre-visualize and then conduct your trust-building conversation. The pages also include downloadable worksheets, references, and tools to help customize and personalize your method for reaching out.

Introduction: Situation as Teacher

What is trust? Why build it? Why is this challenging? What does it mean to "reach out"?

Trust is the medium of fulfilling, powerful, and ethical relationships. It is often linked to openness, mutual reliance and respect, as well as the willingness to be vulnerable in some way. Without trust, relationships become tense and people become self-protective. True collaboration and innovation depend on it.

At least, this is one way to think about trust. How would you define it?

Sometimes, there certainly seems be work involved in building or rebuilding this important interpersonal bridge. Generally speaking, I believe, we know when we must do this work. It is not about blindly or naively trusting others who have hurt us in the past or who are operating in an unethical way -- or building trust in order to control or manipulate others. It is, however, about consciously and intentionally becoming a trust-builder -- creating what could be called smart trust -- when it becomes clear that important projects and possibilities are being stalled by a failure to extend a hand of welcome or to offer an open dialogue in a relationship that could falter or break down.

In my work as a consultant, coach, and trainer it has been clear that high performance teams demand smart trust -- the ability to generate it and, if necessary rebuild it among members, between teams, with customers and suppliers -- with everyone that in some way touches a product, a service or organizational goal. Relationships, vertical and horizontal, need to be much more than simply "working cooperation." They require genuine engagement and openness to generate superior combined performance. My sense is we can all get better at trust-building work. The question is, do we know how?

In the workplace, many problems are the result of people not reaching out to one another.
A new employee works the wrong way for months because he did reach out to find out how the work should be done -- and no one else reached out to find out how he was doing.

Or perhaps the Marketing and Engineering Departments are involved in a cold war -- because no one is reaching out to end the conflict.

Or maybe the CEO continues to conduct long boring staff meetings because no one is reaching out to tell her how dissatisfying and time wasting this practice is -- nor is the CEO reaching out to ask for feedback about how well the meeting is working.
Often times people hesitate in situations like these for fear of negative repercussions, worries about damaged relationships, fear of finding personal weakenesses -- or they cynically believe opening the conversation will simply do no good. Just so, the problem is not simply one of failing to "speak up" or "ask for feedback." That's problem enough but the real cause is lack of a trusting relationship where open dialogue, especially about sensitive issues, is a part of everyday conversation. Because trust is not present, people face ambiguity or risk -- with the natural, brain-based response of "fight or flight." Because the relationship is not safe, people come at their conversations defensively and self-protectively. Because they come at them in this way, mutual defensiveness and conflict may be triggered in a self-reinforcing loop.

Sometimes there are not problems, per se, but a conversation feels risky because it simply represents new territory. For example, making a suggestion for a simple workplace improvement or asking about career development options sometimes also can feel unsafe.

As a consequence, we may not act on our problems and opportunities, too often allowing ambiguous or low-trust relationships to prevail.

The Medium is the Message

While there are as many reasons to reach out, it's the medium, as Marshal McLuhan said many years ago, that is the real message -- and trust is that message. Whether we are reaching out to offer help to someone else, or asking for help; whether we want to give feedback or ask for it; whether we want to build a new relationship or rebuild an old one, the "message" is actually of two kinds: a surface communication that is about something we want or something we wish to offer, and a deeper message that is the "container" or "package" for this surface offer or request. That deeper message is about the desire for trust between two people. If trust never forms or becomes disabled, whatever else might be there as a communication is not likely to get through. Worse, as we often fear, our attempt to reach out will just make things worse.

All of these situations in which we want to communicate and build trust with another person -- with all kinds of good reasons for doing so -- are our potential teachers, if only we stop holding them at bay out of fear or faithlessnes or by trying to rush through them. We must give them their due. They can help us learn exactly how to become the leaders we wish for and are therefore meant to be.

Someone -- you or I -- must take the leadership, make the first step to break a cycle and "get over the hump." In a common sense, straight-forward way, it is taking that first step that defines what it means to reach out.

The objective of the process described in these pages is to facilitate learning and increase our capability to do this work. It may seem that there are many steps shown in the process described. This is exactly to make each step gradual and doable and to maximize the learning. The process, once understood, quickly becomes easier, more natural, and even automatic.



My thanks to Ellen Weber, Robyn McMaster, Ed Batista, Mary Allison, and Tony Back for their helpful feedback and suggestions as I assembled this material. Any errors or omissions are entirely my own.