A successful and respected senior agency professional once said, much to the discomfort of (at least) the young crop assembled in the room: ‘I don’t trust anyone completely. Trust can only be invested with reference to context’. The implication was that we need to address the issue of whether to trust someone on a case-to-case basis. The statement was not completely agreeable to some of us. The truth in what was said from experience, by a professional who had seen more of work life than all of us youngsters put together back then, was lost on us. But then, we were naive. Some of us, I am sure, would react quite differently to such a statement today.
From that day, I think of the underpinning of that thought when confronted with breach of trust, or potential breach of trust - in situations where one intuitively feels that one’s trust is being misplaced. And the thing about trust is... it seems to diminish with years on the job.
Exceptions exist on the personal front, where the reverse happens and mutual trust grows with time. I wonder if even that would remain true if one did not have the unchangeable roots of parentage. Or for that matter, the old fashioned ‘ever after’ relationships. The enemy of trust is anything and anyone engaged in something for short-term gain - the opportunistic and the transactional, masquerading as something else. Over time, on the professional front too, trust does grow. But do we have the time to invest in it?
Being unable to trust a partner or associate in a professional relationship, be it client, agency, media house or anything else, on an intangible element called intent, can be killing. It gets worse if the mistrust breeds within organisations. Some say lack of communication breeds mistrust. It would perhaps be appropriate to borrow from William Blake’s work, The Poison Tree:
‘I was angry with my friend; I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe: I told it not, my wrath did grow.”
With tears and fears and smiles and wiles grew Blake’s fruit of the poison tree. To borrow from an example closer home, one of Airtel’s writers once penned, ‘Barriers break when people talk’.
Talking helps. But even sitting down for meetings on the trot is hardly the solution. No one has time to harness the real intent of the other, and in an environment of mistrust one assumes the worst irrespective of what one says or hears. If time is supposed to heal and build bridges and trust, it takes both sides to come to either end of that bridge and will it to happen. Along the way, for the joint will to work its magic, they need to stay bonded with evidence of intent strengthening their resolve even if in small doses.
Save a few who truly value the value of a relationship built on trust - and going the extra mile to live up to someone’s trust - the ‘professional’ world we inhabit has lost its glory. It is perhaps a good time to start anew. If one wishes to, the opportunity is ripe to start cultivating sincere and meaningful relationships because of the trust deficit all around. If there was a time for like-minded and frustrated simpletons to come together and say it like it is, it is now. And while doing so, one will do well to see through the Macbethian witches crossing their paths, either in the flesh or on social media and the like. This is also a time to define the transactional as transactional, and do justice to professional relationships that have a deeper rooting.
I wish for a return to that innocence, when one does not have to wade through half truths and white lies to find the real intent that lurks somewhere behind. I wish I could be naive and trusting again. The first step to that, I am told, is to start trusting what feels right from the gut, be willing to be taken for a ride, and enjoy it if and when it happens.
Gokul Krishnamurthy, editor, Campaign India
The article appeared in the issue of Campaign India dated 4 October, 2013