Darryl Stickel
Vulnerability and Trust

Being vulnerable and embracing uncertainty are all components of healthy, trusting relationships.

Darryl Stickel
Listen Now
Show Notes

Darryl Stickel(@Trust Unlimited) is the author of “Building Trust: Exceptional Leadership in an Uncertain World.” With a keen focus on benevolence, trustworthiness, and vulnerability, Darryl has meticulously studied and tested his insights. He firmly believes in the existence of levers that, when mastered, can amplify trust in both personal and professional relationships. Darryl’s groundbreaking research is poised to be a guiding light as we navigate the uncharted territories of the coming decades. 

Trust is a willingness to be vulnerable, when we can’t completely predict how someone else is going to behave.

-Darryl Stickel

Key Takeaways:

  • Physiological Safety & Trust: A crucial element in high-functioning environments is a direct consequence of elevated levels of trust. How we trust is intertwined with our perception of uncertainty and vulnerability, where the latter equates to perceived risk. In the early stages of relationships, when uncertainty is high, our tolerance for vulnerability is limited, governed by a specific risk threshold. As relationships mature and uncertainty diminishes, the scope of vulnerability we can endure expands, fostering a deeper level of trust. 
  • 3 Key Levers of Trust: Benevolence, integrity, and ability collectively form one triad of trust, underpinning the foundation of reliable interpersonal connections. Genuine care for others’ well-being (benevolence), consistent alignment with one’s values (integrity), and demonstrated competence (ability) collectively cultivate a sense of trustworthiness that strengthens relationships, building a robust framework for mutual reliance.
  • Shared Perspective: Understanding another person’s perspective of an event is a potent tool for cultivating understanding and collaboration, recognizing the inherent diversity in individual narratives. In conflicts or group dynamics, a transformative approach for resolution involves independently gathering each person’s story before facilitating an exchange where individuals articulate and grasp each other’s narratives. This process leads to the emergence of a shared story, enhancing collective comprehension and reducing discord.

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Mark Divine  0:00  

Mr. Stickel thanks for joining me today on the Mark Divine Show. Super stoked to have you here, sir. 


Darryl Stickel 0:04

It’s a pleasure to be here with you and your listeners. Thank you so much for having me. 

Mark Divine 0:07

Oh, no, it’s my pleasure. I’m excited to get into a conversation on the topic that’s very, very important and seems to be a lot of questions about trust in the, in the world today, especially with what’s been going on the last few years, the politics and news media and all that. But before we get into that, and you know, like the crux of your work, give us a sense for you, what made you who you are, what were your big life moments that helped shape your interest in doing what you’re doing? 

Darryl Stickel 0:33

That’s a good question. And there’s this, apparently Kierkegaard said that life makes sense in reverse. 

Mark Divine 0:39

Yes. Darryl Stickel 0:39

And we’ve all heard some kind of variation of that, right. I was born and raised in a small town in northern Canada, Fort St. John. And it was pretty remote. There were about 12,000 people, we were about an hour from the next small town, wasn’t that uncommon for it to be minus 40. People had to pull together, right, there was a sense of community. Not that everyone was an angel. But if somebody needed help you gave them help. I grew up believing that if I could help people, I should. And so had a fairly strong sense of empathy from that experience. And then when I was 17, I was playing junior hockey, I got attacked by a fan with a club. 


Mark Divine 1:16

No way. 

Darryl Stickel 1:17


Mark Divine 1:17

Well, that’s not very helpful. 


Darryl Stickel 1:19

It was not helpful. Shattered, my helmet knocked me unconscious, and other player grabbed me beat the tar out of me. 


Mark Divine 1:25

Jeez, Louise. Let me play rough up there. 


Darryl Stickel 1:25

Yeah, It was a rigorous Saturday night. So I ended up with this really severe concussion. And it’s in the mid 80s, we didn’t really know much about concussions, right. 


Mark Divine 1:36



Darryl Stickel 1:36

So the mindset was kind of walking off. And I knew at the time that I was going legally blind, right, that I was going to become..


Mark Divine 1:42



Darryl Stickel 1:43

…legally blind. And so I had always thought that I would train my brain so I could think for a living, right, and now all of a sudden, I can’t think at all right, like, I’ve got the attention span of a fruit fly. 


Mark Divine 1:53

Wait, let me pause here. So you knew you were going to go legally blind before you got attacked? 


Darryl Stickel 2:00

I did. Yeah, I had a hereditary retinal disorder that was degenerative. 


Mark Divine 2:04

What was that like by the way? I mean, to know, that’s coming like, how did you prepare for that? I don’t know if I’ve ever spoken to someone who like, had their sight and knew they were going to lose it. And then and you’ve lost it?


Darryl Stickel 2:16

Yeah. So I can see, you know, clearly a couple of inches. 


Mark Divine 2:20



Darryl Stickel 2:20

After that. Everything’s pretty blurry. I tell people, I can see a couple of feet. Usually they’re my own.


Mark Divine  2:25  

Is it correctable? I mean, can you see through glasses or anything?


Darryl Stickel 2:28

No, I’m missing chromosomes in my retinas. I’ve got something called cone dystrophy? You know, it’s a good question. It puts a lot of things in perspective, aspirations of being an airline pilot are probably out the window. 


