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Elvis was really onto something when he said, “We can’t go on together with suspicious minds.”
No relationship—be it personal or professional—can thrive without trust.
Trust is what holds our society together and offers us hope that we don’t have to go through life alone.
We want to be able to trust others to help us out, protect our hearts, and guard our blind spots. And when we trust in others and they trust us back, there’s no telling how much we can grow.
Unfortunately, no one ever said trusting would be easy; often, it’s quite the opposite. But with a little faith, effort, and good will, you can build deeper trust in relationships and experience more meaningful connections.
The Meaning of Trust
You probably don’t spend a lot of time pondering the definition of trust, or what it means to you—but you certainly know when it’s been lost.
Over time, dictionaries, psychologists, motivational speakers, and plenty of other experts have all lent their own definitions to the word “trust.”
Merriam-Webster has labeled it as the “assured reliance on the character, ability, or truth of someone or something.”
Executive life coach Charles Feltman was a little more specific with his definition, describing trust as “choosing to make something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions.”
What Defines Trust?
Whichever definition you choose, when it really comes down to it, trust is something you feel in your heart. There’s no perfect formula that anyone can give you, no perfect sign that you should wait for to show you that someone is trustworthy.
In fact, if you’ve never had to think about your trust of a partner or a best friend, that’s a pretty good sign that they’ve already earned it—even if you can’t think of some grand gesture or definitive moment where they really proved their worthiness.
That’s because trust is built on the small moments: the friend who’s always there to lend an ear, the spouse who calls you from work just to let you know they’re thinking of you, or the colleague who picked up some of your workload when your parent was sick.
More often, though, trust is built on the things that didn’t happen: the friend who lent an ear but didn’t tell a soul about your struggles, the spouse who held you as you cried in exhaustion without judging you, the colleague who didn’t join in on the office gossip behind your back.
But if trust is built without us hardly realizing it, how can we be sure that we trust the right people? What happens when our trust gets betrayed? Why is trust even worth the risk anyway?
The Importance of Trust in Relationships
As scary as it can be, trust is something each of us must work toward if we want to experience growth.
And this doesn’t just apply to the people in your personal life: Think about how quickly things would break down if you couldn’t trust your leaders, doctors, or bosses. If you start thinking that you can’t trust anyone, you should never leave your house again!
Our society is held together by trust; it’s what keeps us productive and safe from the threat of complete chaos.
When you trust others, you’re likely to contribute more—whether it be at work, in your community, or in your relationship. When you trust the other party’s intentions, you’re willing to invest more of your time and effort in something bigger than just yourself.
Trust also allows us to forge stronger connections with others. When you offer someone your trust, they’re likely to reciprocate. With time, you’ll know that you can depend on each other, and you’ll feel comfortable asking each other for help when needed—which means you’ll both contribute to greater growth.
What makes trusting hard is that people—even those who have legitimately earned your trust once—can choose to break it.
That doesn’t mean you should never trust again. Learning to trust, or to rebuild it once it’s broken, can be extremely difficult—but with time and effort from both parties, you’ll find that it’s worth it in the long run.
How to Build Trust in Relationships
There are several things you can do to build trust in relationships. Keep in mind that if you want to be able to trust others, you must start by being a trustworthy person yourself.
1. Be Dependable
Being dependable means actually doing what you say you’re going to do. It also means that you’re pretty consistent in your behaviors.
Your boss, for example, can always depend on you to show up for work on time because you are consistently punctual, without needing to be reminded.
Your friend doesn’t have to worry that you’ll spill her personal secrets to everyone, because she’s confided in you before and you respected that confidence.
The proverb “once bitten, twice shy” captures perfectly what happens once trust has been broken, especially when the issue was one of dependability.
Once someone sees that they can’t depend on you like they thought they could, they’ll think twice before counting on you again.
Thus, in order to build trust, it’s important that you honor your commitments—which also means not committing to more than you can realistically handle.
If you can’t pick your friend up at 8:30 tomorrow morning, tell them; if you can’t finish that budget report on your own by 5:00, let your boss know.
Admitting your limits isn’t fun, but it’s much better than letting someone down.
2. Be Honest
Honest and open communication is essential to any relationship. Even if it’s tempting to tell a few little white lies, it’s best not to unless absolutely necessary. The truth usually finds its way to the surface.
Be honest with your feelings in your personal relationships, but also with your limitations—this will help you out with #1, staying dependable.
As a leader, friend, or life partner, being honest will earn you more respect and more trust from the people in your life.
It’s not always easy or pretty, but telling the truth no matter what will encourage others to do the same with you, creating relationships built on trust.
3. Help Others
Offering help to others without expecting anything in return is another great way to build trust. Authentic kindness is always appreciated and admired, and seeing your generosity will likely inspire others to pass it on.
In the workplace especially, sharing knowledge and offering help is essential to building trust. So instead of getting caught up in competitions, be the force that inspires change and helps others to grow.
4. Own Your Mistakes
When you make a mistake, always own up to it and take responsibility for your part in the situation.
Shifting blame and masking the truth are both weak moves, and they can cost you the respect—and trust—of those around you.
Everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone has the courage to own up to them. By acknowledging your shortcomings, you’re not showing others that you’re weak, but rather that you can be honest and accountable.
5. Don’t Be Judgmental
When others come to confide in you, try your best to not be judgmental. Create a safe space in which others can feel free to speak openly and honestly with you.
Chances are, you’ll need someone to talk with at some point, too. The other person will remember how you made them feel, and they’ll be more likely to recreate that same safe environment.
6. Be Brave
This is perhaps the hardest step, but it’s also the most important. Trusting others can be scary, there’s no doubt about it—so you’ll need to be brave.
It’s very possible that someone, at some point, will take advantage of your trust. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t trust again!
Remember that if someone does something to break your trust, it’s not a reflection of you—it was their mistake.
Ernest Hemingway once said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
While that advice actually makes quite a bit of sense, it might feel too optimistic for some. Instead, try placing more trust in your own instincts, and listen to what they say about the people around you.
Before you can trust others, you have to be able to trust yourself: to trust your judgment, to trust your instincts, and to trust your capabilities.
Trusting your instincts will also help you recognize who you can trust and who you shouldn’t.
Given time, people generally tend to reveal their true colors in one way or another; you just have to pay attention to the signs, and be honest with yourself.
If you have a bad feeling about someone, trust that feeling. But likewise, if you have a generally good feeling about a person, and they haven’t done anything to make you feel otherwise, then you should probably trust your instincts and give them a chance.
It’s not guaranteed that you won’t get burned; but if you do, know that it’s the other person’s problem, and not a reflection on you.
Trust in the Workplace
All of the principles above for building trust can and should also be applied in the workplace. Leaders need to trust their employees, and employees need to be able to trust their leaders (and each other).
Trust in the workplace encourages everyone to give their all to their work. When everyone contributes at their full potential, there’s no stopping the growth that will follow, both personally and professionally.
Turnover rates will also be lower in environments built on trust. Thus, leaders and all team members should strive to be dependable, honest, accountable, and non-judgmental.
Learn to Trust
Trusting isn’t easy; but without it, it’s extremely difficult to experience growth.
By learning to trust (and be trustworthy), you’ll find that your relationships will become more fulfilling, and more doors will continue to open.
What does trust mean to you? Share your thoughts in the comments below!