Reflecting on Distrust

Nakamura Hiroki
7 min readAug 4, 2023

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In operating communication utilizing Generative AI, I often find myself thinking about human communication itself. Communication is said to be the exchange of facts, ideas, thoughts, and emotions, but these pieces of information are not always exchanged symmetrically. There are many instances where the information exchanged between parties is asymmetric, and this asymmetry often leaves both parties with differing understandings.

Emotional matters, in particular, are often asymmetrical. For instance, the person who spoke might think they were only giving a slight warning, but the person on the receiving end might feel they were being severely criticized. This is not an uncommon occurrence. When such asymmetrical communication continues, it gradually turns into deep-rooted negative emotions. This kind of distrust is the complete opposite of trust and fosters feelings like “It probably won’t work,” or “They probably don’t think highly of me.” These feelings never lead to anything good. While predicting negative outcomes for risk management is crucial, mere negative feelings are very troublesome in a team or organizational context. Most importantly, being exposed to such feelings or harboring them yourself is never a good thing.

When you feel distrust, communication based on trust becomes difficult. When trust is compromised, it leads to communication grounded more in doubt, and as a result, distrust deepens further. Cutting off this negative cycle is extremely challenging, and external factors or a strong catalyst are almost always needed. This is because if the parties involved were able to resolve it themselves, they wouldn’t fall into this negative cycle in the first place; the very fact that they are stuck in this cycle almost proves that they can’t resolve it.

On the other hand, I also find it hard to believe that distrust can be completely eradicated. I encounter such emotions in various places, and I think that there are instances when others distrust me. Even I, who am saying this, do not believe that my level of distrust is entirely zero.

Therefore, I believe it is more realistic and practical to recognize the existence of distrust and consider how to stop it from worsening, rather than trying to reduce it to zero. In most cases, just knowing of its existence can resolve more than half of the problem, so I would like to think about ways to suppress distrust from different standpoints.

From the side of having expectations: Don’t harbor unreasonable expectations

I think that unreasonable expectations are one of the factors that easily give birth to distrust. Consider when you expect something from someone and ask them for a favor, and then think about what happens if the outcome is not what you had imagined. If you can recognize that your original expectations were unreasonable and completely reflect on yourself, distrust may not arise. However, if you approach the situation with an attitude of blaming, harboring feelings of blaming others, it is not at all surprising if the other starts to feel distrust, thinking “you have negative feelings towards me.”

I believe that completely eliminating the feeling of blaming others is incredibly difficult. Even if you smooth things over with words, the feeling of blame seeps through the nuances of speaking. At least, I can’t do it. Even if I reflect on myself, I feel that somewhere, the feeling of blaming others lingers. Therefore, rather than entirely eliminating the feeling of blaming others and adhering to a sense of personal responsibility, I think it’s more important not to have unreasonable expectations in the first place.

However, not harboring unreasonable expectations is also not simple. It’s not something that can be avoided just because you verbally agree on something. The state of having verbally agreed may be easy to explain to a others, but it often does not mean much in reality. There are various cases such as expectations set without full mutual understanding, expectations reluctantly agreed to due to undue pressure, or instances where the other said yes without fully grasping their ability.

It seems that whether expectations are appropriate can only be confirmed by the results. Therefore, it is necessary not to leave the expectations set at the beginning unattended, but to continue making fine adjustments so that they conform to reality through daily communication and observation. If the expectations and reality continue to match, both the side that has the expectations and the side that is expected of can suppress the possibility of harboring distrust.

From the Side Being Expected of: Is It a Matter of Ability or Motivation?

The act of aligning expectations and reality is not something that can only be done by the side setting the expectations. Adjustments can also be made from the side receiving the expectations. When working in an organization or team, there should be both things you expect and things expected of you. If adjustments can be made from both positions, an appropriate state can be maintained in various situations.