Mark Divine 2:41



Darryl Stickel 2:41

And you’ve got to figure out how you can set yourself up so that you can be successful down the road.


Mark Divine 2:47

And when you were playing hockey when you were 17 or so you had your eyesight then?


Darryl Stickel 2:51

I had some sight. 


Mark Divine 2:52

Oh, really.


Darryl Stickel 2:53

You know, it was interesting, because I would watch the players and not the puck. So I saw the flow of the play. And so I could tell where the puck was, by the way people were facing and skating and what people were doing. I went on to play college hockey a year later. And my, my coach said to me, he goes, you’re 6 3’, you’re 200 pounds, you’re leading the league in scoring. /he says, how do you find yourself wide open in front of the net time? I said, just go to open ice. Like there’s just open pockets, where I can be dangerous. And so I thought about the game in a way that was different. 


Mark Divine 3:24

You could catch the movement of the puck, right? And that’s probably…


Darryl Stickel 3:28

And the high contrast because it’s a black disc on a white surface, right. 


Mark Divine 3:30



Darryl Stickel 3:31

And so if it was close to me, I could manage. I knew I was gonna lose my sight, you know, and I was doing well in school. The thing that had sort of set me apart was now no longer the thing that set me apart. And I had the experience of feeling really helpless and hopeless, lost.


Mark Divine 3:49

After you got attacked, and..


Darryl Stickel 3:50



Mark Divine

…a concussion? 


Darryl Stickel 3:52

Yeah. And I had symptoms for two years afterwards. 


Mark Divine 3:55

Yeah. So probably depression is a big common side effect of that. 


Darryl Stickel 3:59

Not uncommon, yep. And a lot of uncertainty because I didn’t know what was really wrong with me. I was just so tired all the time. And I couldn’t remember things. And I was having trouble with executive function. And all this stuff that we would know now is, yeah, that’s what happens when you have a head injury. But then they’re kind of like, you shouldn’t be feeling tired now, it’s been a couple of months. And so there was this long journey where they were trying to figure out what was wrong with me, you know, and they would test me for mono. And then they say, Well, you know, AIDS has a high fatigue rate, and I’m like, I don’t fit that profile. So…


Mark Divine 4:33

Right. Once they say it, everyone’s like, well, really?


Darryl Stickel 4:38

Really, are you sure? They’re like, you know, you could have leukemia, we could test you for leukemia. And so it was a challenging journey for a few years, and I slowly recovered, but I found myself eventually in school, here in Victoria, British Columbia, and people would just sit down next to me on the bus and say I’m really having a hard time. So for some reason complete strangers would just open up to me, and I kind of wanted to understand what was driving that. And I also thought, if this is gonna keep happening, I should get paid for this, so…


Mark Divine  5:11  

Free Free therapy is out. 


Darryl Stickel 5:14

Exactly Come on I, I want to turn in my amateur status and get my, my professional designation. So I started down a path towards becoming a clinical psychologist. So I’m taking psychology courses, and I’m working with troubled teens and street kids and families in crisis and working on crisis lines, and all those kinds of things. And after a while, I’ve come to realize that a lot of folks I’m working with are just doing the best they can. And then even if I had a plan for them to move forward, they couldn’t follow through. And I thought this would drive me insane. And so I shifted and went into public administration, and I was working in Native land claims here in British Columbia. And they would ask me these deep philosophical questions like, what is self government? Or what will the province look like 50 years after claims are settled? The last question they asked me was, how do we convince a group of people who’ve been shafted for over 100 years they should trust us?


Mark Divine  6:04  

Yeah, that’s a big one.


Darryl Stickel 6:05

Yeah, and I went that’s a good question! 


Mark Divine 6:07

I’m impressed, they were even thinking that way. 


Darryl Stickel 6:10



Mark Divine 6:10

Right, because I don’t get the impression like here in America that a lot of people are thinking that way about social justice, they’re really more thinking, how do we kind of get out of the guilt? And the shame of it? 


Darryl Stickel 6:22

Yeah, and a lot of people are very self involved and not thinking about the perspective of somebody else. 


Mark Divine 6:25

That’s right. 


Darryl Stickel 6:27

That’s the challenge. And so I went to Duke and did my PhD on building trust in hostile environments. Because I wanted to understand this felt like one of those long term disputes that just doesn’t seem to go away. And there’s other examples of that in the world. And why are they so resilient? Like they don’t do us any good after a certain period of time. They’re just painful. 


Mark Divine 6:48

People have trouble letting go. The Hatfield McCoy story, right, played out in a pretty big scale. 


Darryl Stickel 6:54

Yeah. So I started reading all the literature on trust and trying to understand it. And it turned out that there were two people at Duke when I was there, who were considered leading experts, in theory on the topic of trust. And they were both on my committee. And I started sort of looking at the research and seeing that most of it was treating trust, like a black box, like there was some kind of antecedent that popped up out here. And then trust would just pop up the other side. And I thought, wow, we got to have a better understanding of what’s going on than that. And is it really just memorizing a couple of levers that we can pull, like, be authentic? Unless your authentic self is somebody I don’t like then don’t be authentic at all. 

