Monday, January 14, 2013

74. Roles of a go-between

Since the art of trust is difficult, it may help to employ the services of a go-between with the appropriate knowledge, skills, experience, wisdom and trustworthiness. It can perform a variety of roles. Some of them are more technical and others more relational. I will not mention all roles because some of them require too technical an explanation.  

On the technical side:

First, help to cross what I called cognitive distance: help partners to understand each other, technically, concerning the content of collaboration, in purpose, methods and means. For this, the go-between must have the required specialist technical knowledge.

Second, help to judge the partner’s potential and its economic value, in view of possible alternatives, and its reliability in competence.  

Third, provide an assessment of the fields of force facing both parties: risks and opportunities involved in the networks to which they belong, and other strategic risks and opportunities.

On the relational side:

Fourth, help mutual understanding of ideas, intuitions, attitudes, habits, positions, cultures and skills of collaboration. Look also at the levels on which trust is needed, and how they are connected: personal (who are we dealing with), organizational (how are they supported by their organization) and environmental (what are the outside pressures of competition, politics and the economy).

Fifth, the go-between can adopt a more or less formal role in arbitration or mediation, to prevent conflicts from arising or escalating to a legal conflict.

Sixth, perhaps the most important but also most difficult, help in the difficult process of building trust, preventing its undue collapse, and, if possible, to repair broken trust. This includes many of the features discussed in previous items in this blog. Help to practise openness, give benefit of the doubt when something goes wrong, help to empathize by understanding the partner’s situation and the circumstances and pressures he faces. Eliminate undue suspicions; help to deal with uncertainty concerning the causes of disappointments (the causal ambiguity I mentioned before). See to it that no unrealistic expectations are raised whose disappointment may destroy trust. Help to explore the limits of trustworthiness and the need for control. Keep an eye on imbalances of dependence, and try to compensate for them.

Seventh, not the least important, help to disentangle, with minimum damage and acrimony, relationships that have become irreparably damaged or where mutual benefit has dwindled, to adapt to changing conditions.    

These roles all require their specific knowledge, skills and experience, and they all require reliability in competence, and trustworthiness in the form of fair dealing. Some roles may be combined in a single go-between, but it would be difficult to combine them all.

Candidates for a go-between are various. There is certainly a market for it, for commercially operating go-betweens, but there would have to be a safeguard for competence and integrity, as with doctors and notaries. Banks, notaries, accountants, consultants, academics, and government agencies might all qualify, in one way or another.


  1. Bart, thank you for this blog, investigating more on trust. What is troubling my mind is the situation at the moment. Some Dutch banks are trying to regain trust by a kind of PR action in advertisement blocks on television. But I think there is a great difference between changing their behavior and giving us the impression that they are changed and ready to help us. I think people feel the difference between real behavior and a PR strategy. As in overload of advertising of new food products it is hard to know what's a good product as a consumer. Often I get the feeling I am a walking credit card.

  2. Noud, You are right. As I said in my earlier blog on openness (item 72), it is not enough to say 'sorry', polish your image or advertise shining but vague, general intentions. That will mostly just deepen suspicion. They have to specify what went wrong, what THEY did wrong, how they propose to prevent such things in the future, give reliable reports on their progress, and let outsiders be the judge of that. Good luck with your credit card.