TORONTO, April 2003-"There is a growing crisis of trust in our lives and it is having enormous negative impact on the way we live," says business author and speaker Peter Urs Bender of Toronto.
"It's increasing the stress of our everyday world, and causing us to feel a sense of helplessness . Events over which we seem to have no control have us in tow.
"Every day in the media we are bombarded with stories that imply no one trusts anyone any more. When these stories are repeated and repeated, we come to doubt our ability to trust ourselves. That's the worst thing that can happen to us," he says.
Bender, known for his seminars on Leadership and Communication, emphasizes that trust isn't something you can put your finger on, or analyze using scientific formulae.
"It's a feeling, an emotion, an intuition.
"It certainly does depend on investigation and rational analysis, but in the end it means taking a leap of faith. You either trust an individual, organization, business, or government or you don't," he says.
"We can live for a time by 'suspending' our trust - until we feel we have enough information to make the judgment. But we can't do that indefinitely. It means we spend more time guarding our backs than working creatively and productively."
Bender points to business failures as a major factor in shaking the trust of individuals in the society they depend on.
"There is always a certain amount of pushing and shoving in the world of affairs, even when things are working well," he says.
"It might even be fair to say that when things are going well it's healthy for there to be a certain amount of friction between management, and unions or employee organizations. A little cynicism in daily affairs is the price of a healthy democracy.
"But recently there has been a trend for very senior managers of important corporations to work from a very stacked deck, and to keep important management information from being distributed throughout their organizations. That is a caustic that can bring down those organizations."
It's true that events can bring to the surface hidden weaknesses in businesses and other organizations, he says. But usually these can be overcome by pulling together and working hard to get through the tough times.
"But that only works if there's trust between management and employees. All too often, recently, we have seen what trust there has been betrayed by sly, even near-criminal actions of senior managers.
Bender cites as examples of the failure of trust airline bankruptcies globally, and an energy crisis in which corporate management sought to greedily profit from free market forces.
"What managements did wasn't strictly illegal. But following the 'letter of the law' and barely skirting illegality is not a very good measure of trust," he says. "We expect much more of those to whom great responsibility is given."
Can we avoid such failures in the future?
"Not really," he says.
"When it comes right down to it, trust comes from within. If senior managers can't find it within themselves, we haven't a hope they can extend it to others - or that others will extend it to them, even if they want to. Trust is a sword that cuts two ways. Once violated, it's very difficult to regain.
"The best we can do is to try to reinforce the trust that naturally exists within individuals. We know that's critical for social stability. It was Franklin Delano Roosevelt who said that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Companies should be very careful to select managers who exhibit those internal qualities of trust and leadership that will help to reinforce the organizations they lead," he says.
Bender offers three simple rules for building and maintaining trust. First, trust yourself. Second, investigate carefully before investing trust. Third, seek similarities in others to reinforce trust.
© Peter Urs Bender
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