The key to strengthening trust is to understand what it is, how it works and what you (and others) do to maximise trust, or bring it crashing down!
Trust is a complex concept which can easily be simplified into the extent to which you can rely upon someone (or something) else. Will they do what you expect them to do? Can you rely on their word? Can you predict what they will do in a given set of circumstances?
There are also various different levels of trust. You may be able to rely upon someone to tell the truth; however, you may not trust them with your life – particularly if their own is also in danger! Similarly, you may trust them not to share sensitive information about you around their network; but will they be able to resist a really tasty piece of gossip?
When you meet someone for the first time, you are both carrying a set of assumptions, experiences and beliefs about trust. Some “trust until proven otherwise”, while others “distrust until proven otherwise”. Additionally, they will probably have some intelligence about you – what they’ve heard from friends and their network. Or they may ascribe opinions to you based on stereotypes.
At the start of the relationship, you will both be assessing each other. To what extent can you trust them? They will be doing the same. Healthy development of trust is a progressive test – share something sensitive (but safe) and see what happens. If that feels okay, share a bit more. Each time it works, a higher level of sharing will take place, confidence grows in the relationship and the benefits can start to grow rapidly.
Problems arise when the level of trust is badly out of balance. If one person shares excessive amounts of personal information too soon, the other will become wary because of a fear that they cannot keep anything secret – they are too trusting! Equally, problems can start to emerge if one is safely starting to share sensitive information, but the other one isn’t. They begin to wonder, why don’t they trust me?
Once an initial working level of trust is established, building more trust involves progressively sharing more and more. This enriches the relationship and helps both parties to gain increasing benefits. However, it is vital to keep working at it and avoid the risk of mistakes causing a problem. The maxim worth remembering is that “trust takes a lifetime to build and a moment to lose”.
People who are considered to be “trustable” tend to demonstrate these attitudes and behaviours…
- Have an open mind to the views and opinions of others.
- Show genuine concern for other people.
- Are open about their own position, even if others may not like it.
- Encourage openness and honesty.
- Congratulate and reinforce straight talking.
- Do what they say they are going to do.
- Manage expectations if they realise they cannot meet a commitment.
People who come across as “untrustable” will demonstrate the opposite of all of these. Few people are at either of the extremes, but knowing where you may sit could be very useful as preparation for deciding what you need to do differently.