Trust and Respect? The Validity of Cooperation

Competition is everything?  No, it isn’t.  A misconception about “survival of the fittest” caused the Social Darwinists to overlook one very vital part of survival that is important to all cultures: cooperation.  Bees have to work together, or the hive will not live.  Further, the flowering plants where the bees gather nectar are necessary to the bees, but they in turn depend on the bees as well.  So the cooperation goes beyond the swarm, the tribe, or even the species.

Interconnections for sustainability are everywhere.  In fact, human beings would not exist as they do today were it not for the mitochondrial DNA passed down to every daughter from their mother.  That part of the DNA is the result of a symbiosis with bacteria.  Without it, your mother would have never existed, and neither would you.

Human beings have an advantage over some other species, since man has the ability to step beyond instinct, and think about things.  There are, however, liabilities as well as assets to thinking.  Because of emotions, feelings, and concepts of what is ideal, people are capable of making decisions that are not always in their own best interests, or in the best interests of those around them.  Of course, they have to compete, but they also have to cooperate if they expect to survive in any social structure.  While some consider themselves individuals, man is a social animal whether he wishes to admit it, or not.

Because of this, matters of trust, and gaining commitments from others are extremely important.  The constant threat is that even symbiotic relationships have to find ways to minimize conflict.  When ideas clash, and conflict is not resolved, trust goes out the window.  Without trust, respect becomes illusive at best, and often downright impossible.

Furthermore, when people sense they are not being respected, or losing respect, it is natural for them to become tense, and run the risk of becoming at least to some degree, irrational.  Frustration, anger, and especially fear cause people to shift from positive and productive activity in order to posture for defense (or attack).

It is normal for them to feel a need to protect something important to them.  What that something often turns out to be is not always their own physical safety, or even their livelihood.  Sometimes what they are clamoring to keep “safe” is some ideology: something they believe that when put at risk undermines their entire concept of safety.  This is exactly what causes the breakdown in empathy during political arguments between people who could otherwise get along.  Strangely, some people operate on the belief disorder that everybody not only shares their own opinions, but that it is substantially wise to do so.  And with that profoundly naive outlook, it is regular that they overlook the following points almost entirely:

* Employers who are not sincerely grateful for their employees’ efforts will seldom if ever show honest signs of gratitude towards them.
* Employers who do not know the dynamics of the culture within their own company seldom know how to motivate the individuals that make up that culture.
* If I treat you, not in the way you’d wish to be treated, but in a way that clearly shows I misunderstand you, I should not be disappointed when you seem less than motivated by it.
* Cheap token gifts are often seen as condescension, especially when the work done to earn it feels so under-rewarded.  A private conversation including some thanks, honest feedback, and encouragement means so much more to some people than getting to use the (not coveted) “employee of the month” parking space.  A lady once told me her boss didn’t even realize she rode the bus to work.
* If you don’t even know who I am, how might I be convinced you think I’m of any value, much less important?  Overlooking the subtleties about an individual that identify how they wish to be treated can be seen as disrespect.

Disrespect manifests itself in different ways, but always results in distrust.  It is a team-breaker.  When it raises its ugly head, commitment often dissolves into a mere appearance of compliance (and it won’t even be that).  When that happens, “sabotage” can occur whether folks realize it, or not.  If a group of people are not working together, they may well be working against each other.  There is no such thing as a team without cooperation.

What if your team believes the “what’s in it for them” is right up there with the “what’s in it for you”?  What if they don’t believe it?  Do you think that was part of Frank Lorenzo’s problem with Eastern Airlines?  Do you think it was part of the employees’ problem with Frank?

Teams are supposed to be heading towards some common win, some common goal, or other benefit, or there is no reason to be in harness together.  And, those in harness need to all pull in the same direction; they must all seek to gain the same result.  While I agree that focus has to be on results, I cannot discount individual personal (or departmental) expectations altogether if I would really expect commitment from individual members.

But besides the common goal or desired results, they all need to find something about the success of the project that helps them gain something they want.  But what they want as individuals may not be that obvious to the team leader or other members, unless they invest the time to pay attention. The presumption that everybody wants and needs the same thing, can be a mistake.

The team leader needs to be aware of what the various team members want. That is the crux of the equity in any leadership role. It is helpful if everyone in the group understand that, but critical that the captain knows it.  In other words, how can you, as the project leader, get other people to commit to helping you reach your goal?

You can, if you take the time to make sure they see how it will help them reach theirs.  And just as you will intend to hold them individually accountable for their part, rest assured they will hold you accountable for the commitment you’ve made to them. As simple as all this sounds, the failure to take these action steps delays, and often derails more projects than some would think.

I’ve heard managers proudly say things like:  “My people know that I treat everybody around here the same as I do anybody else.  Everybody is equal, and we don’t show partiality to anyone.”  While I do appreciate fairness, I also know that people like to be recognized for who they are, and that their contributions are valuable not just because they did the work, but because of who they are, and how they went about getting it done.

