It’s easy to see that there are big situations that can wipe out trust. Just like nature can hit us with a level 5 hurricane, in an intimate relationship, affairs can level trust like an earthquake. At work, untruths about things like getting a promotion can blindside people and are equally devastating. For most of us, these huge deals aren’t actually the things that typically create a loss of trust with others. The destruction of building blocks of trust come in much smaller doses. The aspects of how we feel about ourselves when we are with someone, how we argue, how we listen, and how we negotiate differences ultimately make a bigger impact to the overall health of all of our relationships. These seemingly little items happen multiple times daily and they sow the seeds of distrust and disconnection which lead to the bigger trust disasters.
If you are thinking about a relationship, it could be a personal relationship or a work related connection, trust is the foundation for growth, connection, creativity and innovation. People who don’t feel trust, don’t share or collaborate also don’t explore ideas or have passionate conversations that lead to new learning. They drift apart and their relationships can stagnate. Having trust is so crucial to the success of a family, an organization, or a community that it begs to be addressed.
So, how do you build trust? When necessary, how do you rebuild it?
- Create positive relationships.Positive in this context is not superficial niceness or Pollyanna perfection. Positive relationships are relationships in which people feel heard, understood, liked and appreciated. It’s basic Psychology 101 that we like the people who like us. This is just a simple truth. So ask yourself, how do you show people that you like them or value them? How do you know when people like or value you? Pay attention to what behaviors demonstrate “liking.” We often smile at them or ask them questions that show our interest in what’s happening in their lives. We value their opinions even if we disagree; we encourage them in their endeavors. In our busy world, it is easy to lose track of another person’s humanness, so keeping an open door to someone’s ideas, interests, and passions helps that person feel positive toward you in return.
- Allow for differences. We often get very clear about our own perspective and we can sit pretty proudly in our rightness… righteousness. Yet our sense of being right can shut down other people. Some of the smartest and most influential people encourage differing perspectives because they understand that they can’t see all sides of any situation and they will make the best decisions if they ask for other points of view. If you want to develop trust, then you are going to have to learn to listen, often to things that you might not agree with. There is a huge difference between listening to understand and listening for ammo. People will feel trust in you if they have the ability to question your ideas or passionately discuss differences without being attacked or punished for their perspective. The more willing you are to hear these differences, the greater the circle of trust around you.
- Share the glory and freely give credit. Have you ever worked with someone or been friends with someone who takes all or the bulk of the credit? Nothing erodes trust like feeling like someone stole your idea or took credit for your hard work. When credit isn’t shared or given, it leads people to feel violated; it’s hard to let it go and these feelings often become disruptive factors towards forward movement. Make sure that when you are working with others that their ideas and work are acknowledged and that people are given credit where credit is due. When appreciation isn’t shown, that’s one thing, people might live with that, but if their work isn’t acknowledged or ideas are stolen, you may find that the trust is very difficult to rebuild.
- Demonstrate Integrity and follow through.Have you ever been in a situation where someone is saying all the right things, but their actions don’t mirror their words? In my 20 years working with people, this issue is one of the hardest to deal with. You keep hearing the right words, you’re hopeful, you want to believe, but then there is no follow through and you’re confused. You said xyz, but then did l,m,n,o,p… why? Here’s an example. Your boss or employee or wife comes to you, “Will you do this thing?” You say, “Yes.” Maybe you want to do it but are overwhelmed with other tasks, or maybe you want to avoid a longer discussion around why you don’t want to do it. You make an agreement, then you get busy and forget about the agreement. Now you’ve created a trust gap. When we are dealing with people who say one thing and then do something different, at first we spend a lot of time wondering if we’re being too particular. Every time we bring it up, we hear the words we want to hear, again. Are we crazy? In life, actions truly do speak louder than words. This situation creates a trust gap that requires a lot of extra work to fix. Truthfully, no one enjoys being told “No”, but if you are honest and explain why you can’t do xyz, then at least people don’t feel like they were bamboozled.
- Take personal responsibility for your mistakes.Often when we make mistakes we want to ignore them and move on. Maybe we hope no one will notice, or if they do, we have a speedy response that often sounds like a redirect and an attack all rolled into one. Building trust is not about being mistake free; it’s about taking full ownership of the mistake and then developing a plan to correct said mistake. People trust people who take ownership of their actions. If we get defensive and blame other people for our decisions, then distrust can turn into a snowball rolling down a hill. It can gather speed and take out whole villages in its destruction.
- Mentor and Grow people.People trust and value people who they feel are interested in them. Mentors help people learn to solve their own problems. Mentors share perspectives; they share their learning, and wisdom. Good mentors aren’t attached to a particular outcome; they are attached to a person. Look for the learning moments and give positive feedback on jobs well done. All these actions help to grow your trust influence. The job of a mentor is to truly believe in the potential of another person to grow. John Gottman talks about a 5 to 1 imbalance towards the positive (5 positives for every negative) in order for relationships to feel good to people. A good mentor has patience and is a role model. Sometimes a mentor needs to give some difficult feedback, so that we can grow and see ourselves more clearly. But, we are all more trusting of someone’s hard truth feedback if we believe that they are on our side, and that they genuinely want us to be successful.
- Think holistically.Look to the bigger picture. Many people get so focused on a specific goal that they are virtually blind to what the cost is to reach the goal, especially on the other people in the situation. Sometimes it pays to go a little slower, maybe ask more questions, or talk through more concerns, before moving ahead. When all the players feel heard and all the questions get asked prior to jumping off the mountain, your team is more likely to follow as you take the leap.
Trust is a fragile and epically important thing. With trust, small groups of people can move mountains together. Not every situation requires each of these 7 steps. But if you are in a situation where the trust is minimal or has been wiped out, then you might want to think about several of these steps and see if they might just help you grow your trust influence.
Natural disasters are beyond our control. But this is not so with how we build trust in our personal and professional relationships. Pay attention to these building blocks and build or rebuild your refuge of trust. Develop a foundation of trust that few interpersonal storms can harm.