While teaching a class this past week on Building Trust, I found myself giving the participants this admonishment: “Just like anything in life, you’re going to get out of this what you put into it.”
I’m not quite sure where that came from, but I suspect it was the words of advice given to me over the years from my mother, teachers, coaches, and bosses. I imagine you’ve probably received, or given, that same advice before. It’s good advice because it’s true.
When it comes to trust, it’s especially true. You see, trust can’t begin to grow until someone first extends trust. That’s because there’s risk involved. Risk and trust go hand in hand. If there’s no risk involved, then there’s no need to trust. But if you are vulnerable to the actions of another, then trust is required. You have two choices when presented with relationship risk: you can withhold trust in order to protect yourself, or you can extend trust in the hopes it will be reciprocated and both parties will benefit.
Reciprocation is a key factor in the development of trust. There is a social dynamic in relationships known as the Law of Reciprocity. Essentially it means that when someone does something nice to us—give us gifts, show love, extend trust, give grace, grant forgiveness—we have a natural human instinct to respond in kind. Unfortunately, the opposite is true as well. When someone acts cruelly or hostile toward us, we often respond in even more cruel and hostile ways.
In the public square these days, negative reciprocity is the norm. Warring factions have developed a singular membership criterion: you’re either with me or against me. We have demonized those whom we believe to be against us. They are no longer honorable, well-meaning people with different ideas. They are mortal enemies who cannot be trusted at any cost. The result is one group treats the other with contempt and hostility, the other group responds in kind and even turns it up a notch for good measure. Around and round we go in a negative, downward spiral, zero trust loop.
Leaders in all realms of society need to get back to leading with trust. We need to smartly, yet courageously, extend trust to our stakeholders with the positive expectation they will reward our trust by responding in kind. Trust begets trust. The Law of Reciprocity.
You’ve got to give it to get it. That’s the way it works with trust.
Addressing low trust in a relationship is a challenging issue. As soon as the “t” word—trust—is mentioned, emotions start to rise, defensiveness climbs, and people begin to feel uneasy about where the conversation is headed.
When I conduct workshops on building trust, participants often ask me for advice about how they can tell someone they don’t trust them. That’s because trust is not a topic most people are comfortable talking about, and few are equipped to handle a trust conversation in an objective, productive, and respectful way that strengthens the relationship rather than tearing it apart.
The key to addressing a lack of trust in a relationship is to not focus on trust itself, but on the behaviors causing low trust. In fact, as a general practice, I recommend trying to avoid using the “t” word completely during the trust conversation. By focusing on behaviors, you and the other person can zero in on what you can control; how you treat each other.
But how do you do that? How do you convey to someone you don’t trust them by only talking about behaviors? There are three basic steps:
Diagnose which element of trust is low. Before you can even begin to discuss specific behaviors causing low trust, you have to diagnose which element of trust is being eroded. That’s because trust isn’t a one-dimensional concept. Research shows that trust is made up of four elements: competence, integrity, care, and dependability. Depending upon the context and nature of the relationship, some elements may be emphasized more than others, but all are still important and needed to some extent. For example, competence, integrity, and dependability may be more relevant in the relationship with your auto mechanic, while demonstrating care may be less so. You want to make sure the mechanic is knowledgeable about fixing your car, charges you a fair price, and completes the work on time. Although care is less important in this context, if the mechanic is rude and treats you disrespectfully, it may cause you to wonder if he/she truly has your best interests in mind and therefore erode your trust in him/her.
Identify the specific behaviors causing low trust. When you feel you don’t trust someone, it’s rarely a situation where you distrust everything about the individual. It’s almost always one or two key behaviors driving the erosion of trust in the relationship. Once you’ve diagnosed which element of trust is low, you can then narrow down the behaviors causing the gap in trust. For example, let’s look at dependability. People are dependable if they behave in ways that show they are reliable, responsive, and accountable. Those kinds of behaviors look like meeting deadlines, following through on commitments, being readily available or getting back to you in a reasonable amount of time, and holding themselves accountable for the results of their commitments. If you are experiencing low trust with a colleague because he/she isn’t dependable, you’ll close the trust gap quicker and easier by getting crystal clear on the behaviors causing low trust and how you can fix them.
