For the first two and a half years of my job, I enjoyed having an immediate manager who was a black male from the Midwest. He also had a PhD in Chemistry from Purdue. If that was not enough, he had young children and a career-driven wife. We had so much in common, it was easy to default to trust. I had no worries about needing time off for sick kids, or getting balanced feedback, or having to worry about how my boisterous mannerisms might be perceived. Not to mention #thenod we could exchange.
No more nods.
One day, an organizational email announced my manager would be taking a position in another part of the company. However, the announcement did not include his backfill. As a new-hire and now the only black person on my team I had several questions running through my mind. Would the new manager stall my promotion? What is their leadership style? Would they be black? Would I have to prove myself? I had done so much work communicating my adjectives with my old manager I did not want to start over.
To trust or not to trust?
Days later a second organizational email announced the lady who would backfill the outgoing manager. She was white and not from the Midwest. She did not attend Purdue and was not a chemist. On the surface, the only thing we had in common was our workplace. Before she had officially begun her appointment, I reached out to other black employees who had worked with her, and she received rave reviews. So, I figured I would default to trust. When she officially took over the management responsibility, I prepared myself to go into the details of my work during our first 1:1 meeting- I was going to highlight all the technical work. But that wasn’t what she wanted.
I trust you can do the work. I want to know YOU.
The invite for our first official meeting as manager and direct report stated that it was just to get to know each other. No slides with data or technical summaries. I could bring whatever I wanted her to know about me. hmm. Leaning into trust, I decided to show photos of my family, share my hobbies, and discuss the various personality test I’ve taken such as StrengthFinder and HBDI (both are insightful tools). We went over the scheduled time, not discussing science but talking about ourselves.
This is not how I usually start new relationships. Past experiences have led me to begin every new professional relationship by first proving my technical ability. Once I convince you I know what I am talking about then we can “get to know each other.”
So, what was different this time? Why default to trust?
Let me tell you. Trust goes both ways. I was not the only person sharing family photos and hobbies. We both contributed to the ‘trust circle.’ We both had much to gain and something to lose if the trust was violated.
Also, we had empathy for each other. As I mentioned earlier, I was now the only black person in my section. She was now the only female in the group. We both were aware of the unique challenges that came with being the “only one.”
Last, implicit to our discussions, she made it clear I had nothing to prove. She had the courage to trust me (and the others who reported to her) to provide her with the information she needed to make timely accurate decisions. Until that trust is broken, it remains.
This blog is a testament of our mutual trust.
When I started the blog, I was incredibly nervous. With two small kids in daycare, these paychecks are particularly important. After writing a couple of posts and deciding that I would continue this endeavor I let her know about the blog. I told her I wanted to use this platform to bring awareness of diversity within STEM… and in the middle of my justification, she stopped me and said no justification is needed. That is trust.
Find reasons to default to trust.
Having trust makes everything less stressful. I know she is working with my best interest in mind, and I am working even harder to not let her down. If you are in a professional relationship that lacks trust, find a place to start. You must build a sense of confidence and security. Here are three ways to start.
- Be honest
- Be helpful
- Be Transparent
These three items help lay the foundation of a trustworthy relationship. I admonish you to not wait. If you want other resources on how to build trust, this blog by Maggie Wooll is a great resource.
I know trusting is scary. But it is still a choice. Defaulting to trust when the person looked like me was easy. Defaulting when people don’t look like you may be more difficult. But remember, there is more upside to building a trusting relationship than downside. Maximizing success requires trust. Reducing stress requires trust. Now I am trusting if you enjoyed the post to hit the like button and or share it. It really helps what we are trying to do! If you want to see other posts from this blog, go here.
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