Don't Waste Your Time on Distrust

by dsnider 29. April 2014 13:07


Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly, and they will show themselves great.  —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Time management is not only about strategies like suiting yourself and focusing on what matters most or tactics like minimizing clutter and committing to an organizational system that works for you.  It’s also about eliminating attitudes and behaviors that waste your time.

One such attitude is distrust.  There's a tremendous amount of distrust in the work world, and it leads to an over-abundance of "I better act like everyone's out to screw me" behavior.  But it's not more realistic or more adult or more prudent to approach situations and other people expecting the worst.  It's just more common.  And it’s entirely counterproductive.

Even if you've had some bad experiences, good sense does not mandate distrust.  Too often, we have rash reactions to how bad a bad thing would be if it occurred, without appropriately discounting that badness by a realistic assessment of likelihood or timing.  We assess the badness and give it the weight it would have for us if the bad thing actually occurred today.  So when we do our cost-benefit analysis, we haven’t factored the costs in correctly.  Moreover, we compound our error by ignoring the costs of distrust altogether, even though they are very high.

Approaching the world with distrust is a response to fear and perceived danger that is outsized relative to the actual likelihood of trouble.  If someone were to decide to protect her wallet by staying home – doors and windows locked, scary dogs patrolling the perimeter – we would all agree that she had gone too far, that her protection was not in alignment with her risk.  Similarly, the cost of distrust is excessive relative to the risk that people or situations might be disappointing or treacherous or in some other way fall short of what we would like them to be.

It has been my experience that extraordinarily good things happen when you approach situations and start relationships by presuming the best and giving generously of your confidence and support.  You are more likely to have a positive experience if you go to work trustingly expecting the best.  Other people will react better if you presume they are excellent, trustworthy and capable, and treat them accordingly.  The vast majority of them, in fact, will bask in the glow of that A+ from you and do their utmost to live up to it.  (Think of yourself as the treat-ee rather than the treat-er and you'll know this is true.)

Of course, there are certainly situations and people who, given the early A+, will ultimately demonstrate that they deserve a lesser grade.  So what?  If that happens, the presumption is rebutted and you can deal with the malefactor appropriately, just as you'd replace the credit cards, etc. if your wallet got stolen.  But won’t the cost and aggravation of dealing with that specific instance pale in comparison to the cost and aggravation of constantly worrying and dealing with the fallout from distrusting everyone?

Distrust doesn't feel good, it isn't practical and, in general, you also really do get what you give.  Pessimism and stinginess are demeaning and will be met in kind.  Optimism and generosity are enriching and will also be met in kind.  The costs of distrust are not only probable, they're certain, and their magnitude is huge.  The benefits of distrust are more remote than probable, they can't reasonably be estimated, and they don’t begin to justify the costs.  It's exactly the opposite with trust:  the benefits are huge and certain, while the costs are speculative at best.  Adopt trust as your default approach: it will take you a lot farther, a lot more productively.

Debra Snider is an author, speaker, no-longer-practicing lawyer, former senior executive, and mother of two grown children.  Her published works include two nonfiction business books, one specifically for lawyers, and the novel A MERGER OF EQUALS, which readers have called “one of the most enlightening and true works of fiction about corporate life and love,” "a book that will change your life," and “virtually impossible to put down.”  A Chicagoan until 2005, Debra and her husband now live in Nevada.  Click here for more info on her biography, books, and appearances.

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Debra Snider | Organization and Time Management | Suit Yourself

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