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Building Trust and Respect

Agile I have just started my second season of mentoring for our local PMI chapter. This week’s launch workshop was facilitated by Right Management and they introduced a great model for building (and rebuilding) Trust and Respect that I would like to share. It was used to help explain how to build trust and respect with those we are mentoring, but it is a useful model that has much wider applications.

Establishing trust and respect can build tremendous support for goals, and likewise losing trust and respect puts us back at the beginning in a relationship or even further behind and the process has to start again. I am sure we have all experienced it, I know I have. Trust is a slow process to build and can be quickly eroded by a single bad deed or poor choice, as shown in the graph below.

Trust and Respect Lifecyle

While this is common sense stuff, what I liked about the workshop is the Howard Jackson Model for systematically building trust and respect. It is a repeatable series of steps that build on from each other in sequence to establish better collaboration.
Respect Pyramid
In this model we start at the bottom of the pyramid with Straight Talk, and move through the steps of Listening for Understanding, Making Commitments, being Reliable, creating Trust, and then finally earning Respect.

Straight Talk

Straight Talk  - Open and direct communication is the first building block for trust and respect.

Listening for Understanding – Focus your attention on understanding the meaning behind what people are saying. There is a big difference between waiting for your turn to speak and really listening. Hear, Understand, Interpret, and then Respond.

Make Commitments
Making Commitments – Be clear about what you will do. Agree on the What, By When, By Whom, and How steps. Communicate your intentions and stick to them.

Reliability – Do what you say you will do without fail. If circumstances have changed and it no longer makes sense to do what you said you would do, communicate back and explain why, and discuss and agree on the new steps.  Follow through over-and-over, be reliable, unfailing, dependable.

Trust – Trust results from the firm belief that another person can be relied upon. Trust is the result of straight talk, making sure you understand and are understood, and keeping confidences as well as commitments.

Respect – Although there are many levels of respect, the respect that follows trust leads to deep esteem for another person. We value their thoughts and input, and we know we can count on them because they have proven themselves out to us.

Why so much focus on soft skills for an Agile PM Blog?
When I started this blog in 2006 I wanted to explain the new techniques used on agile projects in an easy to understand format, with real life examples. Now I find myself writing more on soft skills than agile techniques.

This is because people are the engine that drives a high performance project. Without a good team that embodies trust and respect, the best process and tools in the world will not help you. I am as geeky about process as the next agilist, I love experimenting with Kanban and Lean and know that they offer better ways of executing projects. However, bigger improvements can be had from the people side of things.

Another passion of mine is mountain biking. I lust after lightweight exotic bikes like the Super Fly 100 and S-Works Epic, imagining how much faster I could go, the hills I could finally climb. I am sure they would help, but the advantages are small, a good rider will dwarf the performance gains of the machinery and it comes down to the person powering the bike not the bike its self. It is like this with people and process too. Yes we can tweak and improve the process and I encourage you to, but the biggest gains come from within the team. From trust and respect comes great commitment and creativity which cannot be made up for with tools and processes. We undoubtedly need a combination of soft skills, tools, and process, but when considering where to focus effort I believe the biggest payback is on the people side.

"From trust and respect comes great commitment and creativity which cannot be made up for with tools and processes."


Mike Haden

Nice writing, Mike. I too enjoyed the presentation by Right Management last year when I participated in the mentorship program in early '09. Here's another reason why you end up writing about soft skills more than hard skills - because they often can't be gleaned from a book. Not unlike mountaineering, the soft skills and nuances have to be absorbed from mentors and colleagues in your field, and learned from the school of hard knocks. Writing about them here, shedding light on your experiences for less experienced managers, and participating in the PMI-SAC mentorship chapter - kudos to you for mentoring others in so many ways.

Mike Griffiths

Hi Mike,

Thanks for dropping by and the kind words. I have been fortunate to meet some great mentors while doing work for the Agile Alliance and APLN who taught me so much. My biggest obstacle for getting involved in the PMI-SAC Mentorship program was thinking I had enough to offer someone. Thoughts like “I know next to nothing about managing projects outside of IT” and “I still make mistakes, what makes me qualified to advise someone?” nagged me. However, I now realise no one expects you to have all the answers or be perfect, just having access to a second opinion and someone to talk to about goals and career objectives is a huge help. Perhaps if we could make the mentoring program more approachable, and less tapping into gurus, we would get more volunteers. What do you think?

Best regards

Steve Riley

Thanks Mike. Very valuable. Building a team, and watching the team earn trust and respect is far more an art form than a science. Principles like the ones you talk about are signposts on the journey, but everyone's (and every teams) journey to that point is different. Talking to people who have travelled the road successfully makes your journey easier, so thanks for sharing.

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach

Valuable detailed info on people-skills for tangible results.

I must add one thing to the model discussed here: When it comes to "straight talk" -- it must be delivered with basic respect for human differences. Otherwise you do not build the ultimate respect at the top of the model.
"Begin with basic human respect for differences to build deeper team respect." My video footage on respecting personality differences gives you more on what I mean:

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach

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