And so I developed a model for understanding how people make the decision to trust. And then how we actually can intervene to make it easier for people to trust us. So how does trust work? And how do we build it? And when I finished, the two people on my committee who were experts sat down with me, and we had a drink, they said, okay, so you first came to us, and we, the two of us had a conversation, we said too big, too complicated, he never solves it. And said, we’ll give him six months, he’ll come crawling back…


Mark Divine 8:06

We’ll narrow it down a little bit. 


Darryl Stickel 8:08

Let him chisel off a little piece of this, and that’ll be his thesis. They said six months in, you’re so far beyond us, we couldn’t help anymore, al we could do is sit and watch. And here we are two years later, we think you’ve solved it. And so I left there went to work for McKinsey and Company, big management consulting firm, where I started to actually apply some of this work. And the learning curve is just remarkable. When you’re actually out in the field.


Mark Divine 8:30

You were solving it for individuals or teams?


Darryl Stickel 8:32

And organizations.


Mark Divine 8:34

And organizations, interesting. 


Darryl Stickel 8:35

So small scale at first. And then I was involved in a car accident, on the way to a client site. Ended up with post concussion syndrome. So I’d had 10 concussions by this point, it was just one too many. And I couldn’t go back to that work. So I started a small company called Trust Unlimited, and started working with clients. You know, my first client was a mutual fund company, it was one of the guys I’d worked with become head of strategy. And he said, Just come talk to us. He said, talk to us about sustainable competitive advantage. I said, Well, that means you do something your competition doesn’t, that they can’t copy. I said, you don’t do anything I can’t copy. You know, I buy one share of every fund, you have now know how they’re all built. So I could sell what you sell with a discount because I don’t have to pay the funder advisor. And I said, the only way you can differentiate yourselves is to build deep, long term relationships with your customers. And they said, that’s it, that’s our strategy. And over 18 months, I trained everyone I developed the first workshop. I trained everyone in their organization. After 18 months, they hired a professional survey firm, found out the trust was the primary driver of the sales decision, and that they were dramatically more trusted than any of their competitors. And they generated 75 cents of every new dollar that came into the industry for the next two years. From that I knew, okay, what I have isn’t perfect, but it works. And so I started applying it to nonprofits and public sector and private sector and all over the planet and Canadian military asked me to help them try to figure out how to build trust with the locals in Afghanistan, and all this time I’m learning, I’m learning more and more about how it works, how to explain it in a way that people get it, how to help them change behavior patterns, to build trust with other people. 


Mark Divine 10:10

That’s amazing. You know, in my latest book, Staring Down the Wolf, I have like seven, I call them commitments that build elite teams. In the first three, which are like a foundational pyramid are courage, trust and respect. And so the reason I put courage first is because it takes courage, right, to be trustworthy.


Darryl Stickel 10:29

It does.


Mark Divine 10:30

And then from the ability to be trustworthy, trust can be built. My perspective is it’s got to start with you. Meaning like, if you’re the one that’s seeking trust, then be trustworthy. 


Darryl Stickel 10:40



Mark Divine 10:41

And that means you got to be courageous, you know, to do a number of things well, and to take responsibility for when things don’t go so well. And, you know, and a few other things. So I’m curious to hear your perspective on how do we build trust. 


Darryl Stickel 10:53

I agree so wholeheartedly with you. Because trust is a willingness to be vulnerable, when we can’t completely predict how someone else is going to behave. And if I want you to trust me, I need to have the courage to go first. I need to be willing to be vulnerable to you first, to initiate a normal reciprocity. And if I’m a leader, I got to have the stones to actually lead with imperfections.


Mark Divine 11:15

I love that. I love you said that because that’s my title of that book is called, Staring Down the Wolf, which means for a leader to stare down their fear, stare down their shadow, stare down their perfectionism, stare down all the isms. 


Darryl Stickel 11:27



Mark Divine 11:27

And just be okay, just being you today, and just show up the best you can. 


Darryl Stickel 11:32

Once we lead with imperfection, we show people that we’re human, that we can make mistakes. We give them permission to make mistakes themselves. And that’s how we learn and grow and develop. You know, I mean, Mark, I don’t know about you, but the first time I try something, I’m not great at it. You know, mistakes. 


Mark Divine 11:48

Haha, I’m perfect at everything I try. 


Darryl Stickel 11:50

Well, yeah, no, I thought you probably were, I had that sense, but


Mark Divine  11:54  



Darryl Stickel 11:55

Yeah. Right. And what made a great leader 10 years ago, it’s not the same thing that makes a great leader today. 


Mark Divine 12:00

That’s for sure. Especially after COVID. Right. And I think this conversation is so important, because everybody seems to be suffering. Because the veil of perfectionism has been stripped away, like all leaders who just thought they could just keep on doing the same thing, expecting different results, or getting a dull thud and response from their teams.


Darryl Stickel 12:17



Mark Divine 12:17

And people are just quitting, or they’re just saying, screw it. I work here. But I’m not going to put out for you because you’re toxic.


Darryl Stickel 12:23



Mark Divine 12:24

And it’s not that the guy is negative or the the person is negative. It’s that idea that they’re right. And you’ve got to basically prove it to yourself that they’re right. 


Darryl Stickel 12:34

Right, yeah, yeah. Well, and it’s the same thing with trust. The things that used to work 10 years ago, don’t work anymore.


