Bring Meaning to Work and Purpose to Spirituality

In the management classic, The Trusted Advisor, a group of consultants from the top of their profession laid out a roadmap for building trust in their clients. Credibility, reliability, intimacy and non-self-orientation have been prescribed as the path to increasing level of trust for the client-advisor relationship.

In my own experience, credibility and reliability are indeed the necessary foundation of trust in any type of human relationship. Trust, unlike good will, is NOT free and must be earned through challenging experiences. Soldiers trust each other only after they have demonstrated the willingness of holding each other’s back. A business team starts to bond only after going through some tough challenges together, completing a difficult assignment or achieving an unrealistic goal. In all cases, credibility and reliability are the entry tickets to taking even greater risks and building even deeper trust.

Where things get tricky is the notion that intimacy builds trust. My experiences suggest that intimacy cannot be separated from non-self-orientation in the original formula. Whenever intimacy comes at the expense of non-self-orientation, the resulting trust does not last. Soon or later it implodes. The path to non-self-orientation goes through vulnerability first and foremost with intimacy only as a secondary attribute of the experience. Our biggest learning and growth comes from facing and dealing with unfamiliar situations when we feel insecure and vulnerable, just like soldiers go to war without having experienced war before. If we survive it, we succeed in building trust. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter how brilliantly we decorate ourselves in words. Therefore, vulnerability is more important and crucial than intimacy for building trust. Intimacy for the sake of intimacy could be an obstacle, not catalyst, of building trust as it shelters us from real challenges and conflicts and induces group think which prevents us from facing and achieving genuine progress or breakthroughs.

Another critical element missing from this recipe of trust is purpose. No one in his or her right mind would confront the pains of vulnerability without a compelling purpose. To build sustainable trust between human beings, they must share a common purpose to some degree. In fact, the depth of their trust will go only as deep as their shared purpose would allow. Beyond that, it becomes blind, confused and untrustworthy – the definition for lack of trust.

So here is my revised recipe of building trust: credibility, reliability, vulnerability and purpose. Give it a try and see if it works.

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