Over the last few months I have been questioning some of the assumptions I have made throughout my life, and one area that has been under examination is trust. I am questioning things like ‘what is trust?’ and ‘why does it play such an important part in human relationships?’ And why do we trust or not trust other people? What makes someone trustworthy, and what makes someone trusting? And why at a very deep level do many of us not trust ourselves? I am particularly interested in understanding whether trust is something that can be learned, or is it the case that once broken can never be regained?
I’ll start with attempting to define trust. Trust is an intuitive feeling rather than a theoretical concept. Having said that, there are several recognisable elements to trust:
- Predictability – when you trust someone, you feel sure that you can forecast reasonably accurately what they will do, and what situations will occur. If we can trust people around us, we can create a present and future which is safe
- Exchange of value – in relationships, trust is needed when we do not know exactly what is going to happen, or what we are going to receive is what we expect.
- Delayed reciprocity – this is about giving something now, but with an expectation of receiving something back at an unspecified point in the future
- Vulnerability – being prepared to expose your soft underbelly to people in a way that could be taken advantage of, but expecting that they will not do so
We are all born trusting, and within the first year or two of life learn to become mistrusting or suspicious of others. So learning to trust is a process of coming to terms with the reasons we have chosen to mistrust and reducing their impact, so that trust can flourish.
Trusting someone involves taking a risk – they could hurt you in some way, by creating an opening for a sense of loss of security. The risk involved in trusting someone is however often smaller than the consequences of not trusting.
Once trust is established, participants in a trusting relationship are free from fear so they can focus on other matters. This makes room for being able to enjoy life which, in turn breeds confidence and joy.
Trust exists in two places – with yourself and with others. Your own experiences in the past will shape your degree of trust in your own abilities and your trust in other people and the world around you. Your relationship with your self-trust is a very important part of the equation in building trust and is an area that needs addressing if you want to grow your confidence and personal esteem.
Correspondingly other people’s own past experiences will shape their perceptions of what makes someone else trustworthy, so they will trust you if you operate within the boundaries of what they perceive as being a trustworthy person. This is what your colleagues, business partners and friends look for. It forms a foundation in relationships, and can impact on your reputation when recognized by others.
If you find yourself wanting to build trust, here are some pointers to consider acting on in the next few days:
- Communicate – frequently and openly; don’t assume others know what you are doing; if you can, find ways in which they may be able to participate or help you
- Do what you have communicated – make sure your actions match your words, and that these are in alignment with your body language and being; in a word be authentic.
- Live in the present – don’t harbour grudges or perceived damage from the past and bring it into today’s conversations; resolve issues quickly, or let them go
- Check yourself – are you giving people reasons to feel insecure around you? Are you behaving as you have done in the past when you were worthy of mistrust?
- Be consistent – keep being trustworthy; after a while the trust builds up. Make it a focus in all your activities
- Be vulnerable – show trust; it creates opportunities for others to be the same, which is a key element of building trust. Assume people are trustworthy until proven otherwise, rather than untrustworthy until proven trustworthy
Next time, as this is such a big topic, I’ll be looking at the ‘doing’ and the ‘being’ involved with building trust in relationships.