1 Big idea to think about

  • Every relationship has a structure, even if it’s unspoken or unclear. A low-trust structure is one where expectations are unclear, rules are ambiguous, and nobody knows what success looks like. A high-trust structure is one where expectations are clear, goals are shared, rules are articulated, and success is defined.

2 ways you can apply this

  • Identify a relationship (an individual or team) that could benefit from establishing a high-trust agreement.
  • Work together to align goals, expectations, rules, and rewards for success.

3 Questions to ask

  • Which relationships (personal or professional) in my life are built on low-trust agreements?
  • Which relationships (personal or professional) are built on high-trust agreements?
  • Which of my relationships would benefit most from creating a high trust agreement?

Key Moments From The Show 

  • How the Pope played a critical role in US-Cuba negotiations (1:50)
  • The crucial role of a mediator (6:23)
  • Low-trust structures vs. high-trust structures (7:41)
  • Creating your high-trust agreement (12:17)
  • The five elements of a high-trust agreement (13:16)
  • How a high-trust agreement provides a great ROE – return on effort (15:30)

Links You’ll Love from the Episode

Greg McKeown (00:02):

Welcome I’m Greg McKeown. And if you are a first time listener, I’m the author of two New York times bestsellers, effortless and essentialism. And this is just the fourth episode of the newly minted Greg McKuen podcast. I’m here for this journey to learn how to be a negotiator, a mediator, even with the people who matter most to you, are you in a situation where you get along with two people who aren’t getting along with each other, it could be between two members on your team conflicts between employees is going to show up in your inbox or in your meetings at some point. And if you pretend they aren’t there, you’re not doing your job. It could be between your spouse and one of your children. It could be between two members of your extended family. Today, I’m going to share a story, something I am learning and an actionable piece of advice you can use right now to be a more effective mediator. By the end of this episode, you will be prepared to diffuse tensions so people can get back to working effectively together. Let’s get to it.

Greg McKeown (01:31):

If you want to learn the ideas in this episode faster, teach the ideas in this podcast with someone else within 24 to 48 hours of listening, you’ll remember more. You’ll apply more and you’ll produce lift in the people around you. So who will you share it with? Let me read you a story from the Harvard Negotiation Project. Back on December 17th, 2014, the world was caught off guard by the announcement that the United States was going to open up negotiations with Cuba, with the aim of restoring full diplomatic relations between the two long estranged nations. Another surprise twist of the story. Pope Francis was the chief instigator and mediator of the unexpected detente. A pivotal moment in the top secret negotiations, which unfolded over the past year and a half came when the us president Barack Obama visited the Vatican in March, 2014, Pope Francis reportedly pressed Obama to forge a new era in US-Cuba relations.

Greg McKeown (02:41):

According to Obama, the Pope was particularly concerned about the plight of Alan Gross, an American contractor who was serving a 15 year jail sentence in Cuba for trying to bring internet services to Cuba. The Pope followed up the meeting with letters to both President Obama and to Cuban President Raul Castro, urging them to work hard to restore relations. In October, 2014, the Vatican hosted talks between the United States and Cuban delegations. At that meeting, the two sides hashed out details of gross release and elements of the new US trade policy toward Cuba. Gross was released and flown home to the United States on December 17th, 2014. As part of the broader agreement, the United States released three Cuban spies in exchange for a Cuban intelligence officer being held in Cuba. United States officials took pains to insist the Gross was not part of the prisoner swap. Many Republican politicians condemned the prospect of normalization with Cuba saying it would prop up the Castro regime economically and failed to address the pressing questions of human rights and democracy in Cuba.

Greg McKeown (03:58):

But to Pope Francis, the announced deal appeared to be a clear win-win agreement. The Vatican secretary of state released a statement expressing the Pope’s warm congratulations for the historic decision to establish these diplomatic relations. Both the Castro regime and the Obama administration viewed Argentinian born Pope Francis, the first head of the Roman Catholic church from Latin America, as the ideal mediator, many of the Pope’s top advisors have experience in Latin America and special understanding of the situation in Cuba. Speaking of the Pop’s role, one US official told the New York times that the negotiations were less a matter of breaking substantive log jam, but more the confidence of having an external party we could rely on. The Vatican has had a history of taking a keen interest in Cuba. Francis and previous popes have been concerned about the impact of the longstanding us economic sanctions against Cuba, believing they cause suffering for ordinary Cubans and isolate the Cuban government in a way that cuts off the possibility of diplomacy.

Greg McKeown (05:12):

The Vatican has been focused on the human condition rather than secular interests in Cuba. Francis Rooney, a former US ambassador to the Vatican told CNN. Yet the Catholic church also had a vested interest in Cuba after Fidel Castro came to power in 1959 and in 1961, declared Cuba, a socialist state at that point, thousands of Catholic priests and nuns were jailed and sent into exile. In the 1990s Castro loosened rules on religion, changing the nation from officially atheist to secular. In 1998, St. John Paul II, who was raised in communist, Poland, visited Cuba and heralded the opening of the first new seminary to be built there. Since the revolution today, about 60 to 70% of the Cuban population is believed to be Catholic yet the worship is still restricted. The country has fewer than 200 priests, according to Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami. I’ll put a link to that story in the show notes so that you can go and read more about it, but also other articles about negotiating when it matters most.

