“When trust and confidence–at both the personal and institutional levels–are high, democracy works better, the economy develops with fewer problems, interpersonal relations are easier and more straightforward, people behave more altruistically, and standards of living increase.”
-Aitor Riveiro: The costs of a skeptical society, June 21, 2011: El Pais reporting on results of several pieces of sociological research.
This may not be a surprising conclusion, but I find the idea that high levels of trust are at the core of a well functioning society to be encouraging. In my work with teaching right use of power and influence one of the four essential aspects is being in right relationship. Power often seems like a monolithic thing. Ethics often seems like a cold set of rules. However, power, as the ability to have an effect or to have influence, requires being in relationship with something to effect or influence. Ethics essentially guides us in the use of our positional power to be in right relationship. The core of right relationship is being trustworthy. Trust develops over time based on experiences of trustworthy behavior. This is relationship 101.
What people often don’t realize is that successful resolution of conflict or difficulties is a high developer of trust. When the Hippocratic Oath says, “above all, do no harm,” I don’t think this is quite enough, because we unwittingly cause harm no matter how hard we try not to. The actuality or perception of harm just goes with the territory of relationship. I would add to the oath…Do no harm and above all, recognize and repair harm and promote well-being for all. There are many causes of unwitting harm: impact being different from intention, cultural differences, projection, misunderstanding, naivety…Better than pretending that you never have a harmful effect, is to track for and resolve difficulties as they emerge. Successful resolution and repair actually increases trust. Clients who have successfully repaired a relationship issue with their therapists have not less, but more trust in their therapists and more satisfaction from their completed therapy process.
Here’s an example: My client came in for her first session. The session seemed to go well and at the end I suggested some “homework” as I often do to help clients integrate or gather more information about an issue that we worked on. Uncharacteristically, a bit of journaling seemed like it might be helpful for her. The next week she came for her appointment speaking in a loud, angry voice, almost before sitting down:
“I almost didn’t come back! You’re just like all the rest. You didn’t connect with me personally. You just have a formula that substitutes for personal attention. They all do it…assign journaling. I HATE, HATE journaling! Do you get it?”
I took a deep breath, looked at her and said, “Well, I guess I just learned something about you….you hate journaling. I’ll certainly never suggest that again!”
She looked surprised and taken off guard. Then she began to laugh and we both laughed for a time. “You have really strong feelings about this!”
“Well, may I tell you something else I learned about you? (nods) It’s very important to you that I make a personal connection with you. You don’t want to be treated with a formula.”
“Yes, it is. I thought that after I told you all that, you would reject me as a client.”
“Actually, your courage in telling me, let’s me know that we could work well together…collaborating. It’s very important to me that you tell me your experience even or especially if you think it might not be what I want to hear.”
This was the start of the most successful therapeutic relationship she had had. Often raw, always real. I am grateful for her courage.
As in society in general, in therapeutic relationships, “trust and confidence are factors that create a virtuous circle…they reduce negotiation costs and timetables, facilitate communication, and generally speed up transactions.” (Mariana Szmulewicz: European Mindset report, 2009). By not becoming defensive or shutting down in response to conflict or difficulties, trust is increased, communication is improved, and the time needed for healing decreases. Unfortunately, we’re more likely to notice the relationships that are conflicted or stuck. Take time to look for and acknowledge the virtuous circles in your relationships. Trust increases trust.
© Copyright 2011 by Cedar Barstow. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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