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Three Keys to Self-Orientation


Three Keys to Self-Orientation

Mark Ledden shares an article that explains why self-orientation is the most important component of trust. 

The math of David Maister’s Trust Equation[1] is designed to make a simple point: of the four components of trust, self-orientation is the most important.

His argument makes a certain intuitive sense. If I think you are all about getting what is best for you and not at all concerned with what is best for me, I am not likely to trust you no matter how smart, punctual, or well informed you are. That said, it is also intuitively clear that self-orientation is probably a larger and more intellectually slippery concept than simply the unbridled pursuit of what one wants.

For that reason, I would like to suggest that it may be helpful to consider some of the various ways self-orientation can express itself, particularly in the workplace, if only so that people who wish to follow Maister’s advice for building trust have a somewhat more tangible game plan than “Note to self: Stop being so selfish.” I also want to make the case that it may well be that in important ways “self-orientation” is less about the direction the “self” is focused, and more about the kind of self one brings to complicated interactions.

Unilateral problem solving

“Don’t bring me a problem. Bring me a solution.” We hear it all the time, usually from a well-intended boss or manager who wants to nurture self-sufficiency within an empowered work force. Usually, there is nothing wrong with asking people to be problem solvers. And that is why our oft-rewarded instinct to be problem solvers can be so hard to break free from in situations where it does not serve us well.

Broadly speaking, professional problem solvers consume information, process it in their enormous noggins, and then deploy solutions based on their sense of what the information means. Too long a line outside your restaurant? Raise prices. Constantly running out of gardening spades in the summer? Rethink your inventory management systems. And so on and so on. Absorb the information. Figure out what it means. Deploy a solution based on your interpretations. This is the process one uses to bring solutions instead of problems.

All well and good, until we end up trying to solve people as if they were problems. Then, the pattern looks something like this: I see that you are not doing what I think you should do, or not thinking what I think you should think, or not feeling what I think you should feel. Therefore, I decide inside my own head what I can do or say that will change your acting, thinking, or feeling from what it is to what I think it should be. I deploy a solution, which usually sounds either like criticism or reassurance. Either “cut that out!” or “don’t worry!”. If you have ever told an angry person to “calm down!” only to find that they mysteriously get more angry instead of less, you have experienced the limitations of this approach.


Key points include:

  • Unilateral problem solving
  • Failure to reconstruct multiple perspectives
  • Lack of system awareness


Read the full article, Common denominator: Three kinds of self orientation, on