“I don’t trust them and they don’t trust me,” a coaching client told me the other day.
Trust, or more accurately, the lack of trust, seems to be one of the crucial challenges today, both in our work environments and in life.
In conversations without trust, people tend not to listen to each other. Instead, they talk past one another, interrupting and blaming one other, imputing nefarious motives upon the words and actions of others.
Instead of connection and mutual understanding, these conversations become a battleground that leaves participants more disconnected, hostile and entrenched against the other.
How can we begin to get past that impasse?
When I began my coaching training, my teachers offered the acronym “WAIT” to help us stay connected with our clients in our conversations.
In the coaching world, the acronym “WAIT” stands for “What Am I Talking?” It reminds coaches to stay silent, to keep listening, and to ask ourselves why we are interrupting with our words.
I believe the acronym “WAIT” can help not only coaches, but anyone to start building trust in potentially contentious conversations.
Build trust by asking yourself “Why Am I Talking?”
When having a conversation with someone, and you feel a sudden need to jump in and interrupt, it can be helpful to ask yourself to WAIT: “Why Am I Talking”?
- Is it because the other person reminded me of an experience that I feel compelled to share? Or it is because I want to encourage the other person to share more deeply about their experience?
- Is it because I have advice that I can’t wait to tell? Or is it because I’m curious to learn what lesson or advice they could give?
- Is it because I want to correct some thinking or feeling in the other person that I judge to be “wrong”? Or is it because I want to understand exactly what thoughts or feelings they are experiencing.
- Will what I say contribute to the deepening of connection with my conversational partner? Or might the quality of the connection be enhanced if I remain silent and focus on listening instead?
When connection is maintained and enhanced by “WAIT”ing, we start building trust.
Build trust by asking yourself “What Am I Thinking?”
Raj Gill, a professional coach and a certified trainer for the Center for Nonviolent Communication, identifies additional interpretations for “WAIT.”
The first is “What Am I Thinking?”
In the midst of conversations, there are times when certain words or ideas “push our buttons” and trigger a reactive emotional response within us. During those times, it is helpful to ask yourself to “WAIT”: what am I thinking about the other person and this situation?
This kind of “thinking” is often a judgement based on an interpretation of our limited observation of a situation.
I’m part of a group that meets once a year. Over the past several years, at our annual gatherings, one member of the group has always been late to our morning sessions. Tardiness is a pet peeve of mine. It is tempting for me to think of (and judge) this tardy member as irresponsible and disrespectful to the rest of us who are on time.
One time I mentioned to him: “I noticed that the last several years, you have been late to our morning sessions. I hope things are OK. We missed you during those times.”
This member told me that mornings are very hard for him, and it takes him time to get ready. Hence, that’s why he’s been late.
This additional piece of information totally changed my thinking of him, and elevated my trust toward him greatly.
Build trust by asking yourself “What Am I Telling (myself)?”
Closely related to “What Am I Thinking?” is the next question: “What Am I Telling (myself)?”
Our thinking (and judgment) of a person or a situation is often influenced by the story we tell ourselves based on limited observation.
Human beings can fall prey to “confirmation bias,” the “tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.”
Once we have a thought (or a judgment) about a person or a situation based on limited observation, the next step is often to string together selective information into a story that further confirm our biases. However, this story that we tell ourselves may be very different than what is really going on. This disconnection is often contributes to the disconnection we experience in conversations.
Let’s use my example of the tardy member to illustrate further. After observing his tardiness at the beginning of the day, perhaps I might allow myself to view the rest of his actions through this lens. I might focus on all the ways that he is “selfish” and “irresponsible” throughout the rest of the day as further confirmation of my judgment. This story that I tell myself drives a greater emotional distance between him and me, all without him even knowing it! This story – true or false — shapes and influences my thoughts and actions in further conversations.
“WAIT” is an invitation to pause and become aware of how my thinking and the stories I tell myself can influence connection or disconnection in my conversations.
Build trust by asking yourself “What’s Alive In Them?”
In my experience as a coaching client, I am encouraged whenever a coach is able to notice the places in our conversation where I am especially alive, excited, and energized. During those times, my need to be heard is met in a positive and life-giving way. My connection and trust toward my coach increases as a result.
Sometimes, my coach might not even be correct in what she identifies as what’s alive in me. However, her attempt to imagine herself in my place gives me the courage and permission to become more honest and self-aware about myself.
Similarly, when we direct our focus and curiosity on what is uplifting and life-giving for our conversational partners, we offer them a precious gift and may build deeper trust as a result.
Build trust by asking yourself “What Action Initiates Trust?”
The final “WAIT” question that I might add is “What Action Initiates Trust?”
The “actions” I’m thinking about doesn’t have to be “big.” Any action that seeks deeper understanding and clarification has the potential to build trust.
Request for more information. “Tell me more…”
Seek to understand. Ask: “Help me understand…”
Reflect back what your conversational partner has said in your own words.
Seek permission to speak your thoughts or give advice. Be OK if permission is not granted.
We can build trust in our conversations if we keep in mind these ways to ask ourselves to WAIT.
Of course, these questions are not meant to be a checklist you bring to every conversation. In situations with high conflict, these questions may be very hard to answer.
However, an awareness of all the benefits of “waiting” will increase the likelihood to foster deeper and life-giving connection and trust with our conversational partners.
What do you think?
What might you add, subtract, correct or nuance in this article?
I would love to hear your thoughts!
 Plous, Scott (1993). The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making. p. 233.
 Marie Miyashiro, The Empathy Factor, p. 98.