Mark Divine 12:41

Isn’t that interesting? I remember reading Stephen Covey’s Speed of Trust. So are you saying some of that stuff is kind of obsolete? Some of what he wrote about? Stephen R. Covey., that is. 


Darryl Stickel 12:51

Yeah. Wow.


Mark Divine 12:52

I opened up a Pandora’s box there? 


Darryl Stickel 12:54

Well, it’s just I don’t want to be rude. 


Mark Divine 12:56

Yeah, he’s a popular author. He wasn’t a scholar. So we’ll give them that. 


Darryl Stickel 13:00

Yeah, he’s a popular author, not a scholar, right, that’s a fair distinction. So when I started really looking at this, I realized that if trust is the willingness to be vulnerable when we can’t predict how someone is going to behave. There’s elements of vulnerability and uncertainty in that definition. And I actually believe that when we’re deciding to trust, we ask ourselves two fundamental questions. And I’m not dodging the Stephen R. Covey question. 


Mark Divine 13:21



Darryl Stickel 13:21

I’ll circle back to it. So first question we ask is, how likely am I to be harmed, which is perceived uncertainty? The second question we ask is, if I’m harmed, how bad is it going to hurt, which is perceived vulnerability. Those things multiplied together to give us a level of perceived risk.


Mark Divine 13:35

And psychological safety is that how you perceive the environment to protect you from that perceived level of risk? 


Darryl Stickel 13:40

Right. I think that psychological safety occurs when we have high trust environments. It’s an outcome of that. And so uncertainty ties, vulnerability equals risk, we have a threshold or risk that we can tolerate. If we go beyond that threshold, we don’t trust if we’re beneath it than we do. So that means early in relationships, uncertainty is usually pretty high. That means we can only tolerate a small range of vulnerability and still fit below that threshold. As those relationships deepen, the uncertainty starts to drop. And that means the range of vulnerability we can tolerate starts to grow. And that’s what deep relationships look like.


Mark Divine 14:12

Is that the depth of hurt that you allow grows as well. 


Darryl Stickel 14:16

It does. 


Mark Divine 14:17

Because if you greater trust, like with my teammates, and the SEALs, like, you know, if I’m working with them for three years, and suddenly someone you know, does something really screwed up, I give them a lot of rope, right, and say, okay, you know, and you’ve been great for three years, you made a lot of deposits and the emotional bank counsel, cut you some slack for that one.


Darryl Stickel 14:34



Mark Divine 14:34

 But if that happens right away, I’m like, okay, dude, you’re out here. 


Darryl Stickel 14:37

Yeah, there’s small balances in uncertainty we could tolerate, right.


Mark Divine 14:40



Darryl Stickel 14:41

And it’s like, I got three years of evidence versus this one mess up, okay, I’m willing to be patient and check, but I’m, I’m also possibly a little more hesitant, right. 


Mark Divine 14:50

That’s right, that that threshold has come down a little bit. 


Darryl Stickel 14:53



Mark Divine 14:53

Yeah, right. 


Darryl Stickel 14:54

So if we’re going to talk about building trust, then it’s where does uncertainty come from? How do we take steps to reduce it? Where does vulnerability come from? How do we take steps to manage that? And there are other levers that we can pull that, you know, we have perceived outcomes, which means we may have dramatically different perceptions of the exact same event. And that feeds back into our next interaction with those people. And in the middle of all, this is our emotional states, whether we like or dislike someone else. 99% of the trust literature treats people like rational actors.


Mark Divine 15:23

Right, and it’s not, they’re emotional.


Darryl Stickel 15:25

Yeah. And the more emotional we become, the less rational we are. Right? 


Mark Divine 15:29

That’s right. 


Darryl Stickel 15:30

So Covey’s work actually talks about a subset of uncertainty. It’s the individual components of uncertainty. It’s not in misalignment with most of the other trust literature. 


Mark Divine 15:41

It’s strictly relational one on one.


Darryl Stickel 15:44

He’s talking about what are the things that I can do as an individual? Uncertainty comes from two places, it comes from us as individuals. And it comes from the context that we’re embedded in. The example I like to use as a doctor’s office. You go to a doctor’s office, they say, take off your clothes. And you do, Mark, I’ve tried that in other places. 


Mark Divine 16:00

Yeah, it doesn’t work at the grocery store. 


Darryl Stickel  16:02

No. Right, like and I tell them, I’m a doctor, doesn’t help. Right. And if we took that example, we took those same two people dressed the same way. And we move them from a doctor’s office to restroom at a gas station. It goes from credible to creepy in a heartbeat. As you stand there, washing your hands and some guy comes in with a white coat on and says take off clothes…


Mark Divine 16:23

Hahah, I’m a doctor.


Darryl Stickel   16:26  

I suspect some of your SEAL training would kick in at that moment. 


Mark Divine 16:28

Yeah, it might.


Darryl Stickel  16:28



Mark Divine  16:30

Unless he was one of my instructors, in which case I know I’ve been hazed. 


