During one of our many girl talks, with topics ranging from boys to basketball, my daughter Sophie gave me a very special compliment: “Thank you for always telling me the truth.”
There are surely pieces of praise that I have received that I do not deserve. I recently received accolades for my homemade ice cream cookie sandwiches, and when the recipe was wheedled out of me, I had to admit that the cookies were baked from a mix and the ice cream was made by Ben and Jerry. Admiration for our funky leopard-print wallpaper in the living room must be turned over to the previous homeowner. And any commendations I get for appearing to balance work and life belong to my husband Michael, and the team of grandparents, aunts, uncles and babysitters who make it all possible.
But this compliment I knew that I deserved. I do tell Sophie the truth. Maybe not the whole truth (until I believe she’s ready for it) but I don’t skirt the tough topics. I figure that I’d rather her get accurate information from me rather than an altered version of the facts from a friend, television or the internet.
According to the Zohar, the primary book of Kabbalah: “There can be no faith without truth.” If I want Sophie to have faith in me – especially as we get ready to enter into those God-forsaken teen years – I knew that truth was the ticket.
With that being said, I must admit that I was taken aback by how this conversation continued. Directly after offering me such high praise for my honesty, Sophie followed with this comment: “That’s why I trust you second best in the whole world.” And having revealed what she apparently thought was the icing on the compliment cake, Sophie leaned in for a hug.
Now, I’m not one to turn down hugs (review: we are about to enter the teen years), but while my arms embraced my daughter, my mind was scrambling. Who was she putting above me? Who had earned more trust than I? Was it Grandma? Michael? God? I didn’t know which of these would bother me the most, but I was determined to find out.
“So,” I asked, my heart pounding with anticipation: “Who do you trust the most?”
Sophie looked at me as if I had just asked her to remind me of the sum of one plus one: “Myself, of course!”
Well, who was I to try to compete with that? Sophie trusted herself the most, which contributed to a preternatural sense of self-confidence that showed up in her schoolwork, her basketball playing, and even her sense of personal style that has had her shopping in the boys’ department since she was three. I was happy to be second banana for once. Sophie was living out the wisdom of Golda Meir, who once said, “Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life.” And my wish for Sophie is that her self-trust will indeed last long into the future.
I realize that not everyone is like Sophie (in fact, nobody is like Sophie, but that’s a whole different topic.) Many of us struggle to trust ourselves and others people at work and in life. Maybe we’re unsure of our supervisor’s motives behind a decision that seems to favor one employee over the other (especially when we are the “other”), or we can’t count on our best friend to show up for the movies at the agreed-upon time. Perhaps you don’t have faith in your ability to have just one drink at dinner, or you’re not convinced that you will stick to your new exercise routine. In each of these cases, trust is fleeting, which can lead to difficult relationships and diminishing self-confidence.
According to Dr. Duane C. Tway, Jr. in his 1993 dissertation, A Construct of Trust, trust is the foundation for the kind of environment most of us want to create in our personal and professional lives. You need trust to feel like you can rely on someone, take calculated risks, work in a team or a group, cooperate with others, and be a part of credible conversation. Most of us can name the people we trust, and the people we don’t, but not many of us can truly isolate the why behind the names on those lists. Tway writes, "We all think we know what trust is from our own experience, but we don’t know much about how to improve it. Why? I believe it is because we have been taught to look at trust as if it were a single entity.”
And it’s not. Trust can be broken down into four separate elements, according to Charles Feltman, author of The Thin Book of Trust; An Essential Primer for Building Trust at Work. The four elements are:
- Sincerity: You say what you mean and you mean what you say. You are honest, believable and can be taken seriously. Your opinions are based in evidence and careful thought. Your words and actions match each other.
- Reliability: You keep your promises and meet your commitments.
- Competence: You have the knowledge, skills and abilities to do your tasks or job (and other people believe that you do, too.)
- Care: You have goodwill towards others, keeping others’ interests in mind when you make decisions or take actions.
When one or more of these elements is missing, trust goes out the window. Feltman writes, “The disaster of distrust in the workplace is that the strategies people use to protect themselves inevitably get in the way of their ability to effectively work with others.” I would add that the disaster of distrust towards ourselves is the growing need to solicit others’ input, opinions and advice for our own decisions, as well as our shrinking willingness to take risks – large or small. When that occurs, we live low-stake lives according to what others want for us. And as we find ourselves repeatedly aligning our choices with others’ opinions, our own levels of self trust erode even further.
When it comes to my relationship with my beloved morning cup of coffee, I am a fan of those pink packets of “the fake stuff.” But when it comes to my relationships with my clients, my family, my friends, and myself, I won’t settle for anything less than authenticity, believability, truth – in other words, trust. How about you? I invite you to trust that you deserve it.