What 10 things build trust in a relationship?
So what do you do to build trust in a relationship? Think about it. I’ll wait.
You’re probably not sure because it’s not very conscious or deliberate. In fact, you might have trouble usefully defining “trust.”
For their book The Hidden Power of Social Networks: Understanding How Work Really Gets Done in Organizations, the authors surveyed three global companies in various countries to define trust.
They established two different types of trust:
- Competence-based trust: “My plumber is the king of toilets. I trust him to do a good job.”
- Benevolence-based trust: “Larry is a good person. He won’t kill me in my sleep and pour sugar in my gas tank.”
The latter is what most people think of when they talk about trust. What creates it?
We all think we know but when you ask people you get stuttering or a lot of circular reasoning: “Trust means they won’t screw you over. And they won’t screw you over because… they’re trustworthy.”
Yeah, reeeeeeeeal helpful.
So how do you build trust in a relationship?
Cross and Parker conducted interviews across 20 organizations and formed a list of 10 things that work:
1) Act with Discretion
Keep a secret a secret.
Sounds obvious but what’s funny is that keeping secrets is so uncommon that in their research Cross and Parker frequently heard people talking about calling information secret to make certain it would be spread widely.
Cynical, but effective.
Our interviewees indicated that people who kept sensitive material to themselves were perceived as more trustworthy. Though a seemingly obvious prescription, acting with discretion was far from common. In fact, our interviewees frequently described using people’s lack of discretion intentionally as a means of circulating information within a network.
2) Match Words and Deeds
Again, this one seems pretty obvious but Cross and Parker do a good job of clarifying the key elements:
- You need to make a point to remember all the commitments you make — the explicit ones and the ones that are assumed. Being a flake might not make you a “bad person” but it violates competence-based trust and you’ll suffer because of it.
- You need to set realistic expectations. You might do what you said you were going to do but what if the other person understood your promise very differently than you did? Communicate and make expectations clear.
3) Communicate Often and Well
This is a good idea in general but as in #2, more communication generally means better understanding and a closer fit for expectations.
It also lets the other person see you as reliable again and again, building a reputation.
Frequent communication increases the amount of information available to help one person assess another’s abilities, intentions, and behaviors within the relationship.
4) Establish a Shared Vision and Language
When standards and expectations are clearly set, decisions are less hazy and violations more clear.
If you set boundaries it’s more clear that you’re not violating them.
This doesn’t have to be as formal as laws and rules but the more open to interpretations standard are, the more misunderstanding there will be.
5) Highlight Knowledge Domain Boundaries
Translation: Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”
People who pretend they’re an expert in everything do not inspire trust. Those who are clear about what they can and cannot do are more likely to be relied on.
6) Know when to step out of your role
You’re never closest to people who you only know at work and only talk about work with.
Someone doesn’t become a friend until they move from the role you met them in and become a three-dimensional person.
Almost all our interviewees said that breaking down those barriers and establishing a personal connection was crucial for a productive relationship.
7) Give away something of value
This doesn’t just mean money and expensive things; information and personal contacts are powerful signals of trust as well.
Revealing little known facts of interest and recommending someone to others are powerful signs of trust and encourage reciprocation.
…sharing tacit, or experiential, knowledge often led to the development of benevolence-based trust… Sharing personal contacts is a second important type of assistance. Revealing one’s personal contacts can jeopardize reputation and social capital. Allowing outsiders to tap into one’s network is a signal of trust that a person will often respect and reciprocate.
8) Help people refine unclear ideas
As the authors point out, the motto of many bosses is “Come to me with solutions, not problems.”
While a good rule for subordinates to follow, it doesn’t inspire trust, it creates pressure.
Having a lower bar and being more flexible allows people to feel more comfortable.
People who encourage inquiry in problem solving are viewed as more trustworthy than those who don’t tolerate ambiguity or exploration.
9) Make decisions fair and transparent
The best translation of this is “lead by example.”
A boss who is always fair is trusted. A parent who doesn’t play favorites is more likely to be seen as trustworthy by their children.
The research showed these actions by people in authority trickle down, forming a culture in a company or a home.
Does your house or office have the feeling of “This place is inconsistent. It’s the wild west. Its about the ends, not the means” or does it feel like “That’s not fair or right. I don’t care if it works. We don’t do that here.”
The extent to which management was able to incorporate fairness and transparency into decision-making processes played a role in how people viewed their relationships with others in the organization.
10) Hold people accountable for trustworthy behavior
Workplaces that don’t punish offenders aren’t taken seriously.
And if you can’t call your friend or partner out when they violate your trust, you probably don’t respect them – or the relationship – very much.
The company was willing to spend time and energy to train everyone in the importance of these values and to work out a comprehensive evaluation process assessing employees’ behavior in relation to these values. Many companies may say that they value integrity, but not as many will put their employees through training, and few of those will formulate a working evaluation system and tie in compensation.
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