Lesson 2.14

Building Trust And Depressurizing Tense Debates

Dive into this topic by watching the video, followed by key concepts below:


Key Concepts:


There are two kinds of trust: Trust in people’s abilities and actions, and trust in people’s intentions.

  • The more trust you have in people’s good intentions, the easier it is to engage in cognitive friction without it getting destructive.

  • To build trust in intentions, you need to be able to see people as humans you can empathize with.

  • The best ways to do this are to learn their stories, or to go through stories together with them.

    • Sitting down and getting to know someone’s history makes it a lot harder for you to treat them poorly when you disagree.

    • When even the most different people go through unique experiences together, they bond and become part of each other’s “in-groups.” This is why soldiers bond so strongly.

    • Watching movies or otherwise experiencing stories together has this kind of effect on people as well. That’s why going on a date to the movies actually makes sense even though it’s a parallel activity. Brain science shows us that we bond over shared experiences, even if it’s just watching them.

    • Playing together—from playful banter to board games to sports to improv comedy games—helps people feel like part of each other’s in-groups as well. (See the book Dream Teams chapter 3 if you want to really dig in on the science of play for building trust.)

    • Doing all of these trust-building activities before you have the intense debates is time well invested.

One of the best things to do to prevent cognitive friction from going too far is to be alert to triggers that make things get personal.

  • When people start operating from a place of defensiveness, it’s often because their personal ego or group identity feels at stake.

  • When this happens, gently back things up and reframe things so that person can feel psychologically safe again. (Practice with the That’s Personal exercise in this Module if you haven’t already.)

  • Let people save face by reinforcing the rules of good debate. (See Lesson 2.6.)

When the friction in a group starts to go to far, you can depressurize things in a few ways:

  • Identify the source of the tension—especially if you can do it in a humorous way. Humor lets air out of the balloon.

  • Take a break to do a breathing exercise. Ten deep breaths—or even better, a walk around the block while breathing deeply—can reset the mood.

  • Put on happy background music. This makes silences less awkward, especially ones that occur after someone says something strong.

  • Pull up some photos of cute animals. Seriously, puppies and baby otters immediately make things less tense! :)

Ultimately, trust is built on repeated positive interactions. You can kickstart this by being the first to be vulnerable and trust others.

  • The more you see someone perform a task well, the more likely you’ll trust them with a similar task.

  • In the same way, the more someone shows you that their intentions for the group are good, the more likely you’ll be to give them benefit of the doubt.

  • Show that your intentions are good through micro-actions that benefit the larger group.

  • Exposing your vulnerabilities to others is a show of trust that makes it easy for them to feel safe to reciprocate.

  • The literal words “I trust you,” can go a long way.