Can trust also function unilaterally?
Only if one doesn’t realise that it’s one-sided. After all, trust stands or falls on perceived reciprocity. Those who trust another person assume that they, themselves, are equally trusted. It’s like being in love: if people love and are convinced that their love is reciprocated, this reinforces the relationship. In our culture, reciprocity is an important social norm. For example, it’s not without reason that we invite to our birthday party those who have previously invited us to theirs. If we suddenly catch signs that our trusting ways are not being reciprocated, we experience this as a breach of trust. Consequently, our own trust in that person will wane.
Why for most people is sexual fidelity the touchstone for trust in a love relationship?
Because most people consider the sex dimension to be the essential line of demarcation between a love relationship and just any other interpersonal relationship. For instance, in the doctor-patient relationship, professional competence plays a crucial role in trust. In many other cases, the “fidelity” aspect is completely insignificant.
You’re also a psychological consultant to management. What advice do you have for managers who are working to create a trustworthy image?
Winning the trust of others shouldn’t be the primary goal; first, you need to personify it. Then it will inevitably radiate, and not just be perceived as a strategic marketing ploy. Accordingly, companies need to understand that, in and of itself, trust is an important resource both internally and externally; companies must strive to engender a culture of trust. For that reason, a compelling question right at the start of development measures frequently centres on how the company’s postulated guiding principles and corporate philosophy compare to the “actual” daily life within the company.
Most corporate captains probably don’t like to hear that, do they?
It’s ultimately a question of management’s fundamental attitude. But especially in view of today’s complex challenges and need for innovation, organisations are increasingly willing to take the risk of trust.
“Winning the trust of others shouldn’t be the primary goal; first, you need to personify it.”
That one commits to participation and transparency and ultimately also to bearing any consequences. If, for example, in a family-owned company it ultimately boils down to the patron taking every decision on his own, basic impact factors can’t gain traction in building trust; rather, they merely provoke disappointment and frustration. In my opinion, highly paid managers who are not interested in fostering a culture of trust within their own company are today no longer tenable in their positions.
You also look after athletes. Where are the sticking points?
Many people assume that top athletes have a high degree of self-confidence – but they often do not.
Why not? They get a lot of positive reinforcement from their success.
There’s a huge difference between conditional and unconditional appreciation. Top athletes are people who have defined themselves through their performance since their early youth and today are defined from outside. Through this form of conditional appreciation, they learn how important it is to be continuously successful. Hence, the fear of failure can increase considerably. Conditional appreciation is not negative per se, but there also needs to be the experience that you’re valued regardless of your performance, for example by family or very good friends.
You speak of the “soccer mom” or “tennis dad” phenomenon – in other words, drill sergeants, right?
Not necessarily. Frequently, these are very subtle and unintended processes. Take for example the behaviour of parents after their own child has had a tournament success – or has failed. The howls of let-down speak for themselves, although in the vast majority of cases, these parents have no wish to punish their children by their expression of disappointment.
How does an athlete get out of such a blue funk?
The first step is to sensitise the person to these psychological processes, combined with the realisation why possible failures are so frightening. Ideally, this should be combined with constructive collaboration with the parents and trainers.