How to Build Trust

In relationships, nothing is more important than trust. When you have trust, you can deal with other things, but without it, nothing else matters. Think of trust as the currency you use in relationships.

There are three ways I know of that you can use to build trust in your relationships:

  • be understanding
  • have integrity
  • clarify mutual expectations

One way of building trust is through understanding others. We understand others by seeing the gold (good) in others. We should keep “digging” until we find it, and we want to make that the default habit. By default, we look for what’s “wrong” with the other person. If you think about it, there is always going to be something wrong with anyone. Nobody’s perfect. Instead of focusing on what’s wrong with the other person, we ought to focus on what’s right about them. We should embrace our differences, not get stuck on them.

We can also understand others by enjoying, appreciating, and affirming. Enjoying in this context means smiling with our eyes. Why eyes? Because even before we speak, the first thing we do is communicate with our eyes. Based on what we see in the eyes of the other person, we respond accordingly. There is a difference between praising and appreciating. Giving praise is generic, while appreciating is specific. You appreciate as a way of rewarding others, and affirming is simply a way to say in your own words what the other person has said. When you’re affirming correctly, the other person feels understood and listened to.

Listening is that empathic skill that makes understanding work. Most of us are aware of three skills in communication — writing, reading, and speaking. We forget the fourth skill in communication: listening. Listening effectively has the power to literally save lives. There is a night-and-day difference between listening effectively and listening selectively. Listen with the intent to understand, and not with the intent to reply.

Another way of building trust is through integrity. There is a difference between honesty and integrity. Honesty is saying what you do. Integrity is doing what you say. When what you think is in sync with what you say and what you do, then you have deep personal integrity. This is much harder in practice.

One way of building trust through integrity is by giving small promises and fulfilling them. When you continually give promises and fulfill them, you’re making deposits in other people’s hearts.

Every relationship has ups and downs. By building trust in the form of deposits over a period of time, you can use those deposits during the “bad” times, so to speak. Those withdrawals can only happen when you’ve built that trust by making and keeping promises over a period of time. In other words, you can only withdraw when you have sufficient deposits in other people’s hearts.

Giving (and fulfilling) promises is better than not giving promises at all. For instance, when you’re denying a request by someone, instead of just denying the request, offer to make a small promise. Let’s say you’re invited by a friend for dinner tonight. You can either accept or deny the request. When you deny the request, offer an alternative day and time to get together or make a small promise that you can keep. Any three-year old can say “no”. That’s not the point.

You may not always be able to keep those agreements with others. When you know you can’t keep those agreements, instead of breaking the agreement/promise, simply renegotiate. Better to renegotiate a promise than to simply break it.

Another way to build trust with integrity is through loyalty. That means keeping each other’s secrets, respecting other’s needs for privacy, and not criticizing them in their absence. This reminds me of The Triple-Filter Test involving Socrates.

We should be sincere in our relationships. We can do that by expressing gratitude, and by seeking forgiveness.

When we express gratitude, it leads to happiness and love.

Seek forgiveness ’til you’re forgiven; don’t just say sorry. Remember that you’re seeking forgiveness for yourself, and not necessarily for the other person, though the other person also gets liberated as a byproduct so they can move on from that situation. Being sincere is the key here. When others see that you truly seek their forgiveness ’til you’re forgiven, they also learn the same and do it for others.

Yet another way to build trust in relationships is by clarifying mutual expectations. Relationships cannot exist without expectations. How do you clarify mutual expectations?

By crafting a “social contract”. One way to do that is to figure out what things really matter to you and to the other person and establish protocols as to what is and isn’t acceptable with the other person. Doing this early in a work project, for instance, saves a lot of problems in the later stages. This is especially useful for people with opposite personality traits.

Another way to figure out expectations between two people is to follow this process. Make two lists. On one, write down your expectations from the other person. On the second, write down what you think the other person expects from you. Both you and the other person will do the exercise.

Then, based on these lists, make another two lists: first is a list of expectations that you promise to fulfill, and second is a list of expectations that you will try to fulfill without promising now.

And finally, make a list of promises that you want fulfilled, followed by a second list of promises that you want the other person to try to fulfill without promising.

Once completed, you both review the lists and find out how much of your lists match with that of the other person.

You can also revisit your “social contract” from time to time to ensure that your expectations are being met and that you’re fulfilling other people’s expectations as well. This can be personal or professional.

Building relationships requires trust between people. Without that trust, nothing matters at all. Only when you have sufficient deposits of trust can you navigate the bad times. This is important because no relationship is perfect. There are ups and downs in all relationships, and trust is the currency you can leverage to weather the bad times.

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