Greg McKeown (06:23):

But here’s the point I wish to make. Now the word mediator comes from the Latin word medias, which means one who goes between. And to me, that’s the critical piece in this story. And in this breakthrough is to have a third person who is trusted by both parties to be able to navigate a solution. It directs us to what the most important skills of a mediator are. And I think the first idea here is it’s a person who has the ability to hold two realities. You know, it’s someone who can see both sides of the story, not take a side, try to listen and understand and seek the benefit of both parties. It’s somebody who is trying to create an agreement of some kind between two parties. And that just reminds me of something that I researched and then wrote in Effortless. It’s the importance of creating a high trust agreement because that I think is the highest calling of what a mediator is all about.

Greg McKeown (07:41):

Okay. So let’s just back up for a moment. There are three parties to every relationship. There is person, a there’s person B, and then there’s the structure that governs them. When trust becomes an issue. Most people point at the other person, the manager blames the employee, the employee blames the manager, the teacher blames the student, the student blames the teacher, the parent blames the child, the child blames the parent. Sometimes we are able to recognize that we are the ones at fault, but we rarely think to blame the structure of the relationship itself. Every relationship has a structure, even if it’s an unspoken unclear one, a low trust structure is one where expectations are unclear, where goals are incompatible or at odds where people don’t know who is doing what, where the rules are ambiguous. And nobody knows what the standards for success are and where the priorities are unclear.

Greg McKeown (08:45):

And the incentives misaligned. All right, this is a low trust structure. A high trust structure is one where expectations are clear. Goals are shared. Roles are clearly delineated. The rules and standards are articulated and the right results are prioritized, incentivized and rewarded consistently. Not just sometimes. So most people can agree that this type of relationship is preferable. The problem is that low trust relationship structures generally happen by default rather than by design. I’ve had this happen to me many times, but I remember once hiring several professionals to help us remodel our home. They were employed by three different companies, but had worked together on a variety of projects over many years. Uh, they liked one another. They seemed competent. Each individual had come highly recommended. So I thought the pieces were in place for a high trust experience. But I began to worry after I asked for a written agreement with dates attached to it and never received one, but I was eager to get the renovations going and innovations going and decided it wasn’t worth pausing the work until we had it.

Greg McKeown (09:55):

And that certainly turned out to be shortsighted. While each person on the team worked competently enough on their own, as a team, they were far from cohesive. There was no parallel processing. There was no clear workflows. A vendor would complete a task and only then would the next piece of work be ordered. So some of the cabinets would get installed while others would be delayed for weeks. There was miscommunication. Sometimes workers would turn up to work, but the materials hadn’t arrived. They couldn’t agree on deadlines. They couldn’t agree on who was responsible for what. So some efforts got duplicated while others slipped through the cracks. We were given incorrect dimensions for an appliance. So it needed to be reordered from a different manufacturer altogether to fit in the limited space. The end result, the model was completed late and over budget. And the experience for everyone involved was harder at every turn than it needed to be.

Greg McKeown (10:53):

And that’s the typical outcome. When you have a low trust structure, a couple of years after this frustrating experience, I was invited to speak to the lean construction Institute, the LCI. It’s a trade association working to address the decline in efficiency within the construction industry. Just for context, while other labor intensive industries have seen efficiency improve since the 1960s today in the United States, a staggering 70% of construction projects are delivered late and over budget. And, and that’s got nothing to do with the pandemic. This was before that and more concerningly, 800 construction related deaths and thousands more injuries are reported each year. So the LCI sees lean principles as being key to improving this situation. One solution is a unique business contract they refer to as the deal that ties each participant’s compensation to the outcome of the whole project, rather than to the work that the individual contributors give. Aligning the incentives in that way encourages the different parties to act as one team and to make decisions that benefit the whole project rather than their own self interest.

Greg McKeown (12:10):

They not only feel a sense of ownership, but are motivated to take initiative, to make the whole experience more efficient. Whether we are remodeling a home or leading a team of colleagues, we can all create a similar high trust agreement to make it easier to get the right things done together. As you take the role of mediator, it’s ideal if you can have a structure in mind of what does done look like? What would success look like here? And to spend less time worrying about the interpersonal dynamics between the two people and more time focused on creating clarity around what is wanted by both parties and how one might get to agreement of the shared desired results. Even a one time intervention as a mediator to set up such an agreement can pay dividends. Let me share with you a simple tool for being able to codify all of that clarity.

Greg McKeown (13:16):

Here it is. This is the high trust agreement. It has five elements, one results. What results does each party want? Of course, you could go back to episode one of the Greg McKeown podcast to better understand how to look past the current positions towards the actual goal, the purpose behind those positions, if it seems like they’re completely at odds right now. Two is the roles who is going to do what? So going forward, instead of people stepping on each other’s toes, instead of people thinking and assuming the other person is going to do this, of course they will. But then without actually communicating it, you get clear about this. Number three is rules. Yes, they all illiterate all five of them. What minimum viable standards must be kept. Rules are often established by experience, and you can create these rules based on their violation in the past.

