What is the first step to trust? Could it be shared vulnerability? If it is, then what is the first step to vulnerability? Could it be something as simple as saying: “I don’t know”?
In the workplace where I have spent the last 20 years, I have rarely heard a person in a position of power say these simple words. “I – don’t – know”. why? Instead I have often seen people unilaterally instructed by the boss to do action items, to setup task teams, to make presentations, perhaps to give a report. There could be some form of jargon driven conversation about something meaningless, that I was never able to connect to. I am guilty also of these things: I did all of this over the years!When a new challenge is facing a team… why is the first reaction from the boss to look like he/she knows? Why not the more than likely honest reaction of accepting that perhaps the he/she does not know? What happens when this simple statement is made? “I don’t know”?
The reaction could be surprise, it could be judgement, it could be fear, it could be anything. It does not really matter. The one who has the courage to say those simple words, and has the courage to welcome all reactions, to leave a little space and time, will suddenly open up a new moment. Perhaps a moment where people feel like equals, like they could have the chance to matter, like they have the chance to connect as human beings in the reality of their feelings (whatever they are) at that moment.
And what next?
The authenticity of this precious moment is fragile. A joke may destroy it; a rush to give solutions may shatter it; a silent judgement may be felt anyway.
How can you make this moment safe?
There is no process for this. There is no right and wrong answer. Perhaps the simplest thing to do is to take a few seconds, welcome the silence and then be curious: what’s emotionally real for everyone at this moment? Is it fear? Is it excitement? Ask: “how do you feel?” Answer: “I feel…” Once this is out, the next steps will probably emerge. What is important from this experience will be the step towards emotional safety, and the emotional intimacy of the people in the group. If there is vulnerability, there will be trust.