Trust in me

Recently, a coach on my kid’s sports team was let go. It came as a shock to my kid (and to me), and my kid was very disappointed. This coach had been a real inspiration to my wee one and was consistently enthusiastic, upbeat and encouraging.

Because I am like I am, I sent a message to the powers that be (TPTB) expressing disappointment and asking for some kind of explanation that could be shared with parents and athletes.

I got a near-immediate callback, which was much appreciated. What wasn’t much appreciated was that I was told, essentially, to trust that they’d made the right decision.

I was also told that the kids, who were feeling blindsided, wouldn’t be helped by a conversation with them about the situation since they couldn’t be told anything specific.

Parents and athletes weren’t asked for input. They weren’t alerted to what happening. Their disappointment wasn’t acknowledged. Yet they were told to trust in the decision.

As we all know, trust is not dictated, it is earned. With trust, there can be acceptance, however grudgingly, of even hard news. Like, I may not agree with TPTB’s decision, but I could entertain the possibility that it was 50%, even 100% correct if given the chance.

My complaint is ultimately about process. And about communication. Because both, together, forge trust.

Because I am like I am, I firmly believe that process and communication are essential to citizen attempts at getting records through FOIA. Process — not just the statutory procedures — but the whole interaction. Communication — not just the statutorily required responses — but the way difficult news is conveyed.

I’ve written before about how citizens want to be heard and acknowledged, not just ignored or told no. By and large, they can handle being told no if they have at least been treated fairly along the way.

But when the process is flawed or when there’s been no meaningful communication, there is resentment. There is mistrust.

And there is speculation. My kid came home telling me all sorts of theories the team came up with about why the coach was gone. Some said it was X’s fault, some said it was Y’s fault, some said the coach must have had some nefarious past, some said there was a crime involved.

When citizens are flatly denied information, given the runaround, treated like they are a nuisance, they, too, are going to speculate about what they are not being told. They will suppose the worst. Their doubts will seep into future interactions.

TPTB are also taking a flawed approach by assuming communication is all or nothing. This happens a lot with government officials at public meetings. They seem to think that if they can’t spill all of the tea, then they can’t, or won’t share a drop.

There is a middle ground. You frequently see police spokespeople there. They tell what they know of a developing situation, and they let us know what they can’t tell us until the investigation plays out. We may want to know more, but we understand why not every detail can be shared.

Elected officials and government communication offices don’t always get that you can say something without saying everything. There’s a way to give context without giving away the details. There’s a way to acknowledge interest and concern while also asking (not telling) for forbearance.

Process and communication are key to a coaching relationship. They are key to the relationship citizens have with their government, too, when they seek answers about the things that matter most to them.

Trust me.

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