Faster Than a Speeding Bullet

Michael Port’s words have been ringing in my ears ever since I talked to him in Episode 035.  “Connection takes a certain amount of risk.  When we attempt to open ourselves up, we run the risk of rejection.  So what do we do?  Play it safe.  Distance ourselves.

-(c) Thinkstock Photo

(c) Thinkstock Photo

Play it cool.”

Michael then goes on to say that playing it cool is an attempt to lessen the sting if we don't get what we are going after – if we don't make a successful connection.  But, as he wisely points out, when we play it cool, we're more likely setting ourselves up for failure.

As I said, his words have been with me ever since.  Particularly as I interact with people at work.  Am I willing to risk, or am I playing it safe?   When is it right to go all-in, and when should I keep my distance?  I don't know about you, but I tend to fluctuate between two extremes. I first risk all to really connect with people.  And then I get hurt.  So I pull back and hang out in the “play-it-cool” zone.  Not just with the ones who hurt me.  With almost everyone.

What is the right level of trust and connection in a work setting?  How do I build it?  I've wrestled with these thoughts, particularly this past week.

I'm working on a project that has high visibility.  Project and meeting routines are being set up.  New people are being added, most of whom don't know each other and don't know me or my team.  Speed is of essence.  We are thrown together as a “team” and there's no trust.  It hasn't been built.  Add to that the sometimes competing hidden agendas, and you have a perfect recipe for mistrust and disconnection.

If you work anywhere of any size, you've experienced it.  And if you're the customer of that organization, you've felt the impact of it too.

What happens when there is little trust?  According to Stephen Covey, who wrote the book “The Speed of Trust“, everything slows down.  Progress gets bogged down in arguments, stonewalling, documenting to cover your tracks.  The list goes on.  And since slower means more expensive, there’s a high hidden cost to the organization.

There's a human cost too.  Just as Michael Port said that playing it cool leads to a failure to connect, mistrust does the same thing.  No one is happy.  There's constant tension just beneath the surface that puts you on edge.  It saps your energy.  So much is expended just trying to deal with the tension that there's little left to do the real work – saving lives, improving health, designing software solutions, or teaching children.

What can we do about this?  Can one person change the dynamic and build trust in an environment where people don't know each other and there's barely enough time to go to the bathroom?  I'm not sure, but I'm working to do just that.  And you should too.  Why?  Because the cost of living with the status quo is high.  To your work.  And to you.

I'm bringing humanity to work interactions by

  • Addressing people by name in my emails
  • Setting a positive and warm tone in written and personal encounters
  • Taking time to get to know people personally
  • Setting ground rules at meetings to foster respect and trust
  • Dealing with energy-suckers and divisiveness by addressing it and/or isolating it from the group.

I gain some ground and lose some ground.  I also see where I fail.  When someone attacks me, I tend to talk about it to others, thus besmirching them behind their backs.  Fighting wrong with wrong.  That isn't right and doesn't help build trust.

Like I said, I don’t know how much impact I can have.  But I think it's worth trying.  In fact, I know it is.  I know my own team will be better for it.  We will reap the benefits of the speed of trust.  And it just may ripple out from there.  I don't think we'll be standing in a circle singing “Kumbaya” any time soon.  But we can work together with respect, trust, and dare I say – love.

What about you?  Are you living in a distrustful environment?  How does it affect you?  The work you are doing?  Are you willing to stop playing it cool and risk connection?  Even if it hurts?  What have you tried to help deepen trust?  What's working or not?

This topic is worth wrestling with, so I will likely come back to it as I continue to work it out day by day. Please chime in any time.  Leave a comment below, send an email to, or start a post on my Facebook page.  Stories and advice are loved and appreciated. Let’s explore this together.

Life's too short to be mired in mistrust.  Let's build bridges instead of brick walls.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Thank you for raising this issue Kathleen. One challenge as I see it, is how do you appropriately engage when there is evidence from the past that trust has been broken? Then you have to, as Michael Port, says ‘play it cool’ because you know that any vulnerability will be used against you. At the same time you have to engage, but you are also aware of the other person’s weaknesses. I suppose it means you work together, keep polite, but are careful about the other person. Also you have to accept that ‘peak performance’ will never be the case in that context.

    • That’s true, Sunil. Peak performance will never happen when trust has been broken. If it’s once, and you’ve have a good relationship in the past, it can be mended. If it happens repeatedly or you just met the person, it’s less likely. The question is, can you navigate around the situation, or will it slow you down? I hope we can continue to explore this topic. It’s important, and affects so much of our lives.

  • What a great heart you have for others, Kathleen. I appreciate your vision to elevate the working atmosphere via respect, authenticity, and risk. They are lucky to have you!

    • Thanks, Laurie. I don’t always succeed, but it’s great to have a vision of what could be, isn’t it?