Provide feedback on the behavior. Giving feedback to someone is a moment of trust in the relationship. It’s an opportunity to either build trust or erode it, so it’s important you approach the situation with a clear purpose and plan in mind. Once you’ve diagnosed which of the four elements of trust is being eroded, and narrowed down the specific behaviors causing that erosion, the next step is to provide feedback on those behaviors and develop a plan for strengthening them moving forward. Focus the conversation on the behaviors the person can control and change moving forward, not on general personality traits or characteristics. Resist the urge to over-generalize or soft-pedal the feedback. Be descriptive, specific, and describe the negative impact resulting from the behavior, but also assume best intentions on the part of the other person. Finally, keep the conversation focused on problem solving the troublesome behaviors and moving forward in a productive way. Using our previous example of addressing a trust gap caused by someone’s lack of dependability, the feedback might sound something like: “Sarah, we need to discuss the weekly project status reports. You’ve missed the Friday deadline the last three weeks, and as a result, the executive team has had an incomplete picture of the overall project status for their Monday meeting. I’m concerned because this isn’t normally like you. Can we talk about what’s been going on and figure out a plan to make sure we get this corrected?” In this example, without using the word trust, you’ve addressed the behaviors causing low trust with Sarah and have begun to put a plan in place to rebuild trust moving forward.
No one considers themselves to be untrustworthy, so to flat-out tell someone, “I don’t trust you,” will usually lead to damaging the relationship further and make the recovery of trust all that harder, if not impossible. But by diagnosing the elements of trust being eroded in a relationship, identifying the specific behaviors at the root of the issue, and discussing ways to address them moving forward, you can get trust back on track while preserving and growing the relationship.
If you say you’re sorry before truly understanding how the offended party feels, have you really apologized?
That question may not be quite as metaphysical as the classic, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?,” but it’s certainly worth considering if you’re serious about rebuilding trust in relationships.
I remember countless situations when my two sons were young kids and they’d get into squabbles with each other. After refereeing their dispute and performing my fatherly duty to declare one or both of them at fault, we’d inevitably get to the point where I’d tell one of them to apologize to the other. You probably know how the rest of the story unfolds, right? After several declarations of innocence and blaming the other person, one of them would grudgingly utter a terse, resentful, and perfunctory “sorry.” Neither of them were overly concerned with understanding how the other felt; they just wanted to placate dad and get on with their business. That strategy may fly when you’re six years-old, but it doesn’t work as an adult in the workplace.
Why is reflecting back feelings important and how do you do it?
Reflecting back feelings is important because it allows you to understand how the other person is feeling. It also allows the offended party the opportunity to process, share, and release the feelings he/she has been holding on to, which is important for moving beyond the hurt of the situation.
When you apologize, give the other person time to speak and share their feelings. The apology is as much about them—their pain, emotion, state of mind—as it is about your behavior. Don’t make the apology all about you.
As you listen to the other person share his/her feelings, don’t rebut, argue, or defend yourself. The purpose of reflecting back feelings is to show the other person you understand how he/she feels. It’s not to debate or argue points of facts.
Reflect back feelings by using statements like, “I heard what you said,” and “I understand why you feel that way.” Using statements like “Tell me more about that,” or “Help me understand what you mean by…” will open up the conversation and allow the other person to share in an environment of safety.
So I’ll take a shot at answering the metaphysical question: If you say you’re sorry before truly understanding how the offended party feels, have you really apologized?
My position is no, you haven’t fully apologized if you don’t understand how the other party feels. Admitting your harmful behavior is half of the apology. You can take it all the way home by understanding, acknowledging, and addressing how your behavior made the other person feel. Following this approach will increase the effectiveness of your apologies and lead to higher trust in your relationships.
