Trust lies at the core of all our relationships. And yet, if you ask 100 people exactly what trust is, you will likely get 100 different answers. The reason is that the concept of trust is not so easy to comprehend when it comes to relationships. So can you build more trust? That depends.

I'm a pretty trusting person. And by and large I've found that it's served me well to assume that most people are honest, well-meaning and trust-worthy. That said, I've also learned from some less than pleasant experiences that there are times when I need to hold back placing trust in someone or to just be more discerning what I trust them with. Like the time in back in my penny pinching university days when I foolishly trusted a roommate-novice hairdresser to put highlights in my hair. I looked like a leopard!

Trust lies at the core of all our relationships. And yet, if you ask 100 people exactly what trust is, you will likely get 100 different answers. The reason is that the concept of trust is complex; and whilst we are often clear about who we trust (and don’t trust), we're often much less clear about why.

When working with clients on trust, many of whom have leadership roles in organizations and are faced with issues of trust (or lack thereof) daily, understanding the three key elements of trust can be helpful. My guess is they will also be helpful to you -- first in enabling you to better distinguish specifically why you don't trust someone and second, in helping you become more effective in building trust yourself (or repairing it when damaged). After all, your ability to develop trusting relationships is pivotal to not only your personal relationships but also to your effectiveness at work at every turn.

The Three Elements of Trust

There are three core elements of trust that are all interrelated. Whenever a person is perceived to act in a way that undermines trust in any of these areas, trust overall is diminished.

Competence: The element of competence is what I call "domain specific" in that it depends on what area of expertise or skill you are assessing someone to be trustworthy in. For instance, you might trust me to cook you a roast dinner or to coach you to achieve a goal, but you wouldn't trust me to give you a root canal (for good reason!). Likewise, I trust my kids to put their bikes away after they've ridden them, but I would not trust them to cook me a roast dinner. Not yet anyway. More training is required! So the question to ask here is, "Does this person have the ability, knowledge, relevant experience and resources to perform this specific task in this domain of expertise?"

Reliability: Reliability is about whether you can count on someone to manage and honor their commitments. Or put another way, to do what they say they'll do when they say they’ll do it. So you may trust someone to be competent at a particular task and sincere in their intention to do it, but their track record of unreliability, whether it be tardiness or sloppy work, keeps you from trusting them completely. The question to ask, "Can I count on this person to keep their promises and get the task done properly and by the agreed time frame?"

Sincerity: Sincerity relates directly to our assessment of someone's character. Of all three elements of trust, sincerity is the hardest to build, and the most pivotal in our decision whether or not to place your trust in someone; and it's what we want, need and expect from those who are in positions of formal leadership – from our President to our company CEO. Of course, you may not necessarily care much whether the person cutting your hair is cheating on their tax return (or their spouse), but you may well care a lot if it was your local senator or boss.

Sincerity is also the most difficult element to repair when damaged, which explains why infidelity has a far greater impact on a marriage than a spouse who simply forgets their anniversary or why discovering that a colleague has derided you behind your back does more damage than if they were just habitually running late for meetings. So the question to ask here is, "Is this person genuine and someone who means what they say with a strong sense of integrity?"

So, armed with new knowledge (and new competence!) in trust, how might you apply it in your relationships at work, with family members or friends? Of course, that's not to say that you aren't trustworthy right now, but take time to look at where you may have either inadvertently allowed trust to flat line through neglect or damaged it by your behavior. How might you build or restore trust if you were to:

* Develop skills to grow your competence in a particular area?
* Improve your punctuality?
* Share how you genuinely feel about an issue?
* Manage your commitments more effectively so that you get things done properly and on time?
* Apologize for offending someone (even unintentionally)?
* Attempt to make amends for a wrongdoing that damaged trust?

Distrust is Very Expensive

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "distrust is very expensive." The fact is, without trust, influence wanes, intimacy erodes, relationships crumble, careers derail, organizations fail to prosper (and ultimately, also crumble) and, in short, nothing much works. Wherever trust is missing, opportunity is lost -- opportunity to prosper, to exert influence, to deepen intimacy, to enjoy harmony, to collaborate, to foster understanding, to succeed at the very things that matter to you.

You cannot force others to become more trustworthy, but you can become more worthy of trust yourself. By raising your own bar, through your words and actions, and being the change you want to see in others, you can ultimately create a more trusting environment around you. So no matter how full the trust accounts are in your relationships, it's never too late to work at building trust, and you can never work too hard at maintaining it.

Author's Bio: 

Margie Warrell; thought leader in human potential, master life coach, international speaker, media contributor and best-selling author of Find Your Courage.

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