Susan Perkins came from a very humble beginning in life. Neither parent had a job that was permanent. Her family couldn’t afford to provide her with what other girls found to be necessary. She was plain looking and very shy. Despite her lack of limited resources and shy personality, she was probably the most popular student throughout her time in school.
The secret to her popularity was a genuine curiosity about others. She just had the ability to get others to open up to her. She really listened and asked the questions that mattered. Others trusted her and revealed their true selves to Susan. While Susan rarely spoke about herself, when she did it was used to make connections with the person she was talking to.
Susan was able to earn a college degree through scholarships. It was an incident on campus that led to Susan’s life purpose. Funding cuts were tearing the university apart. Several programs were threatened. Susan’s advisor was asked to be the facilitator to work through the funding crisis. Susan was hired to help him.
What Susan did was to meet with each of the stakeholders in the funding cutbacks. She was asked to develop perspectives from each of them. Without much guidance, Susan reverted to her school days. She asked questions of each person she met to get to know them, especially their values. When possible, she developed personal connections. She was surprised by how open they were to her, just as her high school classmates had been.
When the team met to work through the funding crisis, the room was tense, and posturing became the default mode. Suddenly her advisor became ill and asked Susan if she could continue the meeting. He said to her quietly: “Just let them continue to work through their talking points. I don’t expect that much will get done today.”
When Susan resumed the meeting, the tensions seemed to erode. She asked questions which focused on her own curiosity. And they answered openly without defensiveness. The trust she had gained with each of them set the tone. But she was also able to suggest connections she had gained from their conversations. What resulted was a common understanding and a willingness to move forward based on respect, not combativeness. Her advisor later removed himself as a facilitator seeing how successful Susan was.
It didn’t take long for Susan to become sought after as someone could help work through conflict situations. She never thought of herself as a facilitator or mediator. When asked about what she should be called, she said: “I think of myself as a trust builder.”
Developing trust is essential in many aspects of our lives. It is especially important when working through conflicts. The basis of all trust begins with a genuine curiosity about others, real listening to understand them as individuals, and sharing connections that help form trust bonds.
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“Trust is the one thing that affects everything else you’re doing. It’s a performance multiplier which takes your trajectory upwards, for every activity you engage in, from strategy to execution.” – Stephen Covey