Trust and Positive Neutrality by Katherine Miller

Simon Sinek writes in Start with Why:

“Only when individuals can trust the culture or organization will they take personal risks in order to advance that culture or organization as a whole. For no other reason than, in the end, it’s good for their own personal health and survival.”

“Great organizations become great because the people inside the organization feel protected. The strong sense of culture creates a sense of belonging and acts like a net. People come to work knowing that their bosses, colleagues and the organization as a whole will look out for them.”

I have been thinking about trust in the work we do.  I have been thinking about the role of trust and trustworthiness in developing positive neutrality.  When we work with parties in conflict, we lower our guard and allow ourselves to be vulnerable with them as an invitation to do the same with us.  We hold ourselves in a place of openness and invite them to do the same.  Our openness and vulnerability creates a virtual net for the daring action of the parties in conflict to let down their guard and seek connection rather than defensiveness.

I’m intrigued by the idea of positive neutrality. It means to engage with each party as fully as possible for that party.  To open oneself to both and not choose between them.  It also requires allowing them to own their conflict.  Taking responsibility for their conflict would in some ways be closing myself off to them—to what is truly going on for them.  How does this relate to trustworthiness?  It does because if I am going to take over the conflict, then I disempower each party from coming to a resolution they own—if they worry that is true then they may not trust me with the whole of their truth.  If I take over responsibility for the conflict than I will ultimately be choosing between them or engaging in some form of power dynamic with them rather than staying in the supporting role.  People may WANT me to decide so they no longer have to sit with conflict but I understand that if I do, I give up positive neutrality—and the trustworthiness that comes with it—for the role of the arbitrator and that is a very different place.  There the parties trust me to make a decision –good or bad-but they don’t trust me with themselves.