Losing trust and getting it back—always a hard process—has become that much harder because of how we have changed socially in reaction to the presence of our new digital communication tools.
Credibility used to come from the work you performed, and from showing up every day, like clockwork. In the world of work, our workplaces, and in the world of communication, when everyone can show up, credibility is lost when consistency is abandoned. Just look at the world of lifestyle coaching, blogging, podcasting, and even the early days of adoption of streaming video platforms such as Meerkat, Periscope, and Blab. Credibility used to be built by sticking around after the “newness” of something wore off. Now, in the constant, impatient chase to pursue the new, credibility takes a hit.
Transparency used to not even be a consideration in public communication. The public was happy not knowing the details of the lives of those considered to be “famous.” Affairs, cheating, fraud, abuse, addiction, moral failings: all of these used to be fodder for the arena occupied by scandal rags, “yellow” journalism, and gossip columnists—and dismissed, or viewed as scandalous in and off themselves, by “decent” people. But now, all of that has gone mainstream. And while there are a few people still around who value the old ethic of the personal and the private not being public, many individuals choose to transparently video stream, Tweet, Facebook update, and otherwise expose their reality to the world. We are arcing over to a time when how much you have been transparent matters more than what you have been transparent about. A place where the act of participating matters more for your credibility than the content you are sharing.
Authenticity used to be about the soundness of moral (or ethical) character, in the face of tough decisions no matter their impact. Sayings such as “He (or she) is bona fide” speak to the idea that being authentic was once about character—which no longer often gets commented on. This is not to say that character no longer counts, but the shared moral and ethical framework that undergirded much of societal cueing about who had character—and who didn’t—has gradually eroded away. Now the way we determine authenticity has become individualized, rather than corporately shared, and authenticity is simultaneously about ourselves (“I need to be free to be who I genuinely am”) and about negating a previously publicly shared moral and ethical framework (“Don’t judge me”).
Establishing, building, and maintaining trust in an environment of tools that reward impatience and a lack of focus, where the act of being transparent matters more than what we are being transparent about, and where authenticity has become personal rather than shared, has become infinitely more difficult.
But not impossible.
The way out of all of this is to hearken back to some older truths:
Credibility is about commitment and consistency, rather than about the shiny, the new, or the tool. Judgement about credibility should come from looking at a track record, rather than a snapshot, moment-in-time event.
Transparency has to revert back to being a sacred part of a two-way relationship, rather than either a selfish one-way act (“I broadcast to you.”) or a selfish two-way act (“We broadcast—or share—only with each other and our narrow band of ‘friends’.”).
Authenticity is the sacrifice that the libertine makes on the altar of the public good, rather than seeking to hold onto it all the time at the expense of the public. Shakespeare had it right about Julius Caesar: The sacrifice of being “on” all the time in public and in private is the ultimate trust building tool.
But all of this is hard.
And without getting our arms wrapped around these three areas as leaders, employees, and even individuals, trust will become yet another sacrifice made on the altar of our post-modern communication tools.
-Peace Be With You All-
Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: firstname.lastname@example.org