Emergent trust

I’ve been involved in some work around conflict resolution lately and I find it very engaging. It has reinforced my practice of “one less thing” as championed by the likes of Harrison Owen. The temptation for a facilitator is to be seen to resolving the conflict when actually I think it’s more about demonstrating a willingness to hold it. I avoid what I call “premature encapsulation” – the effort to tie everything up in a neat bow for participants. I train myself not to panic when people appear to be taking rigid or incompatible positions; these often soften or change with continued engagement. And there’s a lot more going on between people who choose to engage with each other than the explicit statements they make to each other.

So I agree with Dave’s point here about trust being an emergent property of interaction not the precondition. Those discussions about “how we create trust” often end up devoid of any real passion and go nowhere or lead to lists of ideal behaviours that don’t actually inspire any change.

(Actually I think a lot of things we value are emergent from interaction. That’s the pitfall of a lot of training and books that claim to examine success and tell us the success factors. Those success factors are really byproducts of something else, and not the actual building blocks of success.)

6 thoughts on “Emergent trust

  1. Suw

    This is why I love your blog, Johnnie, you point out stuff that it would be very easy to gloss over.

    But I think that “The temptation for a facilitator is to be seen to resolving the conflict” could more simply read “The temptation for a facilitator is to resolve the conflict”. I know for me, it would be very hard to resist trying to solve the problem that was facing me, even if it wasn’t my problem or my job to solve it. It’s just that whole “oh, gosh, something to fix!” thing that some people *coughmecough* find almost irresistible.

  2. Suw

    Yeah, I think it’s a pretty common urge, although stronger in some than others. Me and Kevin joke that before we met each other, we mainly dated people who we felt in some way needed our help – “Unique Fixer-Upper Opportunities”. And in some ways, I suppose that’s why I’m a consultant. Each client is, for me, a unique fixer-upper opportunity, although they have at least chosen to be fixed-up, and they’re paying me to help them do it (rather than do it myself). Perhaps that’s why I feel less desire to fix everyone else up now, I’m getting my fix of fixing at work. Hm, I’d never looked at it like that before.

    But yes, whilst I’m paid to at help fix people’s problems, a key part of that is to give people the tools and the knowledge so that they can fix their problems themselves. It’s not to waltz in, do everything for them, and then make them dependent on you forever. It’s getting out of their way and letting them do the legwork, because only by doing it themselves can they possibly learn how it’s done.

  3. Stuart Reid

    Hi Johnnie – this post has really made me think. Rather like you, I have two general areas of work. Firstly, I am a mediator and mediation/conflict management trainer, and also do a lot of general facilitation – awaydays and team-building events. And secondly I run my own film and video production company, making corporate videos for local government and public sector clients. Within that I am increasingly interested in the contribution that video could make to knowledge management.

    Your post has made me think about connections between the conflict management and facilitation areas of my work. In conflict management I am continually trying to work in the moment – responding to what I see in front of me and working with that. When I facilitate, I know that I am more often focused on ‘getting through the progamme’ – keeping control of time and ensuring that the planned activities take place more or less on schedule, and that the learning objectives are achieved. Yet I know that some of the most enjoyable and rewarding moments in facilitation and training for me have been when I’ve gone ‘off script’ – responding to something that has happened in the room and improvising creatively.

    So I’m now pondering whether to challenge myself when I’m facilitating to be less scripted and more responsive – which is quite scary but also potentially more rewarding all round. And I can certainly see that – for those workshops/events which are focused on creating shared understanding within a group – there could be more I could bring across from my conflict management work into my facilitation. So thanks for making me think about that.

    BTW, I’d be interested to know what you’ve been doing around conflict resolution recently, if it’s something you can blog about.


    Stuart Reid


  4. Johnnie Moore

    Thanks Stuart. I totally recognise the pattern you describe… the pressure as a facilitator to keep things ‘on time’. I try to reduce that pressure by how I contract to do the work in the first place. Also, I aim to share the decision with the group rather than make if for them eg “I notice we’re not bang on schedule, maybe we could discuss what we do about that”. The group often figures out its own solutions and they’re almost by definition better than mine would be.

  5. Alan Sharland

    Ahh I like the tone of this conversation…..sorry I’m late in adding to it. But the things being said about awareness of our ‘rescuer’ is an important point for me that I don’t always hear being discussed by mediators and facilitators. And it concerns me if I don’t as developing the awareness of how our inclination to ‘fix’ comes across in our language and our practice and can be recognised by the feelings that emerge within us while mediating or facilitating, is probably the most important discipline of mediation and facilitation….in my view.

    So often I will hear of mediators who say they use ‘tricks’ to ‘resolve’ disputes, disagreements, complaints FOR people….as they see it….rather than assist them in thinking creatively to resolve their dispute themselves. Thank you for letting me swim in a conversation with a tone of letting go, opening up and supporting rather than holding on, analysing and fixing.



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