As a counterintelligence FBI agent, people ask me how I could create trust when I lied to the targets of my undercover investigation about my identity.
In my book, Secrets of A Strong Mind, I talk about why building trust with oneself is as important as building trust with others. I only ran into trouble in undercover cases when I tried to be someone other than who I really am, beneath the surface. I never lied to the targets of my undercover investigations about the important things in life.
This is the secret: I was always authentic. A person can slap on a different name or title, but who they are as a person does not change.
Building trust was difficult when developing human intelligence sources (HUMINT)— people from the community who knew and worked with the spy I was trying to recruit. These are people I met in my true name and identity. I still could not always be as transparent as they (or I) would have liked in discussing my future plans because that information was classified.
I found these interactions to be a straddle between interrogation and conversation, never daring to cross over too far in either direction. I needed their cooperation so I tried to keep the interaction all very conversational, and yet they were meeting and doing business with a member of a hostile intelligence service. So there were times when I felt the need to dig my teeth in and—yes, interrogate.
Trust ran both ways. I trusted them not to run back to the spy and divulge every detail of my conversation with them. The spy business is not the only area that it’s hard to establish trust.
How can leaders build the truth needed for authentic conversation in an era of deceit and cynicism? It is tempting to be judgmental about what is, or is not, considered to be a lie.
The question is not whether people lie, it’s what are they lying about? Are they stretching their optimism and hoping business will turn around? Or are they creating a fabrication like Bernie Madoff? Is the CEO telling a half-truth or are they merely omitting an important piece of information?
Here are five things to keep in mind about building trust with others:
People are capable of deceiving themselves into believing any number of things—sometimes they exaggerate their own importance or abilities to impress others. Sometimes they’re too critical of their own efforts and don’t give themselves enough credit for their accomplishments.
We know what it feels like to fall into the snare of self-deception or self-limiting beliefs—with luck, only briefly. The incredible thing about self-deception is that not only are we telling a lie, but it’s ourselves we are lying to! We all have blind spots about our own performance and the better we’re able to understand them, the more empowered we will be.
2. Not all deceit is equal.
All of us have taken steps to improve ourselves in the sight of others. This is cosmetic deceit and it refers to our efforts to make ourselves look better than we are. It can be a dab of make-up to hide a blemish or the use of words to hide an imperfection in our work performance that we’d rather not broadcast to the world. I’ve used cosmetic deceit when dealing with others, such as compliments on hair, performance, or a sermon with the intention of making the other person feel better and soften the edges of an embarrassment.
I used deceit on a superficial level when working undercover counterintelligence cases. Even so, it’s impossible to develop authentic trust—this is why undercover agents are “cutout” and replaced by an FBI agent utilizing their true identity. Authentic trust is impossible to build if it is based on deception or ulterior motives. You can only move to a certain point in a relationship if it is not built around trust, so the undercover agents were moved out to bring in agents who could move the relationship to the next step.
3. Authentic trust is built when there’s a commitment to the relationship.
In the same way, authentic conversations are built when there’s a commitment to growing and deepening the relationship, not just to maintain the status quo. If the relationship is the central consideration, mutual commitments are essential to avoid concerns about manipulation or control in the conversation. A strong leader is one who is capable of building trust by creating authentic relationships regardless of title or position.
4. People assess information differently when they believe it’s true.
A few years ago, Joel and Ethan Coen produced a movie called Fargo. It tells the story of a kidnapping case that goes deadly wrong. The opening credits announced that the movie is based on a true story. Journalists could not find any reference to the crime depicted in the movie, and eventually the producers admitted that it was all fiction. The Coen brothers explained that they believed that if the movie were represented as a true story, it would have more credibility with the audience.
We enter into relationships with the same desire for honesty because experience has shown that honesty is the foundation upon which trust is built.
The Bible reminds us in the letter to the Ephesians that when we do good unto others, we are most fully ourselves:
- When you look for the good in others, they will show it to you (click to tweet).
- When you appreciate the worth in others, it’s easy for them to be their best.
- When you accept others, they show you their strengths.
- When you notice others, they feel like they belong and are special (click to tweet).
- When you need others, they feel the good in themselves.
- When you look for the beauty in others, you will discover your own best self.
- When you bring out the best in others, you make powerful friends.
- When you find the gift of others, you find reasons to believe in yourself (click to tweet).
What is trust to you? How do you build authentic trust with others? Finish this statement: Trust is…
You can follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LaRaeQuy
Read my book ““Secrets of a Strong Mind,” available now on Amazon.