Trust-full Relationships

Read the second article in our 3-part series, where we look at trust in 21st Century: trust with ourselves, trust with others and trust in the wider world. How can we use trust to help us navigate uncertainty? And how might it bring more depth and meaning to our lives? 

This time, we explore why inspiring trust and deepening our trust with others are essential capacities for building and developing our personal relationships and business partnerships. We also look at what we can do to build more trust in our relationships by examining two different types of trust: head-based trust and heart-based trust. When we become conscious of the different types of trust, we can better diagnose problems in our relationships and allow the intelligence of each of them to help us co-create the relationships we really want.

The role of trust in relationship

Trust is the foundation of all human connections. It’s not something simply reserved for our most deep and intimate relationships: trust governs all of the interactions we have with each other, from business partnerships to chance encounters. From the trust we give to our fellow road users, to the food served up in our local restaurant or to the train driver who facilitates our daily commute: we wouldn’t be able to do anything or go anywhere in our lives if we were devoid of trust.

In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor pointed out that “social relationships are the best guarantee of heightened well-being and lowered stress, both an antidote for depression and a prescription for high performance.”  At the core of strong and enduring relationships is trust, while the very definition of a bad relationship is “little or no trust.”

Through our work with organisations, we find levels of engagement to be strongly tied up with trust: where employees experience high-trust relationships with leaders and colleagues we also find a greater capacity to handle conflict, navigate challenging situations, innovate and take risks. Ultimately, high-trust within organisations drives productivity, growth and leads to better business results.

What is your relationship with trust?

‘Pistanthrophobia’ is the fear of trusting others. Most of us will have suffered varying degrees of this fear, often arising from painful personal experience or conditioning.

In his paper ‘Psychological foundations of trust’, Jeffrey A. Simpson writes: “Trust involves the juxtaposition of people’s loftiest hopes and aspirations with their deepest worries and fears.” When our fears and worries outweigh the possibility of our high hopes and expectations being realised, we tend to develop a ‘glass half empty’ belief system around trust.

However, the ‘glass half full’ attitude towards trust isn’t necessarily the better option either, as this may lead to trusting others too easily.

So, does trust have to be ‘all or nothing’? Or is it actually more complex than that? How do you trust those around you and where is that taking you? And where could it take you? Because whether professional or personal, a relationship without trust is like a car without gas: you can stay in it, but it won’t get you very far… 

Types of trust

Type ‘trust’ into google and you will stumble across hundreds of reasons why you wouldn’t want to give your trust to others. Some warn to “Be careful of who you trust”. Others go even further suggesting that we should “never trust anyone completely.” And perhaps the most saddening piece of advice: “laugh with many, but don’t trust any.  Perhaps this is true for many of us: we put on a show of trust but in fact, never do we truly trust.

Perhaps this explains why so many of us struggle with superficial relationships, because they are relationships based around surface level trust. A type of trust based on labels, names, and tangible evidence. If we stripped away all of these socially accepted signs of trust – the wedding ring, the contract, the job title – what would the relationship look like?

Patrick Lencioni’s well-known work on teams distinguishes between these two types of trust: predictive and vulnerability-based trust. He poses that the kind of trust characteristic of a great team requires team members to make themselves vulnerable to one another and be confident that their respective vulnerabilities will not be used against them. These vulnerabilities include weaknesses, skill deficiencies, interpersonal shortcomings, mistakes and requests for help.

This is very different from another kind of trust – predictive trust – where we are guided on the basis of apparent evidence that a person is trustworthy. We trust the doctor because she has certain qualifications; we trust our business partner because they have signed a contract; we trust our colleague to carry out a task because they’ve already demonstrated competence in that domain.

Another way of thinking about this is as head vs. heart. Head trust develops through thoughts: it intellectualises and materialises trust. Heart trust develops through feelings and it tends to be something that can’t been seen or easily explained in words: it’s ‘butterflies in the stomach’, a gut instinct, a spark.

Understanding the distinction between these different types of trust can be helpful in diagnosing where our relationships might need some help.

Whilst evidence- or predictive-based trust is important, trusting with the vulnerability and openness of heart-based trust can create more depth, meaning and lasting richness in our relationships.

Balancing trust

Mona Sutphen, who served as the White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy in the Obama administration stated that: “most good relationships are built on mutual trust and respect.” A powerful yet surprising statement to come from a politician.

However, the key word here is “most”, because in reality, trusting everyone would be incredibly difficult and perhaps even dangerous. Which is why we’re certainly not suggesting that you should hand over your heart to everyone: we’re recommending that you strike a balance between the two.

Let’s imagine for a moment that we’re being offered a new job. We can consider the pay, the job title, the responsibilities, the working hours, the employee benefits. And we can also consider the energy in the organisation and the way we feel around our prospective new boss.

Steven Covey & Greg Links call this fusion of the two types of trust ‘Smart Trust’ . They believe smart trust is the key to building high trust in a low trust world as it can help us to minimise risk whilst at the same time maximising possibilities.

Here we use the information of both heart-based and evidence based-trust in order to come to a balanced decision. Because whilst we might not want to hand over a huge amount of trust to a new boss, friend or company, we also don’t want to hamper the future development of that relationship because of a lack of trust.

In the example above we use both types of trust to inform the new job situation. We are dialing up our consciousness in order to access information that supports both types of trust: we use material evidence to inform our decision but we don’t allow it to overwhelm how we feel about the situation.

Because as I’m sure many of you have experienced, it can be all too easy to dismiss a ‘bad feeling’ if the brain is telling you otherwise. The heart senses something’s not right but the head manages to talk you out of it because it believes it can weigh up all the options.

However, relationships are complex and so quite often there are simply too many options for the brain to weigh up. This is why a blend of the two intelligences – heart and head – can often offer us a clearer sense of a situation.

So, whilst we don’t want to ignore evidence or analysis, we might want to suspend it – at least temporarily. Because when we approach situations with the belief that “most people are basically good” we open up a whole new world of possibilities.

This isn’t about walking into relationships naïve and deluded: this is about staying open to the possibilities that every relationship can bring. If we become inherently curious about our relationships our focal length shifts and we start to see opportunities that reach beyond the boundaries of evidence-based trust.

Co-creating trust

I + You = We

What if two parts don’t make a whole? Contrary to the old adage, we believe that both people in a relationship can each bring 100%. When each brings their whole self to the relationship- their full 100%- then each person has equal responsibility for the relationship.

This is where we can truly start to trust beyond material evidence, as there’s a level of vulnerability and authenticity. No longer is one person bringing 30% and looking to the other person to bring the other 70%. Rather, there is a shared responsibility because both parties are conscious of everything- all 100%- of what they bring to the relationship.

And this responsibility makes trusting and being trusted a whole lot easier because it brings us back to our Self. The one part of that equation that we can control. We can’t control other people. However, just because we can’t control someone else doesn’t mean we should write-off the possibility of creating a high-trust relationship.

So, with that in mind, we want to finish with the following questions: Can you allow someone to bring their full self to the relationship? And do you trust yourself enough to do the same?

We’d love to know what you think.

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