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  • John R. Durant

Trust Fall Fails: Will We Get Fooled Again?

You are in the driver’s seat of your life, both its professional and personal dimensions. Start today using these three simple techniques, and enjoy the fruits of making better decisions.

Videos of “trust fall fails” on Youtube have millions of views. Yet, even though nearly everyone has seen one or is aware of these fails, each year more people fall prey to this ill-conceived team-building activity. More broadly, we’ve all felt the consequences of misplaced trust in both our professional and personal lives. Can we learn from these failures or instead end up like Charlie Brown, constantly taken in by Lucy’s empty promises that she won’t move the ball? I’m going to share three simple techniques you can employ today to get better outcomes.

Polaris Inc, manufacturer of ATVs and snowmobiles helps prove company culture is action
We can and should prevent more avoidable failures

Trust: character & competence

Steven M. R. Covey explains in The Speed of Trust that trust between people is chiefly based on two things: character and competence. To fully trust someone, you need to have confidence in their character (integrity, honesty, charity, etc.) and their competence in performing some skill. For example, your grandparents may be people of great character, but they probably shouldn’t do your hip replacement surgery. On the other hand, the best performer on your sales team may exceed sales goals but could also have serious character flaws that prevent you from giving full trust.

So why do people repeatedly crash to the floor in a “trust fall fail” when they know that some of the people on the team are too weak to catch a cold?

The underlying behavioral question applies to more than trust falls. For example, after your coworker took all the credit for an idea that was yours, why did you allow it to happen a second time? Why do you trust the work estimates of a team that has never been close to completing their work on time? Why do you trust the word of a boss who pledged to give you a raise but then neglected to do so and never bothered explaining why? Why do you keep sharing information with someone who has repeatedly betrayed your confidence? The list of potential examples is endless, and all of us have fallen into some version of these traps.

What to do?

It’s no secret that we are complex creatures. Each year, experts in psychology, physiology, sociology, economics, and other fields add to our collective understanding of why we do what we do. But do we need to comprehend all of that in order to start making better decisions about trust today? No. Though there are many quite accessible books about cognitive and behavior psychology, behavioral economics, etc., let me offer a little practical advice that you can employ right now to work smarter and fail less.

Observe for yourself

Do not merely take the word of other people or slick presentations. You should get very comfortable saying “Please show me” to others. Dig into the details. Get into the weeds. Go hands-on.

Identify bias

There are many types of biases such as authority bias, confirmation bias, the Dunning-Kruger effect, and more. Learn what they are and how to identify them. Then, look for them in the situations you confront. Be deliberate about it. Write down what you see.

Find patterns

Look for patterns in the behavior of individuals, groups, and yourself. When are you or others suddenly on autopilot? Ask yourself why. Be brutally honest about the patterns and habits you find. If they regularly lead to disappointing outcomes, create a change plan, and then get to it!

The Who famously sang, “We won’t get fooled again!” Yet, too often, we still allow ourselves to be tricked. But you don’t have to! Don’t wait for the new year to make a resolution to not fall for the same traps that have tripped you up before. You are in the driver’s seat of your life, both its professional and personal dimensions. Start today using these three simple techniques (observing for yourself, identifying bias, and finding behavior patterns) and enjoy the fruits of making better decisions.


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