Whether the context is a corporate setting or a personal relationship, almost every coaching engagement I work in eventually boils down to the question of trust. And, no matter the context, it is always important. Yet we still seem to stumble over the same challenges. Largely I find that most of us have been living under certain myths about what trust is, how we trust, and our capacity to be both trusted and trusting.
MYTH #1: Trust (or the absence of trust) is a factual description of a relationship
The first challenge I notice people struggling with is seldom vocalized. It’s an underlying belief that hijacks how people operate. The belief is this – that trust is a factual state of being; that I can describe a relationship or a person as being trustworthy the way that I can describe his height. Or her hair color. We hold trust to be an assertion (objectively describes something and can be either true or false.) Not so. Trust is an assessment — it is the experience of a relationship. It is the way we CHOOSE to see a relationship. We have choice over it, and choice means power and control. Not unlike the experience of being in love, many of us have fallen into the habit of believing that trust is something that happens upon us. Like we sit there, all innocent and sweet, and the trust fairy comes by and sprinkles magic trust dust over a relationship. Likewise, when someone in a relationship screws up and trust gets broken, we think that happens TO us or AT us, like the fairy came back and removed all the dust.
But try this on – what if instead of being a passive bystander, we are active participants in the trust game? What if we recognized that we are the bearers of the magic trust dust? What does that change? What if instead of statements like, “you broke my trust,” where we are the object (worse, the victim) of someone else’s powerful actions, we take back our power and say, “I trusted that you were going to make good on that commitment, and you haven’t. As a result, I am no longer willing to trust you.” Because in the end, we choose to offer or withhold trust based on how we’ve evaluated the relationship’s worthiness of it. While we cannot control (but we can influence) the assessments others hold of us, we very much do control the assessments we hold of others.
Trust, therefore, is an experience that you control and you must first decide to be WILLING to trust.
MYTH #2: Trust is an all or none deal – I either trust you or I don’t
Trust (or mistrust) reaches us as a feeling – an emotional experience rooted in our bodies. Maybe there are cold pricklies that show up when someone you don’t feel is trust worthy walks into a room. Maybe there’s a feeling of safety and security when the person you trust most in the world touches your hand. Conventionally, we think of trust as being all one thing. Trust, however, is actually experienced on levels that happen to feel the same (or nearly the same) in us. Generally, trust is experienced on these levels:
- Competence: When we trust in a person’s competence, we believe that he or she CAN do the thing he or she committed to. We trust in the person’s skills, tools, materials and context.
- Commitment: When we trust in a person’s commitment, we believe that a person WILL make a commitment and that he or she WILL make good on that commitment. We trust that the person either makes good on a commitment or renegotiates in an acceptable manner.
- Sincerity: When we trust in a person’s sincerity, we trust that they demonstrate integrity and honesty – that they are the same when they are with us as when they are away from us. We trust that a person will hold by the commitments they make whether or not we are there to test or observe them.
We experience trust of others and the feeling of being trusted on all of these levels but they don’t necessary match up. Getting clear on the levels on which we do or do not trust others gives us the ability to have clear, targeted dialog that focuses in on what we value, where we experienced a break in trust, and what requests (or offers) are available to help restore trust.
Consider a relationship where you feel you may not trust someone. On what level (or levels) are you experiencing a break in trust? What observations led to that break? Are you willing to re-establish trust? If so, what requests do you need to make?
Alternatively, consider a relationship in which you do not feel trusted. Think about where the breaks may have occurred where trust may have been injured. On what levels do you believe that those breaks reside? Can you open a conversation to discover the other person’s point of view? Can you request that person be willing to re-establish trust? What offers can you make to help to restore trust?
MYTH #3: Trust takes time to build
By far, the number one thing I hear from people who have experienced a break in trust is that “Trust takes time.” Imagine the surprised faces when I tell them that’s a load of bologna. (I’ve used some other terms than bologna — I’m working on that).
Despite the popular platitudes, trust does NOT take time. At least not time by itself. Trust is built based on ACTIONS taken over time. Those actions come from our language and we see them in the form of requests, offers, and promises. That language comes from a mood, and that mood is usually in the family of vulnerability. Once again, if the willingness to be vulnerable and to establish or re-establish trust doesn’t exist, then all the time in the world is not going to make trust magically appear. Trust is an act of will, not a fleeting feeling.
MYTH #4: Some people are just born trusters and others are not.
Also, false. Some people have been practicing trust and willingness to trust for long enough to become good at it. Others have not. Maybe because they’ve been “burned too often.” But the wounds didn’t make the person incapable of trust – the person made a choice not to trust and may even be resigned to a mood of mistrust. We can choose to practice living with a capacity of trust, or we can choose to practice living without it.
If trust is a challenge for you, consider:
- What is it in the past that you are not willing to accept that is preventing you from trusting now? What needs to happen to come to acceptance?
- How is choosing not to trust serving you and your goals? How could it be hurting you?
- What possibilities would become open to you were you to choose to open yourself to trust?
- What prevents you from making yourself vulnerable and open to trusting?
- What actions are you willing to take to be a more trusting person?