The fragility of trust

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —July 25, 2007
Filed in Anecdotes

A friend of mine is a lawyer, and a good one at that. Our families just spent a week together in Mossy Point on the New South Wales coast and, as you might expect, we told each other lots of stories helping everyone to catch up on one anothers’ lives.

Today my friend, I will call her Julie (not her real name), told an anecdote illustrating the fragility of trust. Julie’s an expert in collaborative law and she was organising a group of 10 law firms to pay for an ad in the yellow pages. One of the firms contributing to the ad was run by someone Julie knew quite well but he was concerned Julie’s law firm would have pride of place on the ad. To address this concern Julie suggested that she would draw the firm’s names out of a hat and whatever order they came out would be how they would be listed on the ad. That seemed pretty fair, she thought. The law firm owner was happy with that idea but he said to Julie, “but we need someone independent to draw the names out.” My friend was incensed and she said to me, “It was at this point I stopped really trusting the guy”.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:


  1. Trustworthy people are usually quite trusting, and vice versa.

  2. firefly says:

    I had two reactions when I read your anecdote. One was, I fully agree with “Julie”. But then, I thought about a contest at work I recently was involved with in the capacity of “independent” person. I was asked to think of 10 numbers between 1 and 1000. These numbers corresponded to a list of names in an Excel spreadsheet which were entered in a draw. As it happens, the very first number I drew happened to be my manager’s! Now, this was completely independent, documented and witnessed by yet another person. However, I think it’s obvious what the concern is about my drawing my manager’s name. Regardless, in a large corporation (which ours is) there would be a perception that the draw was skewed.
    So, in Julie’s case, what would happen if she just happened to draw her firm’s name first albeit in a fair manner? Then the other person would then feel that their mistrust was warranted regardless of what the procedure was.
    (By the way, we ended up removing any of my team members from the list. Which meant that no one on my team could participate. And that results in a certain degree of unfairness to meet people’s perception of trustworthiness because no one on my team could participate even though many of my team members had nothing to do with the particular initiative that was using the draw as an incentive)

  3. kitchensink says:

    It seems to me that, in general terms, Lawyers seem to make their money from an adversarial system. So it’s not at all surprising to me that Julie’s colleague was so apparently distrusting.

  4. Joanne Law says:

    It is actually quite surprising. Collaborative Law is a new system of dispute resolution where the lawyers take a collaborative rather than adversarial approach. They work together in four way meetings focused on the interests of the clients rather than legal positions.
    Julie’s colleague sounds like he was jumping on a bandwagon but didn’t really get the concept of collaboration. Better to find out like that than in the middle of a collaboration.

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