Joel Peterson says he lacks the paranoia gene. The chairman of JetBlue Airways naturally trusts other people. And he believes that has led to his success.
“It works, most of the time. Not only do people accomplish more in a collaborative spirit when seeking win-win outcomes than when setting up the paraphernalia of paranoia, but they’re simply much happier when dealing in a world of harmony and co-operation,” he writes in The 10 Laws of Trust.
But trust can be betrayed. When that happens, he says it can cripple organizations and destroy lives. That happens enough that we need to know how to avoid betrayal and overcome the devastation it causes.
He says placing trust in somebody who suffers from one of the following three unmet needs can be risky: A desperate need for security, a need to win at all costs, or a general malaise. Most betrayals are a joint venture, assisted by a failure to trust wisely in the first place or a willful blindness to something that is not right.
“The first time you’re betrayed, you can’t imagine having been used by someone you trusted. At first, you hope it isn’t so. Then you try to understand why and how you were duped. Finally, you accept – if you’re honest with yourself – that you helped create the circumstances that led to the betrayal,” he notes.
He says it helps to acknowledge some realities. First, betrayal at some point is likely. Given that, you must be vigilant. Also: Betrayal stings. Breaches of fiduciary trust feel worse than breaches of contract because we are being duped by somebody we trust. “We turned over our trust to them, and they violated it. Even worse, somewhere in the deep recesses of our consciousness we fear that the betrayal was made possible by a suspension of caution on our part,” he writes.
Reconciliation is difficult. Both parties must squarely face the breach of trust and agree to put it behind them. While the blame lies with the betrayer, the first step to recovery is to admit your own role. At the same time, recognize it’s likely you are not alone and others have been duped.
The seriousness of the breach will matter – in some cases you just need to clear up a misunderstanding but in others the options are more limited and difficult because of the severity of the betrayal. “Fix quickly what can be fixed,” he advises. “When a betrayal can be explained as a one-off stumble, perhaps born of extenuating circumstances, it may well be worth giving the betrayer another chance.”
The steps toward restoration are demanding. Be realistic about the potential. Forgive, moving on unburdened by the weight of treachery. Don’t consider trying to get even. “Vengeance is rarely sweet. The downside of retribution is that it leads to self-absorption. A far more productive process is engaging in mourning the loss – after which there’s an opportunity to think through what happened and try to correct flaws,” he says.
If restoration is possible, construct it carefully. For it to happen there must be a genuine recognition on the part of the betrayer of the breach and damage caused; an earnest apology that acknowledges the violation of trust, without rationalization, and a willingness to fix things.
If an apology is given, accept it if the right conditions are in place, namely contrition and a relationship worth resuming. You’ll probably know contrition when you see it, he says. If the relationship is worth picking up, accept the apology and embrace the future.
“Trust is worth the risk,” he concludes. “But it is not without peril. People are human. Temptations abound. Trust can take a beating.”
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