The golden rule says: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  The core of this is empathy.  Without it, a person is steeped in narcism.  But does everybody wish to be treated the same as you in all situations?  If they do not, can the golden rule get misinterpreted?  Yes.  Absolutely!  If I am overcome with a desire to treat you exactly as I wish to be treated, how do you think I feel when you don’t seem to appreciate it?

The fallback for people in some cases (especially in politics) is to demand that everybody want and value the same things they do.  As it is always emotional, respect will not be given to those who don’t choose to go along with the demands.  That kind of rationale is behind what has driven every war throughout the history of mankind.  Though hostilities may subside under duress, or powerful totalitarian social control, it never results in any genuine commitment for peacefulness.  Eventually fear, anger, distrust and disrespect resurface.  It destroys families, companies, and even nations.

Does this mean I’m asking you to abandon the golden rule?  No, but I’m asking you consider taking it to a higher level.  Since everybody doesn’t want all of the same things you do all the time, why not treat others the way they are showing you they wish to be treated?  Would that be so hard?  What is required is that we learn how to pay attention.  Does it work?  Pick just one person to observe, and try it for awhile.  Sound easy?  It actually is, but for some reason, it seems that only a small percent of the people on this planet do it regularly.  I suppose we could say we’ve been taught to do otherwise, but is that a valid excuse?  Excuses only appear to be valid, and only when you believe they are.

So what validates cooperation?  The only thing that makes it valid is if it works; if you accomplished what you set out to do.  Trust and respect might be helpful, and in some cases, might be necessary if the need for commitment is required.  But the bottom line is whether or not you reached your goal, isn’t it?  You have to decide if there is a valuable corollary between cooperation and the end result.  There is definitely a correlation between getting cooperation, and having the respect and trust of those who are asked to help you.

If you see it as a benefit, then that should be enough to motivate you.  If you intend to take the golden rule to a higher level, you need to start with the intent of the rule: willfully choose not to hurt others by action or words, with some understanding of why you would not wish to have that happen to you.  Additionally, treat others in a way that lets them know you understand how they wish to be treated.  It honors them, and it honors you.  If you commit to help those around you get what they want, you might be surprised to find that they will in turn be willing to commit to help you get what you want, as well.

Another point will have to be to look deeper at your own motivation.  Is the importance of having influence caused by a fear of losing control over others?  Do you just want them to be happy slaves?  There is a difference between being dominant, and being a dominator.  Most dominators are not self sustaining, and are therefore not really dominant.  In fact, they are usually phobics, just like those they wish to control.

For some, it becomes an obsession, and a way of life.  An obsession to dominate over others can be evidence of cowardice, and a lack of the ability to be dominant over one’s own affairs.  A dead giveaway is when the behavior of those around you leads you to feel others think you really do not respect them, personally.  And that will always be a stumbling block when trying to gain their trust.  Insincerity can be detected more easily by some than others.

So, it is a caution to make sure you are sincere about wanting to honor other people, and be sincere about wanting to help them (or work with them) to reach their goals.  If it isn’t true, you’re likely to have folks see right through you.  When that happens, you will not gain their trust, or their respect.  Then you’ll be right back to getting no real commitment, but only the pretense of compliance.  And often you won’t even get that unless someone is looking.

To diagnose that the problem exists is not difficult.  The extent of it varies from group to group.  Ignoring it will not make it go away, and neither will setting up a compliance regimen to deal with it.  There’s plenty of historical evidence showing the failures of gaining wide commitment through prohibitions.  And because of human nature, there will be more.

In theater, in order to attain a higher level of performance, it is required that the character analysis so as to properly understand motivation be taken seriously.  The critical business of theater is the motivation.  And for those who feel quality performance is something they want, the motivation is also the true theater of business.

I have access to very valid feedback instruments, and I know how to use them.  It helps to find out not only what individuals want personally, but also what they don’t want.  It is the patterns of fallback behaviors that are likely to become the cancer that destroys the life of companies.

Just changing mottos and slogans won’t fix the problem.  It will take a little bit of time, and a little bit of money.  But isn’t that usually true for most of the things you find are worth doing?  Perhaps the most passionate part of acting and directing for me has been involved with the moments when those lightbulbs turn on.  When trust and respect becomes a reality or is restored, other processes, both strategic and tactical, become more attainable.

For those who would wish to be recognized as a leader, consider how you are seen by those you wish to lead.  Do they see you as willing to march against the gates of Hell with them, or do they see you as simply pointing out the way?

13 responses to this post.

  1. Van, a lot of food for thought here. I think your point about moving beyond the golden rule and trying to treat others as they are indicating that they want to be treated is very interesting. I wonder how well we need to know people for this to be possible? This weekend I will be experimenting! Thanks again, Jean


  2. Posted by Wayne Casasanta on April 13, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    Van, OK. I confess. I ate some of your onion rings at the Beacon, while you were socializing. Now I will buy a banana split for you, to overcompensate for the 2 onion rings. If we “work together,” we can eat off of everyone else’s plate next time.


