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Time to heal – The future depends on trust

This article first appeared in the March 03/21 issue of "absatzwirtschaft".

Gotten any letters from the German government recently? I myself haven’t, but to my surprise my nine-year-old daughter did just yesterday, receiving coupons redeemable for twelve free FFP2 masks. Like many people, I am at pains currently to maintain my trust in German efficiency in the midst of the pandemic response. Already there has been a measurable loss of public confidence in the media, the government and democracy in general, and trust in business has eroded as well. Recently it was reported that some companies have employed detective agencies to monitor employees working from home, and sales of digital monitoring tools are booming.

The discrepancy between words and deeds, pronouncements versus execution, has undermined trust on all sides, as inevitably occurs in confronting uncontrollable change. Disappointment and anger can lead to cynicism over time – an attitude of scornful or jaded negativity towards society and mistrust of those in power. In contrast to a skeptical attitude, cynicism is characterized by a loss of faith in the possibility for positive change, as everything is taken to support a view that the people are deceived and their efforts failed and futile. Those who disagree are written off as being in denial. Cynics are often seen as having a high level of cognitive competence and intelligence. Their attitude lends them a certain invulnerability, for you can’t be disappointed if you have zero expectations. However, international studies have demonstrated that there is a high negative correlation between cynicism and cognitive competence. People with cynical attitudes exhibit lower cognitive and social competence, and are less successful in management. This is no doubt because organizations are more capable of positive change when their managers are in turn capable of greater optimism and trust in their employees’ potential, thus being less driven to control everything with their sphere.

Especially in times of change like these, when there is no map and it’s all about all trial and error, managers are needed who have positive attitudes toward people and the future. For cynical attitudes undermine the possibility of collaborative trust in working together to shape the future. The strength we need for change depends on believing in people and their potential.

What sort of narrative can guide society or an organization away from cynicism and toward a better future? Glancing ‘across the pond’ at the US, we can see an example of what happens as the process of decaying trust and confidence progresses further. Michelle Obama offered a narrative possibility for dealing with this quandary in famously saying “when they go low, we go high”. Ultimately, even a cynical individual will be forced to confront the necessity of taking a more productive attitude toward our common future. And it is in this sense that US President Biden has called for “unity and healing”, flanked by poet Amanda Gorman as the voice of optimism and change for the United States. Her words of courage and encouragement: “For there is always light, if only we're brave enough to see it, if only we are brave enough to be it.”


This article first appeared in the March 03/21 issue of "absatzwirtschaft".


Author: Europa Bendig

STURMundDRANG founder and General Manager Europa Bendig has been consulting on innovation processes for NGOs and international enterprises for 18 years, primarily in the luxury goods, health, services, beauty, living and social businesses. She specializes in cultural codes and narratives that give brands and portfolios cultural relevance and promote customer loyalty.

Image references

Image 1: "Better Days Ahead" // Image 2: "Homeoffice" // Image 3: "Finger"