I’m working on articulating a relationship theory I have called the “trust threshold.” The trust threshold is the point at which one’s trust in another is greater than their skepticism and a person lets go of doubts and fears and is willing to work together despite challenges and setbacks. Allow me to explain with an example.
Joan, a parent of a student in Grade Seven, had negative school experiences herself. Her son has a learning disability and she has never felt he received the kind of instruction and support in school that he really needed. She approaches the upcoming school year with skepticism and doubt about whether this year’s teacher will be any different. To start the school year Joan is negative about homework, notes from the teacher, and stories from her child about the school day. Over time, however, she sees positive results in her child’s attitude towards school and academic achievement. Joan’s receptiveness towards the teacher and the school starts to change and she opens up to the same feedback she was receiving to start the year. Occasionally there is critical feedback on student work or bad news from the teacher, but now that Joan has crossed the “trust threshold”, she sees these pieces of information in a new light. She trusts the teacher more than she doubts him, and all feedback is accepted in a constructive light.
This scenario plays itself out in all areas of life including parenting, police/community relations, politics, church communities, even marriage. Once we cross the trust threshold we can be more open, more creative, and more accepting of new and different ideas. The important question is, how do we get across the trust threshold when often so much bad has happened that prevents us from doing so?
I believe the first step is listening with humility. Usually in a relationship that lacks trust at least one side has been burned in the past and has their defences up. In a school setting when encountering an upset parent, it would be easy for me as a Principal to think to myself, “Oh boy. Here comes another angry parent! These people drive me crazy!” If that is my thought going into a conversation, I will not have the humility to really listen to what these people have to say and let down my defenses. To build trust, at least one side has to let down their defenses and be humble enough to listen. Even if the claims or demands of the other side seem unreasonable, they are very real and reasonable to them and based on experiences and emotions they really feel. Listening with humility opens the door to trust.
The second step is building off of small successes. We need to celebrate successes so we can join together in seeing that our efforts are making a difference. If we only focus on negatives it will be difficult to cross the trust threshold. When I say small successes I really mean it. Even being able to look each other in the eye and greet one another kindly can be a start in some circumstances. In other instances, living up to an agreed upon commitment may be an example of success. Eventually we can look at results for successes, but if we do so too early we may see more negative than positive and move in the wrong direction. Building a relationship of trust starts with the small things.
Once the trust threshold has been crossed, one can allow for mistakes and failures and they will not set us back too far. We know that the other person is listening with humility. We have experienced success together. When setbacks do occur, they can be seen in the bigger picture of past success.
What will this look like in real life? Once the police have crossed the threshold with their community, young people will not feel scared when approached. Once a politician has crossed the trust threshold he or she can propose a policy without a revolt from his constituents. Once a parent has crossed the threshold with their child’s teacher, they will not dread getting a note or email from the school. Once a principal has crossed the threshold in his school community he doesn’t avoid certain people or situations.
It is my sincere belief that one of the most important reasons for the success and growth of Cloverdale Catholic School is that a great deal of our community has crossed the trust threshold with each other. A great many of our students, parents and staff relate exceptionally well to one another and there is an overall atmosphere of trust. If you feel like that’s not the case for you, please do stop by to talk in person as I’d love to hear from you and for us to make a fresh start.