Lost and found: how to (re-)build trust

Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash

Think about the last few years — as well as what’s been happening with the pandemic, people getting divided over anything and everything, political events, connections to others… Do you think you trust as much as you did 5, 10, 15 years ago? For my part I have to say: I don’t think so.

More than asking: What happened? I’d like to look at:

  • Why are our lives better with trust?
  • What can be done to (re)build trust?
  • How do you put the right seeds into the soil?
  • And how do you need to take care of those seeds to let trust grow and flourish?

Why trust?

Dennis Jaffe writes in Forbes magazine: “There are just a few elemental forces that hold our world together. The one that’s the glue of society is called trust. Its presence cements relationships by allowing people to live and work together, feel safe and belong to a group.”

It’s certain: life gets more complicated when there is a lack of trust. You’re asking why? Because you will be occupied with precautions. You won’t want to uncover your wishes and wants to those you’re not trusting. You might hide important aspects about yourself and live life closed up and suspicious.

Trust on the other hand helps us to flourish. Only if we trust, we feel safe to share with others and show all of us. This includes the full spectrum of our personality, our thoughts, and ideas. These ideas could help resolve issues — our own as well as those of the world around us. That’s what we need: solutions to our world’s more and more complex demands and ever-growing list of problems.

What to do about it?

The latest research shows trust is linked to the release of the hormone oxytocin. For a long time, oxytocin was known as vital for the birthing process and got labeled as the “cuddle” hormone as it creates bonds between parents and their babies as well as between partners. Today its’s clear: beyond that, the hormone supports the creation of trust in others, reduces stress and anxiety, lowers aggression, and makes us more empathetic.

All of the latter gives you a good indication of how you could approach (re)building trust. If you want to increase trust and allow others to be open with you, predictability and calmness (vs. stress and anxiety), kindness (vs. aggression), and empathy (vs. apathy) will help you along the way.

Putting in the seeds

  1. Go slow: acknowledge the fact that building trust needs time.
    Compared to how quickly trust can be destroyed, it might take a long time and some effort to (re)build it. Don’t expect trust to come easy. You got to be in for the long game if you want to build a positive relationship with someone.
  2. Trust to receive trust: trust needs the right soil to flourish. This begins with your belief in the power and necessity of trust. In addition, your own trusting behavior shows that it’s safe to trust you. This includes being open and truthful about your personal thoughts and emotions.
  3. Be consistent: it is hard to trust someone who is unpredictable. If your reaction to someone is very different from one day to the other, it is going to be impossible to understand when it is safe to share and when it is not. Consistency is key here. This also includes being consistent in showing up when needed and standing by your word. Yet, since we aren’t robots and have better and worse days: inconsistency happens. And if it does, be open about the reasons behind it and help the other side to understand where you’re coming from.
  4. Choose calmness and empathy: trust builds from a deeper understanding of the real person on the other side. This needs slowing down and spending time to know them. Often, when problems arise we are too busy looking at ourselves: how we see things, how we would solve the issue and the like… instead of taking a step back and trying to understand the other side. It’s always a good idea to use the space between stimulus and response to make a “calm decision on how to react”. At the same time, this space can and should be used to practice empathy for the other person and include their perspective. This means giving them room to talk about their experience, active listening, and helping them to explore what to do. Building trust is often about giving others space to understand themselves better.

Growing and maintaining trust

As mentioned before, building trust needs time. The “amount” of trust is also not a constant figure but fluctuates based on different factors. Tobi Lütke of Spotify uses a good metaphor to think about trust: the trust battery. And even though he talks about it in a business and team context, it’s also applicable to other types of relationships. He says: “Another concept we talk a lot about is something called a “trust battery.” It’s charged at 50 percent when people are first hired. And then every time you work with someone at the company, the trust battery between the two of you is either charged or discharged, based on things like whether you deliver on what you promise.”

So, what you can do to assess where you stand with someone with regard to trust is to think about the trust battery and how much it might be charged at the given moment.

Other than that, there is no secret potion or trick to build and maintain trust other than investing yourself and your time in the person you want to build trust with. In the end, you will share a part of yourself and receive the same back.

What makes trust so powerful is its predictability of a happy, successful life. Something, everyone in this world wants. So let’s collectively work on (re-)building trust.

What are your thoughts about trust? Write me at carolin @ freedomxx.com

This article was first released on January, 25th, 2021, and re-edited in November 2021.

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