A few years back I was managing a project where I had to work closely with an offshore IT supplier. When we progressed into the project, the supplier started making quite a lot of mistakes in terms of delivering our IT requirements. Basically, we were asking for oranges but what we were getting from them were lemons!
The problem was not that they were making mistakes. The problem was that they were not ready to own up to their mistakes and were tremendously defensive in their attitude. Plus, they seldom committed to a deliverable and whenever we gave them a requirement that was complicated they used to display reservations about it. In a meeting with them, we tried to solve these issues but it ended with heated arguments with no conclusion reached, leaving me and my boss peeved beyond words. My boss told me “Aninda, I do not have any trust on these guys; this way we will not even achieve half of what we want”. I replied by saying “I do not have any trust in them either”. Thereafter, he asked me to think about the issue and find out a way to solve it. (Changing the supplier was not within our power and thus was not possible)
Tired and exhausted, I went back home. That evening, not wanting to think about the events at my workplace, I thought of watching comedy scenes of movies (Yeah, I do that a lot when time is in short supply and a full-length movie cannot be afforded).
Enters Mr. Robert De Niro! And his movie Meet the Parents (and the sequels)
Robert De Niro And His Circle of Trust
For those who have not watched the movie Meet the Parents, it’s a movie where Ben Stiller’s character Greg wants to marry Robert De Niro’s character’s daughter. Now, in the movie Robert De Niro has this circle of trust and he repeatedly keeps on telling Greg that if he cannot be inside the circle, which basically means if he cannot win De Niro’s trust, then he will not be allowed to marry the daughter. Greg, throughout the movie, keeps on nervously making mistakes, keeps on lying to cover up his mistakes and finally finds himself out of the circle of trust.
That’s the piece of paper that Robert De Niro gives to Greg to let him know that he is out of the former’s circle of trust. Right at this point, I did rewind the video. Paused it at this picture. Looked at it for a while with my eyes squinted. And then I found myself smiling.
This picture was also telling me something else.
Even Robert De Niro was not in Greg’s circle of trust!
That small black spot in the picture is Greg’s own circle of trust which in no way intersects with De Niro’s.
And it’s not just this picture. In the entire movie, Greg tries to cover his mistakes all the time which finally leads to his ouster; but he does that in the very first place because he never trusted Robert De Niro’s character to have understood him and forgiven his mistakes.
And then it dawned on me. Maybe, it was not just us who did not have trust on our supplier. For some reason, maybe even they did not have much trust on us.
A relationship based on mutual trust between us and our supplier was definitely missing.
Armed with this understanding, I shared my insight with my boss, created communication plans with the supplier and took actions to build trust. It did wonders. The trust gained made the supplier open its doors which brought me face-to-face with their issues. This tremendously helped us to work around the problems and bring the project back on track. I will not go into the details but the key thing was to make them feel not as a supplier but as a part of our team (a one team approach) and that making a mistake was fine as long as we were transparent about it, communicated effectively and created processes not to repeat it.
The Circle’s Eternal Implication On Our Profession And Our Life
We can tremendously leverage the benefits of winning each other’s trust in every sphere of our lives. Who takes the first step towards it really depends on the circumstances and/or the relationship lifecycle. If you are selling a product, you need to take the first step to win the customer’s trust and for the relationship to continue, the customer also has to win your trust as someone who will pay on time.
So, next time if you are left wondering as to why you are not being able to make stakeholders in your company accept a change, or why an investor did not invest in your business, or why a customer is not buying your great product, or why your team, spouse or children are hiding things from you, then maybe it’s time to take a pause and see if there is some kind of chink in the armour of trust (it could be our product or service or our personality itself). Maybe in certain areas our circles of trust are not intersecting. Understanding this will pave the way towards finding a solution.
This reminds me of something that my sister told me a long time back.
“Keeping all other things constant, if someone is lying to you, then maybe it is your discredit and not his or her”
Looking back, I guess she was right!
In case, you want to enjoy the funny “Circle of Trust” scenes from the movie, here’s the clip 🙂