605 AD; Well over fourteen hundred years ago, the Meccan tribes collaborated on a critical project. The rebuilding of the Kaaba. As is the case with projects always, conflict arose: Who will have the honor of placing the most sacred Kaaba stone in its place? Every tribe wanted that honor, and mediation and arbitration seemed to reach a dead-end. Fighting almost broke off. Then a Meccan solved the problem through compromise, and placed the stone in its place with his own hands, after each of the tribesmen representatives carried collectively a cloth on which the stone was lifted. The conflict was over and the project carried on. End of the story, which is repeated so many times in books that talk about life of Mohammad (pbuh) before he became a messenger.
The question that always was in my mind: how did this solve the conflict? I mean after all each of the tribes wanted the honor of placing the stone in its place, then all of them gave that up to a man who is not considered one of their chiefs. They all carried the stone to its place but it was he who put it in its place. He was not a prophet then yet. He was a young Meccan man who was known for his honesty. Why let him do it and get that honor? Can the answer offer a lesson learned for projects of today, even if it was from such an ancient time?
To solve this mystery, let us start with facts: Mohammad (pbuh) was known as an honest man. He was even nicknamed “Assadeq Al-Ameen” which means the honest man who speaks the truth. Another fact is that the conflict was mainly an “honor and shame” conflict. Honor and shame was a major factor and motivator for Arabia tribes. It was only after Islam that the mentality of honor and shame was given a secondary priority to more important social rules like justice, freedom, and equality. All the tribesmen involved in the conflict were playing that game: the honor game. Mohammad (pbuh) was known not to want any part of that game. So, the man was not interested in the game they were playing and he was to be trusted. Two elements allowed easy solution to a complex problem.
This is not a lesson in history or a lesson in Islam, but a story about the importance of trust in dealing with conflicts on projects. Trust could be the most ignored element on projects but it should not be. Without trust, projects get in trouble, and sometimes fail, but rarely do people notice the effect missing trust played in failed projects. If we look at the example above, it is clear how trust played a factor in solving the delicate issue.
This leads us to a modern day rule about building trust and influencing others. It is called the “psychological contract.” The psychological contract is an unwritten contract that governs relationships between any two parties. It consists of two subliminal statements that each party can make. The two statements are: 1) “I mean you no harm,” and 2) “What’s in it for me.” The first builds trust that there are no hidden agendas or a trick up anyone’s sleeve. The second shows the other party what they get for cooperation. If any of these two elements are ignored, influencing others becomes a tough task and even if achieved will remain on shaky grounds. From his past demeanor, no one even doubted Mohammad’s intentions that he was sincere in trying to solve the problem without hurting anyone. Also, he showed all what’ s in it for them when he allowed them all to have the “honor” of raising the stone on the cloth closer to its destination.
Unfortunately, trust is taken for granted; As if trust is there by default and there is no need to talk about it. When in reality, trust might not be there at all. Some look at it as a textbook word that is used for marketing purposes. Try to bring up trust in any conversation with project stakeholders. Either they roll their eyes, or try to agree with you as fast as possible to get to talk about what they think really matters, instead of wasting time talking about trust.
I believe that the solution offered by Mohammad (pbuh) on the Kaaba project was not the only solution. I would think that if any of the quarreling factions offered this solution, it would be turned down. What made the solution acceptable was the built trust he had with everybody involved. I think any other solution that gave a “what’s in it for me” to everyone involved, and with the existence of the element of trust could have solved the problem.
Another important lesson from the story is the need to build trust over time. Unfortunately we cannot build trust just as conflict arises. Trust is built over time, from many tests of putting people in situations where there integrity and honesty are tested. Just once acting dishonestly brings down trust built over years. This is why one has to build trust carefully and guard integrity very closely.