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cdent WorkplaceTrust

20140227132021 cdent  

original date unsure: between 2004-2007

I think, as has been mentioned before, that we toss around the term trust too quickly. Andy's comments on this morning's standup framed the "issues" between "development" and "business" in terms of trust.

I do not know what Andy has heard from people, so it may be that trust is the right word (if it is, more on that in a moment), but it feels wrong to me. To me, trust, when speaking of human interactions--not of technology-- is a belief that the other has good intent. This imposes a certain assumption of similar definitions of "good" between the trusted and the trusting individuals but we don't want to head into that morass right now.

I think this definition is insufficient in an accomplishment or task-based environment such the workplace. The situation demands something more specific.

When we use trust to talk about communication and other troubles in the workplace we are committing a Lie™ in the name of Being Polite™. Consider that it is surely possible for someone to have trust for another, while believing them incompetent (for unspecified reasons within or without the assumed incompetent person's control).

Obviously this is not less loaded than questioning someone's trustworthiness but it perhaps allows us to address the issues with a little more clarity. Consider the following admittedly awkward example. I use B and D to represent anonymous "business" and "developer" members of our group, even though I think those terms are yet more Lies™.

trust B: I don't trust you to be able to understand the customers' needs. D: What kind of retard do you think I am? Thanks a fucking lot.

competency B: I don't think you have the experience to hear the customers' needs. D: Actually, if you look at my resume you'll see that I do. I think the problem is twofold: The customers' needs are not being communicated well and I don't have the time nor energy to devote to hearing them. B: Oh, hmmm, maybe we can do something to either slow down or get more staff.

Or going the other way.

trust D: I don't trust you to be able to understand the customers' needs. B: What kind of retard do you think I am? Thanks a fucking lot.

competency D: I don't think you have the experience to hear the customers' needs. B: Well, that may be true to some extent, but I'm what we've got at the moment and I'm overloaded. D: Maybe the company can do something about that? B: We're trying.

Much the same thing is being said, but there's a little more distance travelled, and a sense of direction.

In either case, whichever word is chosen, there's a political issue which is important to highlight: None of the developers are a founder. They were hired to do a job. If they are not trusted to do that job, why were they hired? The founders on the other hand, were not hired. The founders were given a vote of trust when the employees chose to work with them, but that interaction is similar to that of vassal to lord: it's not equitable. A vassal trusts because what other choice do they have if they want to live in this land?

We believe ourselves to be in an environment that has advanced beyond feudalism. I believe we are. In order to keep it so, we need to get past the hand waving about trust and be blunt with each other and ourselves. We need to identify shortfalls in our competencies and do what we can to improve.

If there are shortfalls in competencies we need not dither over blame. If someone needs to do binary arithmetic in their heads, it doesn't matter if Ross can't do binary arithmetic only that we identify that he can't and we get someone who can doing that role.

In sum: talking about competency helps us focus and moves us more quickly from problem to solution. Talking about trust is defocusing and enforces an atmosphere in which we cast general aspersions about people's characters rather than attempting to make our environment more effective and more enjoyable.

And finally: if the issue is really one of trust, which I doubt, then that reinforces the notion that we need more formal (think diplomacy) modes of communication between groups. We need that for other reasons (perfectly good ones that have nothing to do with trust) but one reason for having it is as a defense against mistrust.