Darryl Stickel 16:33

Right. Yes. So, Covey’s stuff is sort of representative of some of the material we talked about around these individual components. And, and it’s similar to work that was done in the mid 90s. There’s three levers there, that we can talk about to pull to show that we have trustworthiness. And those are benevolence, integrity and ability. And benevolence is do you have my best interests at heart? Will you act in my best interest? Integrity is do I follow through on my commitments into my actions line up with the values that I express? And ability, do I have the competence to do what I say I’m gonna do, we all have the ability to build trust, some are just better than others. For those who aren’t great at building trust, they have a lever that they pull. Usually it’s the ability lever, right? I have these kinds of credentials, this background, this much experience, on and on. 


Mark Divine 17:20

This is why we say character, trump’s ability when it comes to trust, right.


Darryl Stickel 17:25

Yeah. Because it’s those integrity questions and those benevolence questions. Those who are a little better building trust have multiple levers, I believe there are 10 levers we can pull. So those who are a little better have multiple levers, those who are really good have multiple levers, and they know when to pull which one, right. And so what I do is systematically walk people through the 10 levers. And then I talk about how to pull those levers, which is something we’re not seeing a lot in the trust literature, right? We’re seeing people say, okay, it’s important to have people’s best interests at heart. But Mark, I go in front of families, and do work with families. And I say to the parents, who here has their kids best interests at heart? Every hand goes up. And then when I flip it, and I say, how many of your kids would say that? It’s a third. And it’s somewhat hesitant. So if I have your best interests at heart, but you don’t feel it, you don’t experience it, it doesn’t land. And so we actually need to figure out how do we pull that lever in a way so that it lands. And this is the challenge for a lot of leaders, because they feel like I do that? I do those things. Says who? Right? Because me telling you, I benevolent cares, a lot less free than you saying, Darryl really seems to care about people, cares about me. 


Mark Divine 18:33

How do you train benevolence? You know, it’s kind of one of those things. It’s more of a consciousness level, character level thing. I do believe character can be trained, but you certainly not going to do it from a workshop. 


Darryl Stickel  18:44

So what I do, and this has been a learning curve for me as well. First few years, were really understanding how trust works. Then it was, how do I explain it in a way that people get it? Now I’m really on about, how do I get people to practice these skills so that it becomes part of their toolkit. So let’s take benevolence as an example. What I will say to people is, because a lot of times we think we’re doing something in somebody’s best interest, but it doesn’t land that way. And I suspect that there were moments during your SEAL training, when you thought these people don’t give a shit about me, you know, but they were really trying to prepare you for anything that came your way. 

So they had your best interests at heart, but it didn’t feel like it in the moment. And so what I do is I give people a script. In the book that I wrote, I give people a list of ways that they can pull the benevolence lever, ways they can pull the integrity lever, ways they can pull the ability lever. What I like to do is get them to practice and your listeners can practice this. Find someone that that’s safe to practice with. Not someone who loves you, someone who hates you, but someone sort of in the middle where you can say, heard this guy talking about trust, and he said benevolence mattered. And that means having someone’s best interest at heart. And I think I do that, because there’s no seem to land that way. Have you ever experienced that? And they’ll go, yes. Because almost all of us have. 


Mark Divine 19:57

You’re reminding me by the way, I’m not when a strong impression comes into my head often comes out my mouth. 


Darryl Stickel  20:03



Mark Divine 20:03

But I remember back in high school, and there was this kid and you know, in the playground, no, it wasn’t high school was like middle school and the kid on the playground, and he had just been bullied. And so I go up, and try to be benevolent, right to provide some comfort, and he punches me in the face.


Darryl Stickel  20:20



Mark Divine 20:20 

And I was like, what did I do wrong, man? I felt so bad. 


Darryl Stickel 20:25



MArk Divine 20:25

That, that was what you’re talking about it, it didn’t land for him, right. He wasn’t ready for that, you know.


Darryl Stickel  20:31

He already felt weak and vulnerable and felt ashamed. 


Mark Divine 20:33

Right. He was shamed, and I just shamed him more by pitying him. That wasn’t serving him. 


Darryl Stickel  20:39



Mark Divine 20:39

Anyways, that’s an example of what you’re talking about. I could have used your help back then.


Darryl Stickel 20:42

You could have. So then, you know, we tell these stories, we have this conversation about moments where we’ve fallen flat, and then you narrow the funnel. And you say, has someone ever really had your back? If you ever had that experience, where you really felt someone was looking out for you like they cared, and they had your best interests at heart? And that’ll cause them to start thinking and it starts to prime them. Start asking questions about what what did they do? What did it look like? How did it feel? Now we’re getting hints right about what benevolence feels like for that person? What actions seem like benevolence to them? Then we narrow the funnel further. And we say, Mark, what would success look like for you? How do I help you get there? What would it look like if I was benevolent to you? Now, we’ve created a moment of transparency, because you can tell me what benevolence looks like to you. And I can follow up a week or a month or a year later saying you remember when you told me this is what success looks like for you? I was thinking about you when I did this.


Mark Divine 21:38

How would you define benevolence? Because it’s more than compassion. It’s having someone’s interest. Like we in the SEAL teams, were actually in my training at SEALFIT. we tried it, we call it taking your eyes off yourself putting on your teammate. Like, literally make your teammates success, your success. And then, you know, if you’re on a team of eight, you’ve got seven other people who are looking out for your success. And all of a sudden, you’ve got all this energy and all this trust is built. 


