Control vs Trust

I recently have been asked to sign an agreement contract for a speaker's assignment later this year. Nothing special, you’d say, but it really made me think.

First of all this contract was a twenty-six pages document full of legal formulas and wordings I hardly understood. It was a hell of a job to struggle myself through this ‘book’ while I was asking myself ‘why, oh why do people even want to work this way?’

Secondly, if I have to be honest, I am not used to this kind of approach and collaboration. In my entire career as an international public speaker I have never worked with contracts. Never pulled out a pen out of my suitcase to sign any kind of paper whatsoever. I truly like to work and collaborate on a basis of trust and loyalty. And except for that one time in Dubai, where I never saw my payment, this way of collaborating has always worked out very well in the previous 17 years.

So why is it apparently still so difficult for some companies and/or managers to work and collaborate with others through trust-based relationships and agreements?

While lots of companies often say they trust their employees, it’s kind of hard to do this in a society where malleability, control, prevention and distrust reign supreme.

Where you often hear the phrase ‘Trust is good, but control is better’.

Especially during the Covid pandemic we were all ‘forced’ to trust (or at least try to) our colleagues and employees, as all of a sudden we were stuck at home behind our screen, doing what we needed to do without that much continuous control. The trust-factor became an even bigger and more important issue for a lot of companies, managers and teamleaders.

“Not because people are evil”, Robert Hurley writes in his book ‘The decision to trust’, “but because they are often self-centered. We’ve all known a manager whom employees don’t trust because they don’t believe he will fight for them. In other words, he has never demonstrated a greater concern for others’ interests than for his own. The manager who demonstrates benevolent concern—who shows his employees that he will put himself at risk for them—engenders not only trust but also loyalty and commitment.”

And I cannot agree more on this.

In one of our Tribe Events on “how to keep your remote teams strongly engaged”, trust came out of the discussions as one of the basic key-factors to keep your team on board.

And as trust is a relational concept, the most critical condition here was very clear and engaged communication.

And that’s not surprising, as open and honest communication tends to support the decision to trust, whereas poor (or no) communication creates suspicion. Many organizations fall into a downward spiral: Miscommunication causes employees to feel betrayed, which leads to a greater breakdown in communication and, eventually, outright distrust.

In this way, trust is a measure of the quality of a relationship. And it has become my personal measure when working with other people and other organizations. There needs to be trust. There needs to be a good relationship. And it worked out fine for me.

It still works out fine.

No need to put it down into a twenty-six pages contract.

Control is good, but trust is better?