Building Trust – Part 4

Trust through Conflict

Trust comes in many forms and layers. Some trust is about believing someone will do the thing they said they would do. Sometimes trust is about believing they will behave toward me in a certain way – perhaps with kindness or generosity. Sometimes we event find stability in trusting that a person will reliably do something we don’t like. We count on them to show up late or are strangely comforted when they habitually interrupt. 

I think the deepest trust, and perhaps the flavor we seek most when we join community is the trust in belonging. It is the security of knowing that this is my tribe. I am accepted here. These people (or perhaps this person) will not reject me. I can count on having community. To build that kind of trust, we need conflict.  

It’s easy to tell ourselves we’re in it together, that we all like each other, that we want the same things. It’s a comfortable story, and it’s a stage in the process.  But we are too clever to fully believe that story. Life has taught us that we don’t really know, as we’re hanging out in a collective comfort zone, who will be there for us when things get tough. We know that things will get rocky. We know that there will be days we show up badly and days that others do, and we don’t know how that will go until we’ve lived it some. Conflict is coming, and the only way to know that we will survive the next conflict is by remembering how we worked through the last one. 

I imagine some of you are wondering how this idea holds up given experiences you may have had where conflict broke trust and left your group hurting and struggling. These experiences are exactly the opposite of trust-building. It’s true, conflict often ends like that. But when it doesn’t, when we do conflict well, when we approach conflict with enough vulnerability to invite growth and connection, the result can be the deepest kind of trust I know. This is the trust that happens when you have seen me at my worst, when I’ve revealed the hidden shameful parts of me, and you love me still. 

Conflict is a thing we all do. Doing it well takes practice and work, and it’s the most rewarding work I know. No blog post can do justice to this topic, but perhaps I can offer a few pointers and resources to get you started.  

Almost always doing conflict well involves slowing down and regulating our nervous system enough to see different perspectives. To do that, some of us need quiet. Others need an impartial listening ear (something that is usually available in community). Some of us need time, others need an assurance that the issue will be addressed. It’s possible to accommodate both at the same time if both stretch a bit.  

When settling the nervous system, it can also be helpful to focus on appreciation. With our brains wired to attend more to negative input, it’s important to remind ourselves of the good stuff.  Remembering what we appreciate about the people we are in conflict with helps us get to a more accurate and useful assessment of the actual level danger involved. While this doesn’t make the conflict go away, it can reduce the fight, flee, freeze and protect instincts that make it hard to do conflict well.  

Once you’ve settled your nervous system, engaging curiosity helps a lot, in particular curiosity about:

  • What I don’t know about this situation is . . . 
  • What it is that has me so triggered is . . . (Hint: It’s probably more from you past than the present)
  • The other perspectives I’m not seeing are . . . 

Thus prepared, you have pretty good odds of working through the conflict productively and learning about yourself and each other along the way. In the end, odds are good that trust will grow along with compassion and skills. Having found a way through conflict, you will be more confident of finding that way the next time. You space for connection in community will be more secure, your tolerance for the vulnerability that is essential to connection will grow. To say it another way, you will be building trust.  

Resource List:

  • Connecting in Cohousing session Care and Counsel with Gina Simm (available to CohoUS Partners)
  • The Cooperative Culture Handbook by Yana Ludwig and Karen Gimnig
  • Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown
  • Conscious Communication by Miles Sherts
  • Sitting in the Fire by Arnie Mindell
  • Restorative Circles:
  • Laird Schaub’s blog:

Category: Creating Relationships

Tags: conflict, living in cohousing, relationships

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