Darryl Stickel 22:03



Mark Divine 22:03

Is that what you mean by benevolence?


Darryl Stickel 22:04

That’s exactly right. You’ve nailed it. It’s about putting someone else’s interests first, it’s about being aware of their interests.


Mark Divine 22:12

This is hard, by the way, because you know, vast majority people, even in their into adulthood are egocentric by nature, just because that’s their stage of development.


Darryl Stickel  22:21

Of course they are. 


Mark Divine 22:22

And we don’t have a lot of mechanisms in our western culture to move beyond that individualistic ego centric kind of stage. 


Darryl Stickel  22:29

It’s why the work that I’m doing is so important, because it gives people levers that allow them to actually make change, and they can practice. When my oldest son was 12, he looked at me one day, and he said, Dad, even when you’re upset with me, I know it’s about what’s best for me. That’s called winning, as a parent. And it means that your actions are interpreted through a positive light. And it’s the same thing as a leader. If your people believe you have their best interests at heart, they’re gonna give you the benefit of the doubt. They’re going to ask you when things don’t seem right are going sideways, instead of just saying, yeah, I don’t need to know, I’m just going to coast, clearly this place doesn’t care about me. It’s how we combat that quiet quitting. It’s how we get people engaged, motivated to go through a wall for you. If they believe that you’re on about what’s best for the team, what’s best for them.


Mark Divine 23:16

One of the most powerful tools in the SEAL teams to develop trust was the debrief process. And the most powerful part about that was, well, that a couple aspects. One was transparency, like everything was acceptable. I don’t know how they’re doing it today with PC woke stuff. But you know, my day, like everything, like everything was on the table.


Darryl Stickel 23:37



Mark Divine 23:37

And there was no topics that were off limits if they degraded the performance of the team. And so in order for that to work, everybody had to both deliver the criticism in a non personal way. In other words, to discuss how it happened, and how it affected you, your perception of what happened and how it degraded yours or the team’s performance without saying, hey, you screwed up.


Darryl Stickel 24:00



Mark Divine 24:00

You’re a terrible person. And so to make it non-personal, and so then that allows the individual to begin to receive as non-judgmental in a non judgmental way. It’s like, oh, this is actually for my benefit, so that I can improve so that I can be a better teammate so that I can help or at least not degrade mission performance. 


Darryl Stickel 24:21



Mark Divine 24:21

And it takes a little while for a new guy, you know, in future a new girl to get used to that. I’m reminded of Ray Dalio’s discussion about meritocracy, taking about 18 months for new employees to get used to a meritocracy, where it had they have similar attributes.


Darryl Stickel 24:35



Mark Divine 24:36

But anyways, I just want to get your take on that because I thought that transparency and not projecting on to other people judgment when you’re trying to give them feedback. It’s difficult work, but it’s powerful I think. 


Darryl Stickel 24:47

I think it is really powerful. And it’s a mechanism for creating a shared narrative. We have this tendency to interpret the world through stories, and we’re usually the center of our own story. 


Mark Divine 24:49

I have this saying, that there’s not one world, there’s 8 billion worlds.


Darryl Stickel 25:03



Mark Divine 25:04

And there’s some shared consensus reality, but not a whole lot.


Darryl Stickel   25:07  



Mark Divine 25:08

Everyone’s got their own world. 


Darryl Stickel 25:10

Yeah. So when I’ve run into situations where there’s people in conflict, or groups in conflict. Then what I’ll do is I’ll sit down with one person, and I’ll say, what’s your story? How did we get here? And I listened, right, I pay attention. I asked questions, I listened, I tried to flush it out, then I go to the other person independently, separately, what’s your story? Then I bring them together. And I say, okay, person one, I want you to try to tell me person two’s story. And it forces them to be, oh, let me try to adopt that perspective. I guess this is what will be going on for them. This is the story they might be telling, this is their experience of it. And person two is sitting there listening with the opportunity to say, actually, that’s not quite right. Or no, that’s not how I feel. And then we flip it, and I say, okay, person two tell me person one’s story. And it gives us a chance to start to create a shared story, instead of two different ones.


Mark Divine 26:01

Perspective making, that would be a great mediation training, right for lawyers. 


Darryl Stickel  26:06

Yeah, right. And so this is another one of the levers that we pull when we talk about perceived outcomes. Like the SEALs are great for saying, here’s our objective, this is what success looks like. This is what a good outcome looks like. Most other organizations aren’t as clear, right? Most other teams aren’t as clear. They come together, they do something and then they kind of have this retrospective of, well, I think we achieved it or we didn’t, or what were we trying to do? And so part of what I do when I walk people through this model is I talk them through how do we reduce uncertainty? How do we manage vulnerability? How do we understand where it comes from? And how to take steps to reduce it? How do we manage perceived outcomes, both in terms of having a shared understanding of what a good outcome looks like? Because, you know, I think about the SEALs example, if if they just sent you out and said cause havoc, and then said, oh, actually target one was really more important than the target two, we wish you’ld a hit it first. Well tell me that, right.


Mark Divine 27:00

Exactly. Because we’ll have fun creating havoc. 


Darryl Stickel 27:03



Mark Divine 27:04

It may not help much.