As I’m driving into the office one Thursday a few years ago, I’m contemplating the agenda for my team meeting that morning. It dawns on me that it’s April 1st—April Fools Day. Being a guy who loves a good practical joke, I immediately start thinking about a prank I can pull on my team. The only idea that comes to mind is to tell the team I’m resigning. I figured people will immediately know I’m joking, we’ll all get a good laugh, and then we’ll go on our merry way. Boy, was I wrong.
I enlisted several co-conspirators to follow my lead and feign reactions of surprise and sadness when I made the announcement at the end of the meeting. What ensued were acting performances worthy of an Oscar. The net result was team members were shocked, angry, and felt betrayed by my callousness. One person got very emotional and stormed out of the meeting in tears. Why I thought that joke would be funny is beyond me. Instead of having a good laugh with my team, I had severely eroded their trust in me.
Over the next several days I met with team members one-on-one and together as a group. I followed these three basic steps to rebuild trust between us.
Acknowledge—As the 12-step recovery process has taught us, the first step in fixing a problem is to acknowledge you have one. When violations of trust occur, it is tempting to sweep the fallout under the rug and pretend it didn’t happen. Breaches of trust need to be met head-on and burying your head in the sand and pretending it doesn’t exist only makes the wound fester and become infected. It’s helpful to assess which of the four elements of trust has been eroded and then admit your mistakes. There are few trust-building behaviors more powerful than admitting and owning your mistakes. After your admission, let others express their feelings. Listen with empathy and understanding; don’t debate and argue.
Apologize—The second step in rebuilding trust is to apologize for your actions. This is a make it or break it moment in the process of rebuilding trust. If you apologize well, you set the course for healing and higher levels of trust in the future. If you botch the apology, you can dig yourself into an even deeper hole of hurt and dysfunction. Effective apologies have three basic components: admitting your fault, expressing remorse for the harm caused, and committing to repairing the damage. Check out The Most Successful Apologies Have These 8 Elements for more tips on apologizing.
Act—This is where the rubber hits the road in rebuilding trust. You can articulate the most awesome apology in the world, but the relationship will suffer permanent harm if you don’t change your behavior. The key success factor is to have a plan of action that is agreed upon with the person you offended. Outline how each of you will move forward in the relationship, what accountability looks like, and how you’ll know when the breach of trust has been repaired. The time it takes to repair trust is usually proportional to the severity of the offense.
Rebuilding trust in relationships requires us to be vulnerable and courageous. We have to acknowledge we did something wrong, apologize for our behavior, and act in ways that repair the damage we caused. However, the net result can be even stronger levels of trust. Relationships that have experienced the crucible of broken trust can come out stronger on the other side if both parties are willing to engage in this hard work to get to a place of healing and restoration.
I know. I’ve been there. And you probably have too.
When we talk about breaking trust, there is a continuum of severity of the offense. My fellow trust activists, Dennis and Michelle Reina, have an excellent way of expressing this concept. First, you can categorize offenses as either major or minor. Second, within those categories you can view the offenses as intentional or unintentional. The severity of the trust betrayal happens on a continuum, from those instances where a person unintentionally behaves in a way that erodes someone’s trust, to those instances where the person intentionally behaves in a way to deceive or betray.
Betrayal Continuum by Dennis & Michelle Reina
When we’ve experienced an intentional, major betrayal of trust, it can seem like all hope is lost of salvaging the relationship. After all, isn’t that the truth behind the cliché “trust takes a long time to build and just a second to lose?”
I’m here to tell you that there is hope on the far side of broken trust. If you and the other party are committed to restoring the relationship and putting in the necessary time and effort to rebuild trust, there is hope for the future. There are three important ideas to consider and remember:
1. Trust is incredibly resilient—Trust is much stronger than we give it credit for, as most people who have had long-term relationships can testify. Trust experiences ups and downs over the course of time, but if both parties learn to develop open and honest communication and practice forgiveness and restoration when minor trust offenses occur, they develop the strength necessary to weather a major breach of trust.
