Not long ago I had a conversation with a colleague about an upcoming event I was planning. He had some information to communicate regarding a particular detail of the event and we discussed logistics overall. Part way through the conversation he paused. Then he said, “Trisha, I want you to know that I trust you. Do whatever you think needs to happen.” This conversation was empowering for me as I knew my responsibilities and was given license to operate fully in my strengths. More than the single conversation, this leader has backed his words with action time and again, deferring to me and including me when important decisions arise. The trust extends from actions and is reaffirmed in words.
I work with several different communities of leaders and what I see time and again is that few leaders both act and speak trust. For leaders to give license is one thing but to affirm their trust in one’s abilities is another. Communicating trust happens through both words and actions.
Trust is such an important role in communication that Judith Glaser, executive coach, author, academic, and organizational anthropologist, wrote a book focused on the theme titled Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results. Glaser teaches how conversations effect different parts of the brain and trains people to respond differently, rerouting the brains chemistry and growing their conversational intelligence in the process.
Glaser’s research reveals that when leaders do not resonate or initially feel trust with others, they may feel uncertain which increases a level of distrust in the brain. “When gaps arise between what we expect and what we get we become uncertain of our relationship and our fear networks begin to take control of our brains. As a result, we find ourselves lacking the neurochemical and hormonal support for placing trust in others.” Thus, when we feel comfortable with someone we will trust them, open up, and share. When our personal fears are activated by another, will be out of sync and unable to connect.
In considering the ways the church develops leaders with particular emphasis on those different from oneself, Glaser’s book prompted the question, ‘Could distrust be one of the core components of not empowering new leaders, especially leaders who are not like us?’
Perhaps the action of developing leaders in the church has less to do with our theology and more to do with our ability to trust others. Theological or competence reasons are often cited for not empowering someone. But what if uncertainty or distrust of their ability is prompting theological justification?
Distrust of another can be well masked until people come face to face in conversation or in conflict. However, trust or distrust can be entangled with implicit bias. Harvard has been conducting a live study on implicit bias for more than ten years, called the Project Implicit with a website for continuing to gather data through voluntary quizzes. I recently took a few of their free tests to determine my own implicit bias regarding men vs women with a focus on career. The study also has implicit association tests on race, sexual orientation, and a number of other social attitudes.
Becoming aware of our bias is a starting point for change. This is true with Glaser’s book as well. Simply making people aware of the fact that their brain behaves differently when they sense insecurity or fear helps them to consider the many topics that she lays out for remapping the brain.
Glaser, like Tina Seelig, is brilliant and has scientific research to propagate her methods for helping people. Glaser’s abundance of content with details for reframing, changing the level of the conversation, creating mental dashboards, etc. are all helpful concepts. However, the many concepts are difficult to implement without thorough training from a coach such as herself over a period of time. Glaser’s text can come across as a bit gimmicky when compared across the plethora of leadership books on conversations and the key element of trust. Though she is not saying anything truly new, she has packaged it in a way that relates to large corporations and groups, such as the Gates Foundation.
When thinking back to my conversation with my colleague and the trust that he had in my ability, I realize that my trust in him has grown as a result. We expect and encourage one another to thrive in our roles and so we both communicate this with our words and actions. The result is we are much more productive and amiable in our work together and as part of our larger team.
Trust is a core component of Christianity. The Psalmist implores the hearer to, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. Acknowledge him in all your ways, and he will make your paths straight.” Trust with the Lord should create a pathway to begin trusting others. As Glaser has shown, our brains are wired to build connections of trust. And, as Paul led throughout the New Testament, the church is called to be one of unity (trusting one another as we trust Christ) in diversity (people coming together from a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities).
Employing both the words of the Psalmist and the actions of Paul with the practical insight from Glaser on building trust could set the church on a trajectory toward Kingdom centric health and growth. My research will continue to explore this theme with emphasis on trust and the Other, specifically as it relates to developing leadership with women and people of color in the Wesleyan Tradition.
 Glaser, Judith E. Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results. Brookline, MA: Bibliomotion, 2016, 25.
 Glaser, 26.
 Psalm 3:5-6 NET