Words of Wisdom for
Leadership, Learning, and Life in
Exactly 99 Words

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Talk Quick!
99-Word Stories to Spark Discussion about Common Management Issues
by Brian Remer

Talk Quick! is a collection of group discussion starters designed to inspire meaningful conversations about important management issues.
(12 Discussion Activities, 33 pages, Cross Referenced, $10)

Learn more HERE.

99's On the Go

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99-Word Stories by ,
Creative Learning Director of
The Flirefly Group.
© 2017 Brian Remer
Updated Nov. 2017

99's on the 9th

Ideas based on 99-Word Stories that
come to you on the 9th of every month.

September 2017

Reciprocity: The strength of informal trust

It's hard to think of an interaction at work that does not rely on trust between at least two individuals. What are the strategies we use to develop trust informally within our teams and organizations? Explore the role of one effective technique, reciprocity, in building trust. Lead your colleagues in a discussion about ways to intentionally build and maintain trust in this issue of 99's on the 9th.


Over beers with Dillon at McNeil's Brew Pub, I was enjoying his company. Though we worked on a couple committees in our community, I didn't know him well. So this was a great chance to compare our experiences, tell stories, test ideas, and laugh.

As we munched on chips and salsa, I wondered to myself whether I was seeing the real Dillon. Would sharing time translate into trust in our work? As the chips gradually disappeared I figured his true side would be revealed.

It was. He reached for the last chip, broke it, and gave me half.


You can build upon the theme of this 99-Word Story by using some of the following questions for your own reflection or to spark a discussion within your team or organization.

There are many ways to understand this story as the discussion questions suggest. If you or your group would like to compare or contrast your interpretation with an outside viewpoint, consider this analysis.

Fairness and a level playing field are important in working relationships. If we are trying to accomplish something complex, we probably need the expertise and cooperation of other people. Yet how can we know with reasonable certainty that we can count on the help of someone else when we need it?

I know, let's put some formal mechanisms in place. We could refer to them as

All of these help insure that others will do what they have said they will do. They are a form of - and sometimes a substitute for - trust. If we want to make sure we get the piece of the pie we deserve, we had better put one of these formal mechanisms in place.

There are plenty of situations when this makes sense. We don't have the opportunity to develop trusting, personal relationships for every transaction, especially when the stakes are high or time is short.

Yet, when we don't rely on formal trust mechanisms, we are more likely to help the people we know and trust. And we tend to trust people that we have some commonality with - no matter how small or insignificant that common ground is. These "tribal" affiliations extend the level of trust from one individual to another simply by association. You would probably be willing to help someone who is your cousin's friend. You would choose a mechanic based on a co-worker's recommendation.

In Kurt Vonnegut's novel Cat's Cradle (1963), one of the reoccurring concepts is a "granfalloon," an arbitrary, made-up group that automatically confers a level of trust among people simply by sharing membership in it.

A granfalloon could be...

Vonnegut disparages this sort of association as being trivial and lacking in genuine regard, but is a granfalloon really so bad? The positive aspect of a granfalloon is that minor interests held in common may evolve into emotional connections that can spark an invaluable level of trust. Even one common interest between two people can be enough to trigger a genuine friendship.

The British social psychologist Henri Tajfel actually used this concept to develop his minimal group paradigm in which people bonded with each other based on completely inconsequential criteria. Tajfel found that strangers who were divided into groups according to whether a tossed coin landed as heads or tails acted as if they were close friends or even relatives. Why not take advantage of this human tendency toward mutual affiliation to build trust and improve work relationships?

Once we get to know someone, connecting through interests and emotions as friends, we can rely upon informal trust - especially for day-to-day interactions. We don't have to negotiate every understanding as if it was a legal transaction. Solid trust, intentionally built and thoughtfully maintained, can be more efficient and more effective than the formalized mechanisms of insuring trust. This is true whether among individuals or within small groups.

Sometimes, as was the case when Dillon shared the last chip in the 99-Word Story, trust can even increase the size of the pie we are all competing for.


Did you use this 99-Word Story and the discussion questions or interpretation in your work or personal life? If so, about your experience! If you would like help using 99-Word Stories in your organization, please me.

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