Building trust doesn’t work the way you think it does

Building trust doesn’t work the way you think it does

In this interview, Wharton psychologist Adam Grant explores how effective leaders use vulnerability with Daniel Coyle, author of The Culture Code.

Grant: A huge theme in [The Culture Code] is trust. I’ve always thought about trust as the willingness to be vulnerable and take a risk together, but you convinced me that I had it backward. I always thought, “Once we trust each other, then I can go out on a limb, because I don’t have to worry about you harming me or taking advantage of me or letting me down.” You said, “Actually, you take risks together first, and that’s how you build trust.” How does that work?

Coyle: It goes back to how we’re wired. There’s something called “the vulnerability loop” that happens when two people are vulnerable together. I started to see this at the places I was visiting.

One of the places I saw it first was with Ed Catmull, the president and cofounder of Pixar. We’re walking around Pixar’s new Brooklyn Studio, and it’s a $20 million building, the coolest building I’ve ever been in. I say to Ed, “This building is really cool!” He goes, “Actually, this building was a huge mistake—the hallways are too narrow, the atrium is too small, the cafeteria is in the wrong place. But the real mistake we made was that we didn’t realize we were making a mistake.” [There was] this moment of total candor and openness, and he does this all the time.

Then I would go to the [Navy] SEALs, and the commanders there are doing the same thing. They’re saying, “The most important words a leader can say are, ‘I screwed that up.’” It’s not that we’re going to slowly build trust and then have the willingness to be vulnerable—it’s actually this exchange of vulnerability between two people that creates that closeness.

If we had a big earthquake, if the walls were to cave in on us and we had to fight for our lives, you and I would be bonded even more than we are because of that experience. It’s not because we built it. It’s because we experienced a crisis together. We have candor. We show weakness. That’s what creates group strength.

Source: The process of building trust works in the opposite way that you think it does

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