The Foundations of Trust

Ask yourself if you would feel comfortable
giving your two best friends a key to your house.
If not, look for some new best friends.

H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

When was the last time you had to trust someone? It may have been a family member, doctor, coworker, or next-door neighbor, but it probably was someone with whom you were already familiar—you’d had a previous experience or a history with them. And through that connection, the trust had been created between the two of you.

We can trust people, organizations, and even products. But there is one common denominator among everything that contains elements of trust: a relationship with a person or thing.

Integrity, truth, honesty, and transparency build trust—and kindness, compassion, and genuine concern for others will maintain it. Lying, cheating, manipulating, or other dishonest behaviors can erode trust and make it difficult to repair.

Trust can be easy to lose and hard to get—especially if it’s been lost.

A Definition of Trust

Trust—the foundation for all healthy and balanced relationships—is grounded in reliability, integrity, and consistency.

In professional or working relationships, trust may be demonstrated by our ability to develop and lead people with transparency and authenticity; or by investing our time, energy, money, etc., in someone or something that is meaningful to us.

I have a friend who implicitly trusts that the Minnesota Lottery will, indeed, grant him a huge payout someday. Not my cup of tea. But for me, I still trust that the financial and emotional investments into my coaching and speaking platform will keep me and others happy and healthy for years to come. Different investment strategies, but similar results. And in both cases, trust keeps our dreams alive.

In personal relationships, trust means believing that someone understands and appreciates your perspective and that your differences are not fundamental barriers to your connection.

Trust in personal relationships is an essential ingredient to creating a healthy and balanced life.

Many of us have spent years developing our personal relationships, and these core connections become opportunities to express friendship, love, affection, and intimacy.

Here, the investment is in our human relationships and experiences—which can never replace physical objects. Trust is the glue that keeps us together.

Trust Begins Within

The hallmarks of trust are grounded in an awareness of personal integrity and compassion for others. When you know yourself, you know your truths and beliefs. When you trust yourself, you give others the opportunity to trust you.

Developing and trusting yourself brings trust into your relationships.

Knowing that trust begins within you creates an opportunity to learn how to love and respect yourself. Practicing that understanding through the culmination our relationships makes sense. Once we know ourselves, we can create opportunities to trust our judgments and assumptions, and that foundation then creates the ability to forge that bond with others.

Trust is Earned

Trust is often referred to as “earned” since it is something that is usually created over time and consciously maintained. When someone says, “I trust you,” they are putting their faith in you, and a mutual connection is created. This connection is to be taken seriously. If trust is lost, it can be difficult to regain, but not impossible.

Trust can be restored through compassion and forgiveness.

Earning trust includes follow-through. If someone says they will do something, but they don’t follow-up on doing it, we can lose trust in them. And over time, the relationship can start to erode.

I had a friend who would consistently make plans with me and then cancel at the last minute. It was frustrating to keep rearranging my schedule around his failure to follow through. Due to this repeated pattern of inconsistency, my trust in him began to fade. Sadly, we are no longer good friends because I can’t rely on him. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a reality. Trust can make or break a relationship.

A primary way of earning trust is through clear and effective communication. By expressing our desire to trust and be trusted, our relationships become the foundation for building and earning trust. If my friend would have been a better communicator, it could have potentially saved our friendship.

Trust is Discoverable

Words are important, but so are actions. We can say anything we intend to do, but it’s only our actions that will speak our true intentions. These actions, over time, set a momentum for future interactions and create a foundation for trust.

Once again, my friend and I might have been able to salvage our relationship if he would have been able to “walk the talk.” His words became meaningless without follow-through. And in order for me to stay in my integrity, I had to discontinue that relationship.

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Famous proverb

Similarly, sometimes trust relies on blind faith—believing in more than we see. For example, when we decide to fly on an airplane, we trust the pilot, the airline, and the FAA to provide effective oversight. Otherwise, we’d never step foot onboard. Can you imagine if a boarding passenger wanted to interview the pilot and see all the manifests and paperwork before the plane departed?!

Blind faith can also pertain to someone we don’t know. Perhaps we encounter a stranger who needs a ride and we offer to help them, trusting that we’ll be safe. We’d only be able to do that if we trusted them and trusted ourselves to make that decision.

Trust Takes Time

Just like other critical components of relationships, most trust is developed over time. While our minds are collecting data, our hearts are evaluating the feelings these experiences created and weighing whether trust can be created.

Trust is also rooted in consistency and reliability, including past history­—since I’ve trusted you in the past, I can trust you in the future­—unless that trust is broken. For example, “The last time I gave him my report he put his name on it and took the credit, so I won’t give him my report ever again.” As opposed to, “I always go to her as a resource because I can trust her to get the claims filed on time.”

Trust + Time = Long-lasting and fulfilling relationships.

Need some gentle reminders about how to build and maintain trust? Here are some tips for your toolbox:

Show respect. Trusting is a form of respect, and respect for others comes from respecting oneself. If you want someone to respect you, respect yourself first. Accordingly, if you want someone to trust you, trust yourself first. All healthy relationships are based on trust and respect.

Appreciate differences. Being willing to accept people and circumstances as they are, without conditions, builds trust. And when we can appreciate differing perspectives, we learn how to trust without having to completely understand. We create a higher tolerance for ambiguity.

Check assumptions. Are you sure? Do you have doubts? What do you believe? Asking these questions helps to validate assumptions and clarify intentions. This clarity helps build trust.

Practice empathy. Empathy and compassion are natural human characteristics, but just like muscles in the body, we need to practice and strengthen them. When we practice seeing things through our humanity rather than our practicality, we become “heart smart.” This connection creates an environment where trust can be created.

Be trustworthy. Our relationships are mirrors. If you’d like people to trust you, then start by trusting them. Opportunities to demonstrate trust will present themselves and give you a chance to show others that you are worthy of their trust.

By paying attention to the foundations of trust, we allow ourselves more opportunities to create meaningful and impactful relationships. And if we notice when we are relying on someone’s trust or they’re relying on ours, we can learn to appreciate the value of our trusting relationships.

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