2. Trust can be stronger after a betrayal—Once a relationship experiences an intentional, major betrayal of trust, it will never be the same. But it can be better, deeper, and stronger than it was before. Betrayals of trust often cause the parties involved to realize the value of their relationship. Instead of taking it for granted, the parties can gain a new perspective on the importance and priority of the relationship and work to make it healthier than it was before the breach of trust.
3. It’s an opportunity for a new beginning…or a necessary ending—After experiencing a breach of trust, and before deciding to embark on the journey of rebuilding it, it’s important to consider if the relationship is worth preserving. For example, if your auto mechanic intentionally deceives you and charges you for repairs that weren’t needed, you may decide it’s better for you to end that relationship and find a new mechanic. That’s an easy choice with an impersonal service provider, but it’s quite another for a close personal relationship. Yet in spite of the pain caused by a betrayal in a close relationship, it presents an opportunity to pursue a new beginning. Both parties need to be absolutely committed to restoring the relationship in order to recover from a major betrayal of trust. Trust is a reciprocal process—one person gives it, the other returns it. You can’t rebuild it if only one party is committed.
Trust is the foundation of any healthy and thriving relationship. It may sound simplistic and perhaps counterintuitive, but the best way to build trust is to never break it in the first place. What I mean by that is trust is created through repeated interactions in a relationship where the parties prove themselves trustworthy to one another. The more trust is built over time, the stronger it becomes and is able to endure and persevere when a major betrayal occurs.
If you find yourself experiencing a betrayal, don’t despair. There is hope for having a stronger and deeper relationship as a result of going through the process of rebuilding trust.
I’m pretty good at apologizing and I think it’s primarily because of two reasons:
I’ve been married for over 28 years.
I mess up a lot.
That means I get a lot of practice apologizing. I’ve logged way more than 10,000 hours perfecting my craft, so by Malcolm Gladwell’s measurement, I’m pretty much the world’s foremost expert on apologies. The fact my wife is a loving and forgiving woman doesn’t hurt, either.
More than 28 years experience has shown me there are eight essential elements of an effective apology:
1. Accept responsibility for your actions – If you screwed up, admit it. Don’t try to shirk your responsibility or shift the blame to someone else. Put your pride aside and own your behavior. This first step is crucial to restoring trust with the person you offended.
2. Pick the right time to apologize – It’s a cliché, but true – timing is everything. You can follow the other seven guidelines to a tee, but if you pick a bad time to deliver your apology, all of your hard work will be for naught. Depending on the severity of the issue, you may need to delay your apology to allow the offended person time to process his/her emotions. Once he/she is mentally and emotionally ready to hear your apology, make sure you have the necessary privacy for the conversation and the physical environment is conducive to the occasion.
3. Say ‘”I’m sorry,” not “I apologize” – What’s the difference? The word sorry expresses remorse and sorrow for the harm caused the offended person, whereas apologize connotes regret for your actions. There’s a big difference between the two. See #4 for the reason why this is important.
4. Be sincere and express empathy for how you hurt the other person – Along with saying I’m sorry, this step is critical for letting the offended person know you acknowledge, understand, and regret the hurt you caused. Make it short and simple: “I’m sorry I was late for our dinner date. I know you were looking forward to the evening, and being late disappointed you and made you feel unimportant. I feel horrible about hurting you that way.”
5. Don’t use conditional language – Get rid of the words if and but in your apologies. Saying “I’m sorry if…” is a half-ass, conditional apology that’s dependent on whether or not the person was offended. Don’t put it on the other person. Just man up and say “I’m sorry.” When you add the word but at the end of your apology (“I’m sorry, but…”) you’re starting down the road of excuses for your behavior. Don’t go there. See #6.
6. Don’t offer excuses or explanations – Keep your apology focused on what you did, how it made the other person feel, and what you’re going to do differently in the future. Don’t try to make an excuse for your behavior or rationalize why it happened. If there is a valid reason that explains your behavior, it will likely come out during the apology discussion. But let the other person go there first, not you.
