Always Trust First

by Jonna Kangasoja

I was invited to speak at the NELIS (Next Leaders’ Initiative for Sustainability) Europe Summit 2019 in Helsinki last week.

The request was to share some key lessons on leading through conflict.

Any wisdom I have, I have learned from wise teachers, both the official ones, and the unofficial ones in the everyday life with whom we learn about ourselves in conflict.

For the sake of applicability the lessons are formulated as maxims:

1. Always trust first. In any relationship there is the question of whether to trust the other or not. You can set the tone of a relationship, or a process by making the first collaborative move. It is more than likely that – at least in most cases – you will be reciprocated. Trust begets more trust, mistrust begets more mistrust. That is why the first move is very significant.

2. Always be curious about the story behind an opinion or a claim. When you hear a strong opinion, claim or demand, pause and ask what is important to the other person and why. If you learn to listen well, you will get to hear about the experiences that have shaped the opinions and values. Remember that behind every story there is a person who needs to be seen and heard.

3. Always be a little kinder than necessary. There are moments when you feel that no matter what you do, the other person appears to stay unreasonable or offensive. Pause. Apply maxim #2. Keep treating them like the collaborator you would like them to be. Keep acting like the person you want to be. This makes it more likely to maintain the connection, and in case it gets broken, to mend it.

4. Always cultivate connections. Connections between people are the first casualty of conflict. It takes an effort to reconnect, and that’s why connections may remain broken for a very long time. Be the first one to signal an effort to reconnect, and do it early rather than late. In cases when you for some reason cannot be the first one, if someone invites you to reconnect, run to meet them.