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Building Trust in an Untrusting World

Updated: Sep 8, 2022

When Daniel Goleman wrote about the relationship of emotions and behavior over twenty years ago, references to Emotional Intelligence were not all that common. Today, it’s hard to overlook the articles and books that describe one aspect or another of leadership through the lens of neuroscience. Despite all the breakthroughs in science and our understanding of leadership practices, actual behavior remains a challenge. Where’s the progress? The words published by Goleman in 1995 seem a bit ominous. Goleman emphasized the importance of right behavior by reaching back to the ethical writings of Aristotle.

“As Aristotle saw, the problem is not with emotionality, but with the appropriateness of emotion and its expression. The question is, how can we bring intelligence to our emotions – and civility to our streets and caring to our communal life?” Daniel Goleman Indeed, how can we? As I reflect on my personal journey with emotional intelligence, it’s hard to believe a couple of decades have come and gone since I first became intrigued by the profound implications. Goleman’s work captured my attention from the outset. At the beginning of the first chapter he provided a compelling historical backdrop to the issue. Three hundred years before Christ, Aristotle was presenting a simple truth that anyone can become angry, but to deal with that anger in an intelligent way is anything but easy. In my own theological education, I marveled that three centuries after Aristotle, James wrote a letter that is included in the biblical canon. His words resonated with Aristotle’s challenge. According to James, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James and Aristotle agree on a couple of points. First, there is a need. Second, it’s one thing to recognize the need and quite another to make the change. It’s not easy! Perhaps you have wrestled with the challenge. Maybe you are pondering the relevance of emotional intelligence in your current situation. If it’s so difficult, why bother? Is it worth it? When it comes to the translation of emotional intelligence into bottom line results, there are skeptics who ask legitimate questions that need exploration. Many argue for the benefits while others cast a doubtful eye. Sometimes the questions are simple. If it’s so difficult to develop emotional intelligence, is it worth the angst, time and energy? Rather than choosing to maintain a singular focus on the bottom line or the costs, it’s beneficial to look toward a different type of outcome. If you improve your emotional intelligence, will it benefit the people around you? If you could develop a better version of “you” would your leadership team benefit? Would your family benefit? Would you have more peace of mind? Would it enrich your legacy?

“In the end it’s not about how much you won, people talk about how much you did for others.” Mickie DeMoss, speaking at Coach Pat Summit’s Memorial Service InitiativeOne Founder and CEO, Fred Johnson paints a compelling picture of the benefits of Emotional Intelligence. In particular, Johnson provides a clear and practical message about how emotionally intelligent leaders transform difficult situations into occasions for significant personal and professional breakthroughs. Emotional intelligent leaders shine brightest in times of great difficulty. According to Johnson, “Conflict situations provide leaders with the best opportunities to build deep trust and develop others.” Are you prepared to make the most of those opportunities?

“Conflict situations provide leaders with the best opportunities to build deep trust and develop others.” Fred Johnson It’s worth it. Here’s how it works. Emotionally intelligent leaders provide a thoughtful and appropriate response to conflict rather than an emotionally charged reaction. When that response is delivered in a respectful manner, you convey two powerful messages about trust. If I demonstrate that you can trust me in this situation, you can trust me all the time. If I demonstrate that I will empathize with you in a conflict situation and that I am willing to process information before I react, you can trust that I care about others and not just my own point of view. Trust is the currency of leadership. The power of these two messages is intensified due to scarcity. After years of observation in the field of leadership, it’s clear that the “fight or flight” method of conflict resolution is alive and well. Too many leaders retreat from discomfort. Far too leaders view every conflict as a competition and opportunity for personal victory at any cost. As a result, many young leaders have not enjoyed the benefits of good role models when it comes to emotionally intelligent responses to conflict. The scarcity of mentors multiplies the potential for emotionally intelligent leaders to develop others through constructive responses to conflict situations. Trust thrives when you rise above the noise and align your words and actions with two principles. Healthy leaders can and should develop the capacity to create a positive conflict culture. Healthy leaders can and should embrace constructive conflict as a catalyst for conversations and collaboration that will foster understanding and growth.


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