CONTRIBUTOR / Col. John A. O’Grady
MILITARY FELLOW, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY PROGRAM
CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES / Government
“Trust” is a word often used in the military, but what does it actually mean? Col. O’Grady broke down the “trust equation” into six parts: honesty, reliability, dependability, competence, communication, and genuine care. In a crisis, knowing these six components can help isolate which ones are key to resolving the situation. In Afghanistan, for example, it helped O’Grady work through an incident involving a provincial governor, in which they repaired relations with the governor’s constituents by considering the multiple elements of trust.
In the organization in which I am in, the word trust gets thrown around a lot. And in that regard I started to find myself getting very frustrated by constantly getting hit with the word trust and then no one really then explaining what that meant.
We decided to unpack trust and really think about what that meant to us as a group, and it did a couple of things. It raised a level of awareness and it provided a common framework from which we could all then understand trust.
So the trust equation is really just that, it’s a word equation. So trust equals integrity or honesty plus reliability or dependability, plus competence, plus communication, plus genuine care.
So in crisis management, the trust principles are a great tool to first analyze what areas of trust have been most affected. And then it allows you to – once you’ve done that – apply individual and organizational energy most effectively at those areas first to start to re-establish trust.
BUMPER: Theory to Practice: Principles of Trust in a Crisis Situation
So there was a pretty critical moment in Afghanistan where the local governor of the province that I was in did not show up at an event that had a lot of work leading up to it to even bring to fruition. Multiple constituencies were attending this event and it was going to be a formal acknowledgement of a deal to bring on local militia. Everybody is there and the governor does not show up. The whole thing pretty much falls apart along with all the work that had gone to bring us to that moment.
In my next meeting with him a week later I said, “Hey look, by not showing up, your integrity…people think you’re a liar now. You weren’t reliable on being where you said you were going to be.” In talking to him about that he was concerned because ultimately his driver went the wrong way and he was in the back of the car not really paying attention. Communications aren’t good and so we had no way to just pick up the phone and be like, “Hey, we’re going to be a half-hour late” type of thing. And so everybody left, he never showed up and that was really the reason, and he was ashamed a little bit because he thought his competence and that of his driver would come into question. And he’s the governor; he’s supposed to know where everything is. What do you mean you don’t know how to get to a town in your province? It’s not that uncommon in that area. It’s not easy.
BUMPER: Establishing Trust Through Honesty and Genuine Care
So we used that to frame that discussion and then what I was able to do to present to him a way forward was bring again into light the kind of equation, and say, well I understand your concern that your competence is called into question, but by not addressing this and just taking it kind of in one area of competence which is really not as big a deal as maybe you think it is, we’re affecting the integrity, genuine care, dependability, reliability. So you have a choice here.
So in that situation with the governor it was also an opportunity for both he and I to use parts of that trust equation as well and demonstrate to each other that we were willing to be honest with each other. He didn’t have to share with me that bit about the competency. You know I could demonstrate to him that, hey, I genuinely care about what’s going on here, man. I genuinely care about how you’re viewed.
We ultimately ended up establishing trust with each other and moving the trust peg in the right way using those different components of the equation.
The net result was then to take this meeting that had completely collapsed and a month or two later re-establish that meeting and bring to fruition the security forces in that area that had a very positive effect in a local…a very localized way. So it was a win, really, in a number of different areas with a number of different constituencies starting with me to him, and then larger [win for] us [and] the populous through the security forces.