Darryl Stickel   27:06  

Just for the other guys, right? Let’s get some clarifying questions…


Mark Divine 27:08



Darryl Stickel 27:08

…or have it for everyone. And so, you know, if we have a shared understanding of what the goals and objectives are, we have a much better chance of actually achieving them. And if we have a shared understanding what a good outcome looks like, you know, some of this challenge we face when we finish something and people start going well, I didn’t think that was great. And other people thought, I thought that was fantastic. And we start seeing really different perspectives on whether it was good outcome or not, who gets the credit, who gets the blame, these are all places that we can actually intervene. There are levers that we can pull, to build stronger relationships. And, you know, when we were talking before I said, the old approaches to building trust are, are not as valid as they used to be. It’s because we we need to be more intentional than we’ve ever been. Because vulnerability sure hasn’t gone down, right? Our perception of vulnerability, if anything is a little higher than it was. But our uncertainty is bouncing all over the place. Norms and values are changing, the rules seem to be changing. The pandemic changed everything. And we’ve got a group of people in positions of power. This is a bugaboo for me, you know, you talked about politics. 

A lot of times when I talk to senior leaders, and I say, Would you like to be a politician? They say, there’s no way I’ve put my family through that. 


Mark Divine 28:18

I’ve spoken those very words, except I think I would also say there’s no way I’d put myself through it.


Darryl Stickel 28:23

Rght. And so who do we attract then? A disproportionate number of people who don’t give a shit about anyone but themselves. 


Mark Divine 28:29

That’s right.


Darryl Stickel 28:20

Narcissists. And one of the most popular songs in the US right now is Richmond, North of Richmond. It’s a protest song. And it’s articulating the fact that there’s a lack of benevolence. There’s this belief that when our politicians lead us, they should be looking out for us, not themselves. We’re not seeing that. And so trust levels are at the lowest we’ve ever seen. It’s harder for people to be vulnerable than than it’s been in, maybe ever, because the uncertainty is bouncing so much. And in that environment, leaders need to have, as you say, the courage to go first. 


Mark Divine 29:02

So leaders, organization leaders can bring some sanity to their troops, so to speak.


Darryl Stickel 29:09

I’ve seen it.


Mark Divine 29:09

By developing that trust and giving some certainty back that, hey, regardless of what’s going on, in that political sphere, and the news cycle, and the lack of trust, because of the disinformation and the suppression of information, regardless of all that, we have trust here, and we can develop that safety here and vulnerability.


Darryl Stickel 29:27

We can build a safe harbor.


Mark Divine 29:28

Yeah, build a safe harbor.


Darryl Stickel 29:29



Mark Divine 29:30

That jives with with our work we’re trying to we’re we’re a small company to and our work is mostly focused more on integrated vertical development and trying to really evolve people’s consciousness-character. So it’s very similar because one of the outcomes is greater trust, greater courage, trust and respect, you know, the seven commitments.


Darryl Stickel 29:46



Mark Divine 29:47

And we look at the organization as the best place for that growth to occur, which is very different than you know, the industrial age paradigm of go to work and then go home and you take your mask off and you know, you’re somebody different. You know, no. So work can becomes a community of practice to develop those qualities. To develop your, your sense of self, your trustworthiness, your respectability. 


Darryl Stickel 30:10



Mark Divine 30:11

And then everyone can come together in that to develop great engagement and psychological safety, to where you actually really, really enjoy work, not for the money, but because that’s where you got to grow. 


Darryl Stickel 30:23

Right. That’s where your good experiences are. That’s where the positive impact you have in your life is. I agree completely, there’s a huge overlap in what we’re on about. The research is really consistent that higher trust levels lead to higher levels of performance, higher productivity, higher employee engagement, higher profitability, on and on it goes. That’s from before, before the trust levels were so desperately low. How valuable is it now? A company that gets this right has a huge strategic advantage. 


Mark Divine 30:50

So I’m curious at the organizational level, like you go in, and you’re work with a group and you have to do like, first it’s information transfer, and then you give them these practices, those practices can be done in role plays, or just, you know, opportunistically, but how do we scale this? Like, how do we scale trust? 


Darryl Stickel 31:07

Well, I’m trying to do that. That’s why I wrote the book, because I was having these amazing experiences, but it felt like I was dropping grains of sand in the ocean. 


Mark Divine 31:15

Understand that one.


Darryl Stickel 31:15



Mark Divine

I’ve been doing that for years.


Darryl Stickel 31:17

Yeah, right, brother. And so we need people to come alongside and pick up great big rocks and help us make big splashes. And so that’s why I wrote the book, I did a masterclass that sort of, it’s three hours long, it’s five minute segments, right. So it’s 36, five minute segments that include role plays and exercises that people can practice and those kinds of things, it’s really about trying to spread the word, there is a way to get better at this. Trust is a skill that you can build.


Mark Divine 31:43

My experience is that development is that most development, we call the difference being horizontal and vertical. And you probably heard of those terms, you know, so, so most old leadership development programs are developed horizontally. Meaning you just, you’re adding new concepts to your toolkit, but it’s not changing the dial on who you are, or how you show up, it just changes what you know, a little bit. 

