Restoring Trust: Too Fast for Some, Too Slow for Others

By Diederik Prakke

Do you recognize the tension between wanting to call a spade a spade, while at the same time ensuring that nobody feels attacked or disrespected? Early March Perspectivity walked this tight rope while facilitating the Caritas Egypt annual partner meeting about the organizational reform programme.

Reform protagonists wanted to call shortcomings by their name (or at least wanted somebody to do so). Other senior leaders sought appreciation for the progress already made. Fortunately the purpose of the partner meeting was explicitly stated as “restore and deepen trust” of key funding partners, an achievement in itself.

As of today it is hard to say if the meeting was a success. Several attendees expressed that the meeting was better and more frank than ever before. Yet some sighted that there is still a long way to go. Others, often indirectly, expressed that they felt pushed too hard.

Trust in Perspectivity as facilitators seemed steeply increasing in some respects, but critical in others. Only once Caritas Egypt will have found a new course, will we be able to see whether this two-day meeting was a turning point or a setback.

We can point out five things we did to help this client forward:

  1. Have pre-meetings with senior leaders and partners, both those favoring faster change and those preferring a slower pace. In these pre-meetings both the purpose and the proposed agenda where discussed (as supposed to just the programme), which was helpfull in building personal relationships.
  2. Start with an introduction on trust, before discussing the most sensitive agenda item: the audit report. This reminded the attendees that trust grows organically. Admitting shortcomings is a huge trust builder, while denying them rapidly reduces trust. In other words: Invite an atmosphere in which the focus is not on blaming or denying problems, but on solving them.
  3. Start and end each day with a check-in and a check-out. A round in which everybody shares, if even in a single word, what they hope for and how they feel.
  4. Confirm needs and suggestions made by participants without blaming, even if this was part of the original statement. For example, Stephen’s accusation “John messes with the budget” can be ‘summarized’ as “You find it very important that the budget is clear and transparent”. This reduces the chance that John gets angry, while still using Stephen’s contribution.
  5. Accept that not everybody will constantly appreciate the meeting and the role of te facilitator. Ultimately you want everybody, or at least a large majority, to be in agreement. But we breathe easier and move more freely, if we accept that what is too slow for one person may be too fast for another. The aim is to welcome and pick people up who wandered off, rather than to guarantee that all people are with us at all times.

Would you like to share your experiences with trust issues, or do you need support to (re-)build it? Please contact Diederik Prakke.