One of the prime ways to do this, I believe, is for the person being expected of to explain their motivation and ability to the one expecting. A common bad pattern is for the side expecting to misunderstand a matter of the expected side’s ability as a matter of motivation.。

If motivation is really the problem, I think it would be better to change the environment. However, it’s very troublesome to be misunderstood as a lack of motivation in situations where the motivation is there but the ability is lacking. When misunderstood as a lack of motivation, it leads to distrust, and motivation truly begins to wane. If you’re simply unsure of how to do something, but are thought to lack motivation, you might end up thinking, “I don’t care anymore,” and lose your motivation altogether, right?

Therefore, if you feel that a lack of ability is being misunderstood as a lack of motivation, you should explain that it’s a matter of ability. Writing “a problem of ability” may sound negative, but it’s merely about the gap between expectations and reality. The ability in the future should never be negated, but the current ability should be assessed calmly. On the other hand, expectations can be easily expanded infinitely, so a gap with the current ability is quickly created.

The problem of motivation is difficult to solve, but the issue of ability offers a broader range of solutions. There are many constructive ways to address it, such as redistributing work or finding some means to learn. Therefore, having a shared understanding that the challenge lies in ability is a significant step forward in finding a solution.

Explaining issues of ability is not limited to members explaining to managers. Conversely, managers are often more likely to receive undue expectations, so explaining one’s own ability issues may have a significant impact. Furthermore, if a manager discloses their ability issues, it might make it easier for team members to make similar negative disclosures.

When I feel that I’m being misunderstood as lacking motivation, I directly communicate my challenges with ability. They may be disappointed, but there’s no point in hiding something I cannot do. While I feel sorry for disappointing them, I think there’s no choice but to work on improving. I believe that rather than fearing disappointment, it’s better to clarify the challenges early on and think about solutions with those around me, as this leads to better results.

From a Third-Party Perspective: Is It a Solvable Problem, or Not?

Lastly, let’s consider what to do from a third-party standpoint. If you are in a people management position, you may encounter this kind of situation quite often. In such cases, I believe the most important thing is to determine whether the problem is solvable or not.

As I mentioned at the beginning, distrust tend to create a negative cycle, and once caught in this cycle, it’s rare for things to head in a positive direction without strong external factors. Even if there are external factors, it can take several months or even years for the situation to turn in a favorable direction.

If the negative emotions are mild, it might be possible to resolve the situation by clearing up the misunderstandings between the parties involved, as previously mentioned. However, once it reaches a certain level, it becomes difficult to even accept the misunderstanding as such, so it’s often better to switch to indirect solutions, such as keeping the parties separate from each other.

Your ability to resolve the situation as a third party also comes into play. Misjudging whether the problem is solvable can sometimes only worsen the situation. Clumsily intervening and exacerbating the situation, or even finding yourself feeling distrust, is not a good outcome. Therefore, before taking any action, it’s essential to calmly consider whether the situation can be resolved, or if you should proceed on the premise that it can’t be solved. Be sure there is no gap between your expectations of what might be resolved and your ability to solve it.

Rather than being troubled by something that is very difficult to resolve, it seems more important to reflect on why you didn’t notice the problem before it became difficult to solve. This self-reflection, focusing on how to detect issues earlier next time, is crucial. It’s a valuable lesson that can prevent similar difficulties in the future, promoting a more harmonious and effective working relationship among team members or within an organization.

At the end

In this discussion, I delved into the topic of distrust, a negative theme but one that is universal across all organizations and teams. Because it can be found everywhere, it’s challenging to expect that these feelings will naturally dissipate; instead, it may be more constructive to actively consider ways to resolve them ourselves.

Reaching a point where one can openly express feelings of distrust might be relieving, but this approach might be suitable for specific personality, and it may not be feasible for everyone. It seems wiser to employ techniques to handle this issue.

As detailed, the solutions can be approached from the perspectives of the one who sets expectations, the one who is expected, and a third party. Becoming adept at handling the situation from any position can enable you to suppress these emotions to the fullest extent, regardless of the environment.

Harbored feelings of distrust, whether within oneself or directed from others, are never beneficial. Thus, it seems advisable to control them as much as possible by oneself. By recognizing and addressing the issues of distrust early, you can foster a more healthy and productive work environment, whether in a team or an organization at large.

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