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‘Trust is in short supply’

World leaders at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow have promised to end and reverse deforestation by 2030. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is hosting the global meeting in Glasgow, said “more leaders than ever before” – a total of 110 – had made the “landmark” commitment. “We have to stop the devastating loss of our forests,” he said – and “end the role of humanity as nature’s conqueror, and instead become nature’s custodian”.

Such commitments had been made in a previous deal in 2014 but were not upheld and there was no decrease in deforestations.

The two-week summit in Glasgow is seen as crucial but the real challenge our leaders face is the issue of trusting one another, as UN Secretary General António Guterres emphasised.

“Today, trust is in short supply. If we want real success, and not just a mirage, we need more ambition and more action … And that requires trust.”

World leaders stopped trusting each other and so it followed, many reneged on their commitments. To maintain trust, all the leaders have to be fully committed to the cause, to the planet. Without this commitment, there is no security in trusting. And so, it goes, the more we commit the more we trust, the more we trust the more we commit.

We see this pattern in the workplace; when team members don’t trust their employers, they don’t take risks, their commitment becomes tenuous and superficial and they, too, themselves, become untrustworthy. Because if someone can’t trust you, it follows you can’t trust them. We see it too in intimate relationships, where couples either separate or live without real intimacy, that trust and commitment have disintegrated.

Essentially, trust is the confidence both parties in the relationship have that the other party won’t do something harmful or risky; and commitment involves a long-term desire to maintain a valued partnership.

Most of us will have experienced trust issues to a certain degree. Loss of trust is one of the most harmful contagions in any relationship and one of the most common reasons we fail to see eye-to-eye with our partners. Commonly, when an intimate relationship is broken down, one of the first issues couples will report is a loss of trust.

As soon as trust is perceived as lost, the parties will each retreat out of commitment as well as imagining that they are at threat. When we feel at threat, we tend to operate from a survival perspective, which is a state of mind that looks like this:

We are full of fear and, as our brain releases stress hormones, our creativity and desire for relationships are inhibited. We are in hyperalert and on the lookout for threats. We go into this state unconsciously. We know it as the ‘fight or flight’ state. The brain takes us into this state because it senses danger, and it will adapt ways of thinking and behaviours to keep us safe or to build a psychological fortress around us. We can only think catastrophically and negatively.

Conflict escalates when we think we are at threat. Think back to the turbulent relationship between Trump and Jong! Since neither party trusts the other, they become increasingly defensive and assume the worst about each other.

The longer partners go without trust, the more they start behaving like they are at war with each other, rather than like they are lovers. Essentially, all conflictual conversations are about trust and commitment as, beneath the surface, when we say things like “you don´t love me, you don’t listen, I can’t trust you, you are so mean to me, you prioritise work over me”, we are really asking:

▪ Can I trust you to remain faithful? ▪ Will you love me unconditionally, accept my flaws, and seek to understand me? ▪ Am I important to you? ▪ Will you be there for me when I need you?

When we perceive we are in a trusting and committed relationship, we will enter into the free brain state, which looks like this:

In the free brain state, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin are all released, which all induce happiness and calmness. These states enable innovation, creative thinking, and dreams. In this state, we look for opportunities to experiment, solve problems, to connect and to learn.

How then can we engender trust and commitment if they lead to this feeling of happiness? What advice can we take to deepen our intimacy, to give to employers at work to keep their teams feeling secure and to our world leaders who are making commitments to change the world state right now?

1. Work towards resolution and connection See the conflict as an opportunity for learning more about one another and not as a personal threat. Move out of attack or defence mode and move into team mode. Don’t look to ‘conquer’ or to win. Look to be a ‘custodian’ of your relationship. Stay focused on WIN-WIN – when I win, you win; when you win, I win; we always win.

2. Talk about the past where there was hurt and mistakes made Pain from the past needs to be discussed, forgiven and addressed, and a commitment to change becomes possible.

3. Reach out to connect and connect when your partner is reaching out Take initiative to have conversations and notice when your partner is doing this. Allow your partner to have a different perspective.

4. Deep empathy Show genuine curiosity for others’ reality. Empathise with emotions you don’t share. Truly listen and be present. Celebrate your partner´s wins and commiserate with their struggles.

5. Be emotionally available Stay open to your partner even when you feel insecure. Show vulnerability and be human. This includes learning to work with and manage your emotions, so they don’t overwhelm you and cause you to attack or withdraw.

6. Do what you say and say what you do to build reliability Trust is built when we walk the talk and talk the walk!

7. Take responsibility Be prepared to apologise and fix often. Understand and identify where you have acted against the relationship and own it. It’s impossible to trust someone who doesn’t take responsibility for their actions.

8. Don’t attack below the belt Building trust is protecting what your partner has shared with you and not using it against them, even when you’re upset.

9. Be prepared to show your vulnerabilities and ask for support This means expressing wants and needs openly.

10. Create a vision for a happy future Together develop a vision for your relationship, because if you know where you are going, what you are hoping for, or if you establish your dreams, you can start heading out in that direction.

It’s clear that any happy and long-lasting relationship is built on a rock-solid foundation of trust and commitment.

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