Imagine someone just handed you a glass of ice-cold water. You can barely wait for that first cool, refreshing mouthful. But as you raise the glass to your lips, you see this same person turn away and hold a tiny vial over his neighbour’s drink. As you watch, frozen in time, a single droplet splashes into the liquid below. How do you react? Still ready to down your own glass of aqua?

Doubt is to suspicion as confidence is to certainty. Once a truth is called into question, the pressure is on. Your brain spins into risk analysis mode, conflicting processes start doubling up and logic flies out of reach. Why? Because the most primitive part of the brain (the amygdala) processes sensory input from your base emotions, eg. fear, anger. This triggers the hormones required for immediate action (ie. fight or flight).

Alongside your survival response, reasoning kicks off in another part of the brain. The more advanced neocortex is both intelligent and analytical, with the ability to interpret nuance and make trade-offs. Unfortunately, this reasoning process works more slowly, so even though both processes operate in parallel, the neocortex often runs into trouble contradicting the amygdala.

Every human has experienced this conflict of brain processes. It’s usually described as a battle between your gut instinct (feeling) and your rational mind (thinking). Some refer to it as “torn”, others talk of a “dilemma” or “quandary” and occasionally people explain they’re “in two minds” or “sitting on the fence”!

Back to that glass of water…any decision to drink in such circumstances is either born of desperation – or inspired by blind trust!

Trust has been defined as “confident reliance on another when you find yourself in a position of vulnerability”. Although Robert Hurley’s HBR article on trust is based on research from twenty years ago, it contains an excellent model explaining the factors at play in a troublesome decision.

At a roundtable with a group of business executives last week, one leader commented that life would be easier if you knew how to spot toxicity before it spreads! The good news is that every poison leaves trace evidence. Toxic behaviour is no different…think situational pointers, relationship indicators and organisational conflict. Toxicity always leaves a mark even if the clues get overlooked in the beginning. Given time, these behavioural whispers shape into a narrative! And because less emotional involvement allows bystanders to detect the forest over the trees, this negative trajectory may be visible to onlookers before it’s noticeable to insiders.

It can be difficult to spot details when things are moving quickly and the pace of change has sped up considerably in the last few years. In fact, world-renowned futurist Ray Kurzweil estimates the rate of change accelerates every decade! ChatGPT recently began offering everyone human-like conversations with a chatbot, driven by AI technology. The poison chalice of happiness at work lies somewhere between desperation and blind trust, so if you still prefer human help to detoxify your people, teamwork and culture, let’s chat.