And so leaders who go to all these certificate programs and whatnot, stacking their resume, and then you know, the words come out of their mouth, but they’re not embodying the change. And so for us, real transformation occurs through a process of embodiment, which means you got to get your body involved. And so we do things that are gritty.


Darryl Stickel 32:28



Mark Divine 32:29

You know, like, one of our problems is like, you want to be trained like a Navy SEAL, you want to learn about trust, and train like a Navy SEAL. And we have a non 50-hour nonstop training program modeled after Hell Week, Navy SEALs, Hell Week.


Darryl Stickel 32:41



Mark Divine 32:42

It’s extraordinary. But we recognize that not everyone can or wants to do that level of hard, our program of Unbeatable it’s like we have people doing things together, that seem hard from the outside. But you know, once you you’re into it, it actually, it’s really engaging and fun. So it’s perception management, you know, we cook them like a frog, and slowly get them into, you know, the experience, and suddenly they’re like, Oh, my God, look what I’m doing. 


Darryl Stickel 33:06



Mark Divine 33:07

And they’re building trust, but they’re embodying it, right? So they’re learning it through their bodies, not through their head, just their head.


Darryl Stickel 33:13



Mark Divine 33:14

Head, heart and hands. Head, heart and Hara and hands. I was thinking, you know, that would be very effective for your, you know for your content, to figure out an experiential embodied mechanism to build trust, which is the title of your book, Building Trust.


Darryl Stickel 33:28

Right. And that’s partly what we try to get at is forcing them to have conversations, and practice these skills. And so it’s not quite the level of intensity that you have.


Mark Divine 33:37

You know, we have this thing everyone wants to be a frogman on a sunny day.


Darryl Stickel 33:40



Mark Divine 33:41

It’s easy to have a conversation when there’s high psychological safety and you’re in practice is way harder when you’re under pressure, and you’re emotionally unstable. And you know, but you have to, you have to do it in order to move forward. 


Darryl Stickel 33:53



Mark Divine 33:54

So how do you inject some VUCA into the training itself? To make it more realistic? That would be interesting. 


Darryl Stickel 34:00

Yeah. Well, in partly, I get people to apply to relationships in their real lives. 


Mark Divine 34:05

There you go. Well, there’s a lot of VUCA in real life relationships, that’s for sure.


Darryl Stickel 34:08

I had a student when I was teaching in Luxembourg, one of the MBA students, because all my students had to apply the concepts to a real relationship in their lives. He chose his five and three year old, his two sons. And he said, I think their relationships broken forever. I’ve been away most of their lives working in a different country. And I just don’t know what to do. He said, I’m terrified. And so I lash out, I get angry, I get frustrated,he said they’re scared of me. And after three months, his final report was in you know, I’ve been coaching him, take him through the concepts, getting them to practice, things have changed completely. They throw themselves on me, they run to me, they fight over who gets to sit next to me at dinner. 


Mark Divine 34:48

That’s awesome. 


Darryl Stickel 34:48

That’s the kind of impact we’re having. 


Mark Divine 34:51

Yeah, that’s cool. Well, Darryl, I’m going to kind of wrap this up. But so, Building Trust: Exceptional Leadership in an Uncertain World, that’s out in the marketplace, you can find it on Amazon or wherever, anywhere online. 


Darryl Stickel 35:01

Anywhere online, it’s available as an audible book, people can reach out to me at Darryl@trust unlimited.com. Or they can go to my website, trustunlimited.com.


Mark Divine

Trust unlimited.com. Man, this is great, been a great discussion, I really appreciate it. And there’s many vectors, right, that are happening in this world to really help pull people up by their bootstraps, you know, become more positive in some of this endless cycle of negativity and violence.


Darryl Stickel 35:28



Mark Divine 35:29

Ultimately, we have to be, we have to be trustworthy and trust each other in order to rise above the bullshit that we’re seeing in the political and whatever, whatever you want to call that fear based world out there, which seems to have us locked in perpetual negativity and violence. And I don’t think that’s sustainable, obviously.


Darryl Stickel 35:47



Mark Divine 35:48

But it’s done for a purpose, because it keeps everyone trapped in fight or flight. 


Darryl Stickel 35:53



Mark Divine 35:53

And in victimhood, and you know, needing the latest pharma this or, you know, don’t get me going on this one. But the only way out of that is to turn off the energy spigot to all that, right?


Darryl Stickel 36:04

Well, it for us to have collective collaborative action.


Mark Divine 36:06

That’s right.


Darryl Stickel 36:07

To be pulling together, all of us pulling on the rope in the same direction. That means we need trust, we need to pull together.


Mark Divine 36:12

And you see them trying like heck to destroy the trust between different populations, different groups, and even families and individuals. And it’s just been relentless over the past 30-40 years. 


Darryl Stickel 36:24

Well, and we see them ratcheting up our perceptions of vulnerability, right? 


Mark Divine 36:28

That’s right. 


Darryl Stickel 36:29

If you vote for this guy, the world will end. And that means that we can’t tolerate any uncertainty at all we are we’re hiding in our homes. We’re not talking to each other. We’re not having conversations. 


Mark Divine 36:38

I appreciate you very much, sir. And let’s stay in touch.


Darryl Stickel 36:41

I’d really like that. 


Mark Divine 36:42



Darryl Stickel



Transcribed by Catherine and https://otter.ai



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