  3. Posted by Mickey Foster on April 14, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    Pretty heavy stuff from a guy who likes to write about dogs and other neat stuff. I must say though that I wholeheartedly agree. RESPECT as Aretha sings so well is a 2-way avenue. As we meander through our lives we meet many people along the way; some stay an important part of our lives, others come and go as the wind. Some say that respect must be earned, others maintain that respect must be shown in order to be earned. I don’t pretend to have the answers. But, I try to give respect and hope to get respect in return. And, that is all I have to say about that.

    Now, about that banana split that Wayne promised to buy…….may I have the chocolate ice cream?


  4. Good read.


  5. Nice read.


  6. Van,

    I was reading Irish poet, Brendan Kennelly, after I’d read your post and this poem of his seems so apt in the context of what you are saying:



    Brendan Kennelly

    every star is a voice
    no matter how far away
    faces too are stars
    listen to what they say

    if you dare to listen so
    you may hear something true
    a moment shines when you know
    stars listen to you

    listening is an art
    some folks close their eyes
    opening up their hearts
    to separate truth from lies

    I am listening now
    here and the world over
    I hear a killer’s plan
    and hurt sigh of a lover

    a shrewd whine in a doorway
    a curse in a violent bed
    knife-gossip at a dinner
    a small prayer for the dead

    words praising war
    the hows and wheres and whys
    I listen to listening stars
    and close my eyes.


  7. Posted by little d on April 16, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    Very well stated VT, I had learned and been taught of the golden rule many years ago.
    It seemed a fair enough rule to be widely observed, though results did vary depending
    on the usual predetermined relationships of friends and strangers alike. Generally, a rule of common practice whereby all possibilities of organization are founded and kept safe, true and through. Rule no.1

    But I have been relearning of late of another golden rule that may or may not have predated the one of which you currently pressed? Its also the current best seller of
    golden rules in this Country, and without a doubt, most of the so called civilized world.
    I’m gonna call this current golden rule, Capital. rule no.2

    Those who have the gold, rule. If, for example, you have enough of this stuff, you can completely disregard everything the other rule stands for. It can be poured in concrete,
    that there is nothing that the current golden rule cannot organize a hundred to one. good or bad, over the other formula. Unless, all participates are equally paid, then refer to rule no.1

    Pay unto others that which you would like to paid yourself doesn’t fit very well into the fold of the new rule however, but mediums of value can and do change from time to time, and guess which rule rises in value when that happens ? that’s right, rule no.1

    good stuff, press on

    little d


  8. Amen. How true this is and so appropriate for what I experienced at work today. It did not involve me directly but I was witness to two co-workers having a confrontation. The older woman expressed a vendetta against the younger woman. The older woman made some very nasty comments to the young worker. The younger woman tried apologizing but the older one had to take it to the next level which resulted in some not very nice language. All that stemming from jealousy and bitterness coming from the older senior employee. Unfortunatly a number of the old timers hate the young newcomers because of youth, higher level of education and naturally more opportunities resulting from that. A lot of uneccesary drama.


  9. Reblogged this on Espiritu en Fuego/A Fiery Spirit and commented:
    So true. Very appropriate.


  10. Posted by Marlene Humberd on July 2, 2012 at 7:34 pm

    Van , This sounds much like some of the business training Dan received in grad school , and also his Lean Sigma Six training now in his job . I can tell a big difference( for the better) in how he relates to his co-workers and their projects, and also how he is relating to the world , in general . : ) I have found this also to be so true in so many areas of my life. I’ve always tried to treat others with respect …was taught that as a child , but found that most of the time, I wanted, and needed , to take it to a higher level for me , as well as for the person (s)involved . Whether it was my young first grade students, my pottery employees , my family and friends,or complete strangers in a waiting room ( somedays I wonder if I have a sign on my forehead that says , ” Tell me what ‘s going on in your life, and we’ll work through it ! ) , I have tried to listen and actually hear what they ‘re saying and watch how they are relating to the situations and to others .No , I’m not perfect and not 100% of the time faithful to doing this… sometimes My life gets in the way …but I give it my best shot . Thanks , Mr. Brown – Twain , you always encourage me to think . Guess you knew I needed that ! ; )


  11. Posted by Betty on November 10, 2012 at 9:31 pm

    How do you do it ? Well said.


  12. This is some great food for thought, Van. Do you think treating people the way they want to be treated might not be a good idea sometimes?


  13. Posted by Katherine Phillips on November 5, 2013 at 2:41 am

    Your blogs are sort of mind-blowing…and make me feel like a bit of a simpleton. The interesting thing to me here is that what you’re saying seems to be from a business/management (and perhaps, governmental?) perspective, but it applies to personal relationships as well. Very, very well, in fact. Food for thought, indeed. And I will nibble at it for the next few days.

    Many thanks and admiration,

    Katherine Finotti-Phillips


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