Greg McKeown (14:23):

You can put them down as you learn about how to work with people and how not to work with people. And instead of having that just all in the back of your head, you make it explicit in this agreement. Number four is resources. What resources, people, money, tools are available and needed and can be agreed between the parties? And finally, number four rewards. How will progress be evaluated and rewarded? Really that’s to do with, when are we going to sit down again and see how everybody is doing for compliance and non-compliance so that we can continue to work on this relationship? In a sense what Pope Francis seemed to achieve as mediator was to provide the trust that didn’t exist directly between the two parties, the intent and the achievement was to create a new, higher trust agreement between those parties and the agreement that they came up with is a beautiful illustration of what at least a higher trust agreement looks like.

Greg McKeown (15:30):

So operating as a mediator in this way provides you a great ROE, a great return on effort. You don’t spend your time spinning, wasting your energy again. And again, hearing people complain about each other to you separately in email, along the way, gossiping about each other. You bring the parties together and you focus them on the job to be done so that you can create shared clarity. And with that shared clarity, they’re able to operate not just independently, certainly not codependently, but interdependently, a huge return on a rather modest effort. It’s a high leverage activity. And if you can build it correctly, then you can see residual results, turn that conflict that’s getting in the way of production into something that returns results to you again and again, and again. Now at this juncture, let me share a meta moment I had, as I was recently reviewing episode one, and also as I’ve just finished recording this episode with you now. I suddenly realized that I have been dealing with a conflict with one of my own children.

Greg McKeown (16:52):

It’s nothing massive, but it’s something I’m sure that you can relate with. It’s one of my children who is not terrible, but not consistently great at tidying up their room. And I don’t handle this in a particularly good way. I will be unaware of it. And then suddenly in a slightly volatile way, try to address it all at once. This creates conflict for sure, tension for both parties. And it escalates, and often, quickly. As I was listening to the magic question that I share in that first episode, I realized I need to go right now and use that question with this child. And I did, because I don’t like the tension. I don’t want that to exist between us at all. It doesn’t seem that important, even though it needs to be addressed in some way. So I went and I asked the question, you can go back and listen to the episode to get back the context and understand what I’m referring to.

Greg McKeown (17:51):

But they immediately said, yes, enthusiastically. Yes. And so we opened a window of opportunity to begin a proper conversation. But that’s where it lies right now in this episode, as we’re talking about this high trust agreement and the importance of playing the mediator’s role in creating such an agreement, I realize I need to go and make this happen. Actually have the conversation, play the mediator role in that truest sense that we talked about at the beginning. Medius one who goes between, I need to go between what I’ve been in the past party one, my child who’s party two. I need to step into a different role and try to come up with something that works better. That aligns with what we both really want. The right results, clear roles, rules. We can agree on resources that might be necessary and rewards for compliance or lack of rewards for non-compliance.

Greg McKeown (18:57):

So this is my person that I’m going to go and share the ideas from this episode with within the next 24 to 48 hours. Who’s your person? Is it your whole team? I hear from lots of people who are getting their whole team to listen, to be involved, to teach, as we go on this journey. Think of what would happen. If you could get everyone in your life to operate in the ways that we’ve been discussing. Imagine if everybody had a full upgrade in their ability to communicate with each other around the difficult subjects. Imagine if you had a whole team of mediators who could resolve the problems quickly, the inevitable conflicts, the inevitable challenges as part of what it is to be human, to be different, working together. Imagine if they could do it with their most important customers. Imagine if they could do it with the other teams that often they can be friction between even though they’re trying to work together.

Greg McKeown (19:59):

Imagine if they could do it with you so that there was less conflict, less cold conflict or hot conflict and more cooperation and working together. There is a network effect here. The more people you have who can do this together, the better it is for you. So share and teach, take on that role and see what could happen. Now, if you found this episode today, useful, I will encourage you as always to go and write review on Apple iTunes. The first five people that do it, we’ll get a signed copy of Effortless. The section that we talked about today is written up in detail in chapter 14, under trust the engine of high leverage teams, for those that want to reference it. Write review, take a picture of it, send it to info@Greg mckeown.com. If you haven’t already sign up for the One-minute, Wednesday newsletter, go to Gregmckeown.com/1MW. You can also go on the same website to the podcast link and see show notes.

Greg McKeown (21:08):

For episode after episode, a a seriously useful free resource to you to be able to implement these ideas and make this change to lift the people around you, to lift yourself to a higher level. If you haven’t subscribed to this podcast, yet, if you’re just listening to it, please subscribe. Be part of this journey because we are not this, this isn’t just a podcast. This is a movement, and I want you to be on the journey with me as I learn, as I struggle, as I make mistakes every day, I want you to be with me. Let me leave you on a marvelous, final thought. It’s from Mahatma Gandhi. He said peace is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it. I’ll meet you here next time on the Greg McKeown podcast.