Leading with Trust

4 Reasons For the Lack of Trust in Your Relationships #TrustGiving2014

Trust BlocksCan you ever have enough trust in your relationships?

When I speak to groups or conduct training sessions I often conduct the following poll (go ahead and select your answer): 

If you answered honestly and you truly have no trust issues in any of your relationships, then congratulations! Please email me and I’ll arrange for you to take my job! The reality is trust can always be improved in our relationships and that’s the focus of #TrustGiving2014, a week-long (Nov. 17-24) celebration of the importance of trust in all relationships.

In our personal relationships, many times we hold ourselves back from enjoying higher levels of trust because we’re reluctant to give it in the first place. There is a reciprocal nature to trust – the more you give it, the more you usually get it. If you aren’t giving trust, chances are you aren’t getting it. Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy in this regard.

Here are four common reasons why you may have a lack of trust in your relationships:

1. You have a low propensity to trust – Our propensity to trust is based on many factors, chief among them being our personality, early childhood role models and experiences, beliefs and values, culture, self-awareness and emotional maturity. The combination of these factors and experiences shapes how quickly, and how much trust we extend to others. Your experiences may have resulted in you viewing trust as something to be earned, not given, so therefore you withhold trust from others until you’re absolutely sure they deserve it. Even then, you may only extend trust grudgingly or in small amounts. Having a low propensity to trust can hold you back from experiencing true joy and fulfillment in relationships.

2. You don’t like to give up control – Giving up control means we open ourselves to risk, and when we’re exposed to risk, the more vulnerable we are to get hurt. So in response, we withhold trust and try to control the people and situations around us to protect our safety. If we define control as that which we have direct and complete power over, we quickly realize we don’t actually posses that much control. We may be able to influence people or situations, but we can’t control them. The only control we truly have is over ourselves – our actions, attitudes, values, emotions, and opinions. People often assume mistrust (or distrust) is the opposite of trust; that’s not true. Control is the opposite of trust, and in order to get trust you have to be willing to give it.

3. You have unrealistic expectations – Unrealistic, unspoken, and unclear expectations are a primary cause for low or broken trust in relationships, and the higher the expectations the more likely it is they won’t be met. Trust usually isn’t something people openly talk about or address in relationships until it’s been broken, and by then it’s often too late to salvage the relationship or the breach of trust seems too big to overcome. Clarifying expectations is preventative medicine when it comes to trust. It’s much better to have the awkward or uncomfortable discussion up front about roles, responsibilities, and expectations, than it is to deal with the fallout when either party falls short.

4. Past hurts hold you back – Hurt people, hurt people…those who have been hurt by broken relationships in the past often hurt other people in a dysfunctional form of self-protection. Whether it’s unnecessarily withholding trust (see #1), having unrealistic expectations of others (see #3), being trapped in a victim mentality, lashing out at others, or operating out of low self-esteem, our past experiences with broken trust can easily derail us from developing healthy, high-trust relationships. It’s critical to not let our past hurts dictate our present relationships. As Sue Augustine, author of When Your Past Is Hurting Your Present says, “You may not be able to control what happens to you, but you can control what happens within you.”

Trust is as vital to healthy relationships as oxygen is to a scuba diver; survival is impossible without it. Whether it’s a naturally low propensity to trust, being unwilling to give up control, having unrealistic expectations, or letting our past hurts hold us back from trusting others, we have to move beyond these reasons if we want to have trust-filled relationships in the future.

Three Circles of Trust

If you’ve seen the movie Meet the Parents, you probably remember “the circle of trust.” Robert De Niro’s character, Jack, a former CIA agent and overly protective father, is obsessed with making sure his future son-in-law Greg is a trustworthy and honorable husband for Pam, his only daughter. From his point of view, a person is either in or out of his circle of trust; there’s nothing in between.

Effective leaders have learned to have multiple circles, each with varying degrees of trust, depending on the people, context of the relationship, and the circumstances involved. Consider these three circles of trust:

The outer most circle is the Community and is the group of individuals that you would consider your acquaintances. Perhaps you’ve met them a few times, may know their names, and occasionally interact with them such as the clerk you regularly see at the grocery store, your plumber, or the teachers at your child’s school. This circle is characterized by the lowest degree of trust which tends to be based on the norms of the context of your relationship. There tend to be  rules, policies, procedures, or contracts in place to prevent one party from taking advantage of the other. There isn’t anything wrong with this level of trust. It’s appropriate for the transactional nature of your relationships in this circle.

The Crowd circle contains those relationships that have a deeper level of trust characterized by personal knowledge of each party. A relationship moves from the Community circle into the Crowd by demonstration of trustworthy behavior over time to where the parties involved can reliably predict each other’s behavior. This is the circle where you would typically find relationships with your team members, co-workers, or social organization associates.

The innermost circle is the Core. This is the circle of trust reserved for the closest relationships in your life such as your spouse, family, and best friends. This level of trust is characterized by the parties knowing the hopes, dreams, fears, and insecurities of each other. These relationships have the highest levels of trust because they also have the highest levels of vulnerability. Over the course of time these relationships have experienced increased amounts of personal disclosure and the parties have developed a history of respecting and protecting the vulnerabilities of each other.

Contrary to what’s portrayed in Meet the Parents, there isn’t just one circle of trust. Our relationships are too varied and complex to fit into a one-size-fits-all approach and successful leaders have learned to extend and cultivate the right amount of trust depending on the given circle of the relationship.

What are your thoughts? How would you categorize your circles of trust? Feel free to share your comments.

Three Levels of Trust – What Level Are Your Relationships?

When it comes to trust, not all relationships are at the same level. Based on the context of the given relationship – professional, personal, family, social – each one can experience a different level of trust.

There are three basic levels of trust. The first level is deterence-based trust, or what I like to call “rules-based” trust. This is the most fundamental, base level of trust in all relationships. Deterence-based trust means that there are rules in place that prevent one person from taking advantage of, or harming another person. In society we have laws that govern our behavior in personal and business settings. When we engage in business we have contracts that ensure one party can trust another to hold up their end of the bargain. In organizations we have policies and procedures that provide boundaries for how we interact and treat each other, and if we violate those rules, usually there are consequences involved.

The second level of trust is knowledge-based trust. This level of trust means that I’ve had enough experience with you and knowledge of your behavior that I have a pretty good idea of how you will react and behave in relationship with me. We’ve had enough interactions over time where there has been a consistent display of trustworthy behavior that I believe I can trust you with the everyday type issues we experience together. This is the level of trust that most of our day-to-day professional relationships experience.

The third and most intimate level of trust we experience in relationships is called identity-based trust. This level of trust means that you know my hopes, dreams, goals, ambitions, fears, and doubts. I trust you at this level because over the course of time I have increased my level of transparency and vulnerability with you and you haven’t taken advantage of me. You’ve proven yourself to be loyal, understanding, and accepting.

Identity-based trust isn’t appropriate for every relationship. This level of trust is usually reserved for the most important people in our lives such as our spouse, children, family, and close friends. Yet with the proper boundaries in place, this level of trust can unlock higher levels of productivity, creativity, and performance in organizations. Imagine an organizational culture where we operated freely without concerns of being stabbed in the back by power-hungry colleagues looking to move higher on the corporate ladder. Imagine less gossiping, backbiting, or dirty politics being played because we knew each other’s hopes and dreams and worked to encourage their development rather than always having a me-first attitude.

Take a moment to examine the level of trust in your most important relationships. What level are you at with each one and how can you develop deeper levels of trust?

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