Anyone who has worked closely with families in the process of choosing a school for their child would agree that trust is key at every stage of the decision-making cycle. Likewise, when a family reaches a positive decision, trust is literally something given by parents to the school, as they “entrust” their child to our care in the firm belief that we will provide an environment that is safe, allows for human flourishing, and prepares a small person for their future.
Anyone who has worked closely with families in this process will also know that each one is different. Some, to our pleasant surprise, are predisposed towards us from the very first encounter and appear to embrace our every word. Others, by contrast, approach us with a measure of distrust and suspicion that can sometimes feel confusing or even unwarranted.
This week, I came across a podcast by Adrian Stanciu and Andreea Roşca on why trust and equity are important in collaboration. In it, I found a key that can perhaps help us to unlock - or at least begin to unpack a little - the reasons why trust appears to be so evident in our experience of some families, and so apparently lacking in others.
To explain, Stanciu tells the story of a Dutch business leader who, despite his optimistic and trusting approach, was frustrated that his Bulgarian employees appeared not to reciprocate. Working with this client, he discovers that the explanation for this CEO’s predicament is rooted in the fact that when it comes to trust - particularly, how it can be gained or lost - his cultural perspective was quite the opposite of his colleagues. For the Dutch business leader, trust was something that was assumed from the beginning, with the risk that it might be eroded over time. For his Bulgarian colleagues, by stark contrast, trust was something that was only earned over time.
So, when it comes to the prospective family experience in our schools, is trust something that is lost or gained over time? Do families start at zero and build up their trust or begin at 100% and slowly have it eroded, depending on how things go? For Stanciu at least, it appears that the answer is often culturally determined. And if this is the case, it might provide an extremely effective way of framing and interpreting the interactions that we have with the families that we encounter each year.
Further evidence of these cultural biases when it comes to trust can be found elsewhere. Of particular note, perhaps, is a study by Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser in 2016 on global attitudes on trust as measured by attitudinal survey questions. There appears to be no doubt that each one of us is culturally predisposed and that this will inevitably impact the relationships that we build around us, as well as the way in which we go about building them.
So the next time a family walks into your admissions office and seems to be overwhelmingly positive about your school, or for that matter unusually suspicious, take a moment to consider what Game of Trust they might be playing and work with them with understanding and empathy to help them move forward in their journey.