Reflections on early encounters

In researching the question “How do people build trusting relationships?”, it soon became obvious to us that there would be great scope for both reflection and reflexivity. We, the researchers, will ourselves be experiencing trust in our relationships with one another, with our funder, Roffey Park, and with interviewees.

The process of trust building has already begun. In fact, it began before we even contemplated doing a research project about trust. Rob Warwick and I first met some years ago. We had been introduced by Rob’s doctoral supervisor, Patricia Shaw, who had been my supervisor too several years earlier. Rob and I had overlapping research interests, so we agreed to meet up for a conversation. The trust that has undoubtedly grown up between us since then has done so over many years in many conversations in different settings.

I could go on relating the history of our working relationship, but I feel it might be more interesting and revealing to cast my mind back and identify a few “striking moments” or “arresting moments” involving the two of us. (I am indebted to John Shotter for this phrase, who is strongly influenced by Wittgenstein.)

But my trust in Rob grew as we started work on this trust project. As soon as the funding was confirmed, I noticed that, without making a fuss about it, Rob quietly went about getting the project started – for example, by setting up a shared folder in Dropbox, taking notes of our conversations, and organising a meeting with the research people at Roffey Park. I have known Rob for a few years, but this is the first official project we have done together. Only now am I experiencing this conscientious behaviour, which is building my trust in him as a partner in research. In all our informal conversations I had never seen this aspect of his character or behaviour so clearly.

Another striking moment: at our first joint meeting at Roffey Park, I noticed that Rob seemed quick to move into seeking agreement on questions of timing, products and invoicing. This may simply reflect the fact that he already knew the Roffey Park people and had had some discussions with them about the project. But it was my first face-to-face encounter with Dan Lucy (head of research) and his colleague Meysam Poorkavoos, who is also doing a study of trust for Roffey. So at some point I suggested that we eack talk a bit about our own project. My sense was that this face-to-face meeting was an opportunity to get a feeling for why we all think trust is worth studying, so I wanted to nudge the conversation in that direction.

In reflecting on this moment now, I wondered if I had been right to steer the conversation away from milestones. And would I trust Rob in future meetings to judge what was needed in the moment? I think I would. My trust in Rob was essentially unchanged by this incident. Indeed, I think that what this incident shows is how good it is to participate in meetings with a trusted colleague, as each person has a different feeling about what is needed at any given moment.

Otherwise what struck me was the degree to which Dan seemed to trust the two of us to get on with the project. He accepted how we were proposing to go about the research, clearly signalling that he and his colleagues are interested in our approach and methods being different to those of other researchers. For example, when we asked if we could see any reports from previous research projects, he did give us two, but he indicated he wasn’t urging us to study them too closely. I took this as a vote of confidence in us to use our discretion about what kind of written product(s) to create. Overall, these gestures of trust in us made me feel more inclined to trust Dan in return.

Alison Donaldson


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