Can I Trust You?Some years ago I had a conversation about marriage that made a lasting impression. The woman I was speaking with told me, "It may sound odd, but the best marriages are the ones where the husband and wife are, in a certain sense, like brother and sister. They need to be so confident of each other that they can speak frankly the way brothers and sisters do. They need to be able to say what they really think without worrying that the other person is going to feel personally attacked."
This view struck me as persuasive and I have kept it in mind ever since. I was reminded of the conversation this week when I read a short piece by James Surowiecki in the October 9 issue of The New Yorker.
Surowiecki reports on research by Cornell professors Tony Simons and Randall Peterson that looked at how top management teams at seventy companies handled decision-making. Effective teams were able to argue about various possible solutions to problems without creating hostile personal relationships.
How did the effective teams achieve this? By maintaining a high level of trust, i.e., by being "like brothers and sisters." Surowiecki explains:
... groups whose members trusted one another's competence and integrity were more likely to engage in task conflict without succumbing to relationship conflict. Paradoxically, the more people trust one another, the more willing they are to fight with each other.From the perspective of training, the key is to make sure teams of decision-makers are aware of the negative effect lack of trust has on the quality of their decisions. Training can't make people trustworthy, but it can help them recognize the crucial importance of establishing a reputation for probity and reliable expertise.