Why is it so hard to get people to do what we want?

Trust your feelings, Luke!

In part 1 of this series, I suggested a model in which we can think of trust as an exercise in bonding, one that has to pass through roughly four key layers of interaction. Promise Theory tells us that impositions — imposing ideas (actually anything) — are likely to be ineffective unless there is already overwhelming trust, indeed unquestioning acceptance between parties. But that kind of trust takes time and effort to build. We have to build trust, by rehearsal, usually before presenting plans if we’re hoping to create a resonance, and the way we start that is by gradually inviting cooperation. It’s not something we can normally do head on by fiat — rather, we start with the foundations of acceptance and build up through the four layers.

Manufacturing trust for collective action

Trust is the currency of time-saving. If you can’t trust, you have to verify — and verifying is expensive. So we verify until we feel either satisfied or merely exhausted. Our assessments depend on our interior state of mind, building on on all that we’ve learnt and experienced. Trust is learning.

  1. The landscape of personalities.
  2. The space of conversations.
  3. The world of themes and ideas.
  4. The factory of step by step plans.

Don’t confuse promises with contracts. Contracts are much more complicated, and are built from many levels of promises.

Getting to the promise of collaboration boils down to these questions:

  • Are people willing to listen?
  • Will they hear what we’re offering, or only what they want to hear?
  • Are people willing to be led or be guided (by a person, by rules, etc)?

The promises of personal bonds

The term “culture” is a popular contemporary way to represent the patterns of interaction in a collective. A culture is a kind of descriptive "brand" for habitual behaviour, but both god and the devil lie in the details of what that means. If we include machines and humans in the same picture, culture can include procedures, algorithms, data, and design “code”. We shouldn’t assume that human behaviours are too special.

Summary: Come back, over?

As any sales person will tell you, the secret to a successful relationship is to get people to come back for another turn on the carousel. Success and profit are built from repetition, not from ticket sales or pass-through turnstiles. If no one comes back next time, no trust gets built, and you might collect benefits only once. We have to train those muscles, else there’s no learning, no ascent or descent, no opportunity for improvement. For another party to cooperate with us over time, they need to come back and have a stable sense of who we are and what the game is.

If agents’ characteristic “personalities” attract rather than repel one another, then we can climb to the next level of promises, advancing up the hierarchy of cooperation.

From getting along, to having extended conversations that hold our interest, to emergent themes where we find common ground, to a mutual understanding of necessary steps in a storyline that builds towards the outcome. Thus we begin to establish a more formal set of seeds to plant on collaboration commons.

Addendum: an elephant in the room!

The debate rages about so-called personality classifications (e.g. Myers-Briggs MBTI and others). It inflames emotions and the very personality types it claims to classify. Many feel they have been slighted by assessments of their personality types and their semantics offered by the Myers-Briggs model. However unsympathetically such assessments might be used by poor leaders, the hypothesis that there are certain axes that classify our responses is both reasonable and compelling, so there’s no need to throw out that particular elephant with the swamp water. The question is simply, what promises shall we build on an assessment of personality types?

If we can measure personality alignment in some way, then this might inform a strategy for building successful and persistent interactions. If the emotional layer of decision-making refuses to align, then hope of cooperation may be forlorn.

If someone has a habit of using knowledge of someone else’s weaknesses or characteristics in order to manipulate or overpower them, they will undermine trust, and ruin the basis for cooperation. That’s the simple point, setting aside the exact details of the emotional response. If one uses a knowledge of compatible types to work together, then it’s arguably in everyone’s best interests. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t feel compassion towards those who are incapable of aligning with us, for whatever reason. There are more reasons not to align than to do so.



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Mark Burgess

Mark Burgess


@markburgess_osl on Twitter and Instagram. Science, research, technology advisor and author - see Http://markburgess.org and Https://chitek-i.org