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How to Build Unshakable Trust

Dave and I would like to thank everyone for reaching out. Your care and concern about our safety after the July 4 earthquake is deeply appreciated. Indeed, the earthquake was a “moving" experience.

We had just finished watching our local parade here in Santa Clarita where we also serve as judges—Dave for color guard, and me for the equestrian division. Established in 1932, this year's parade had 90 entries and was attended by more than 25,000 spectators who lined the streets of Old Town Newhall to celebrate America’s independence.

When the parade ended at 10:30 in the morning, the streets and sidewalks were packed with parade spectators. Jubilation filled the air. We happily made our way down toward our local theater where we judges needed to meet up in the office to collectively decide on the award of trophies.

Suddenly I felt light headed, and stumbled to the left. I laughed it off, attributing it to being jostled by the sea of people and not paying attention to where I was walking. Then I heard the news—Earthquake.

Later in the day when we arrived home, we felt relief. We were happily greeted by our dogs, RG and Gracie, and found hour home seemed unaffected by the quake. We turned on the newsfeed to learn more about the aftermath of the earthquake. Our hearts went out to people nearby the epicenter, about 150 miles from us in the greater Los Angeles area.

What a blessing that no one lost their life. We also learned that there were not any reports of physical damage in Los Angeles County.

Yet many people in Los Angeles felt scared by the rolling shake, fearing it might explode into “the big one”. A question that kept coming up by Los Angeles residents who had the ShakeAlertLA app asked: why wasn’t I notified!!!? The CalTech seismic facility registered a 48-second warning that shaking had begun at the epicenter, but an alert was not activated for the Los Angeles County public.

Seismologist Lucy Jones of Caltech, founder of the Dr. Lucy Jones Center for Science & Society. explained that the notification threshold on its ShakeAlertLA app was set at 5.0 magnitude. It was anticipated that the effect of the earthquake on Los Angeles located 150 miles away from the epicenter would not reach the 5.0 magnitude threshold; therefore an alert was not issued in LA.

What was more even interesting to me was when Dr. Jones wisely said, ‘let's remind ourselves that this is not a physical science question'’. It’s a psychological question. She continued, "giving more alerts convinces people that the system works and generates trust in it. Lots of false alarms generates distrust”. This reminded me of one of Aesop’s Fables about the boy who cried wolf, “nobody believes a liar…even when he is telling the truth.”

Working with leaders in organizations as a coach/consultant and social scientist, I am reminded about how challenging it is for leaders to deliver bad news to their team members and the rest of the organization. The question becomes: what do we know about how and when to communicate bad news in a way that builds, or destroys, unshakable trust within our organizations?

 Your thoughts? Let’s continue the conversation over the next few weeks.

PS, in the picture, Dave is in the white cowboy hat :-).


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