7. Listen – This is perhaps the most important point of the eight and one that’s often overlooked. After you’ve made your apology, close your mouth and listen. Let the offended person share his/her feelings, vent, cry, yell, laugh, scream…whatever. Acknowledge the person’s feelings (“I understand you’re upset”…”I see I disappointed you”…”I know it was hurtful”), but resist the urge to keep explaining yourself or apologizing over and over again. I’m not suggesting you become an emotional punching bag for someone who is inappropriately berating you; that’s not healthy for either party. But many times the awkwardness and discomfort of apologizing causes us to keep talking when we’d be better off listening.
8. Commit to not repeating the behavior – Ultimately, an apology is only as effective as your attempt to not repeat the behavior. No one is perfect and mistakes will be made, but a sincere and earnest apology includes a commitment to not repeating the behavior that caused harm in the first place. Depending on the severity of the offense, this may include implementing a plan or process such as counseling or accountability groups. For minor offenses it’s as simple as an intentional effort to not repeat the hurtful behavior.
So there you go. The Great 8 of giving effective apologies, honed from years of groveling…err…apologizing for my mistakes. What do you think? Are there other tips you would add? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.
When conducting training classes to teach people how to become more trustworthy and build trust in their relationships, I often have to address some common myths. There are commonly held beliefs about trust that aren’t quite as true as people believe.
Here are eight common myths about trust and my thoughts about the truth behind these misconceptions.
Myth #1: Trust takes a long time to build — You’ve probably heard this said before or maybe even said it yourself. Sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s not altogether true. Yes, there are instances where trust can take a long time to build, such as relationships that have infrequent interactions or where one or both of the parties are trust-averse and uncooperative with each other, but in many cases trust is established quickly. When you walk in a doctor’s office and see diplomas on the wall from Harvard Medical School and John’s Hopkins, you have an immediate sense of trust based on the doctor’s expertise. The same is true for many professions where the individual’s expertise engenders immediate trust. A person’s reputation for being trustworthy also carries great influence when starting new relationships. Trust can be built very quickly.
Myth #2: Trust is lost in a second — This is the companion to myth #1. In relationships where a strong bond of trust has been formed, a single instance of violating trust rarely destroys the whole relationship. In fact, a high-level of trust in a relationship leads to the parties assuming best intentions about each other, so when a breach of trust occurs, the offending party is often given the benefit of the doubt. Instead of losing trust in a second, trust is more frequently lost when it’s broken repeatedly over a period of time. One party keeps making withdrawals from the trust account of the other party until eventually they start bouncing checks.
Myth #3: Trust is fragile — Because people believe the previous myth about it only taking a second to break someone’s trust, they assume that trust must be fragile. Wrong. Trust, true trust that has stood the test of time, is extremely resilient. Consider the most trustworthy relationships you’ve seen or experienced in life. They are probably ones that have endured their fair share of trust-busters, and yet because of the high level of trust between the parties, they addressed the challenging situations and moved beyond them in ways that continued to sustain and reinforce the trust between them.
Myth #4: Trust is soft — One of the most common myths I encounter, particularly from senior leaders, is that trust is a “soft” interpersonal issue. You know what I mean, the group hug, hold hands, and sing kumbaya kind of soft. Well, trust is anything but soft. Trust has hard, bottom-line impacts to people and organizations. Research has shown that high trust companies consistently outperform low trust ones. High levels of trust enables innovation, creativity, productivity, collaboration, and lower turnover, all of which directly impact an organization’s bottom-line.
Myth #5: Trust “just happens” — People assume trust just happens naturally, like some sort of relationship osmosis. The truth is trust is built through the use of very specific behaviors that can be taught, learned, and practiced. If you’re leaving the building of trust to chance, well, chances are you’re not going to be successful. Learn the specific elements of trust and how you can use their associated behaviors to become more trustworthy and develop high-trust relationships.
Myth #6: Distrust is the opposite of trust — On the surface this seems to make sense, right? If we have a spectrum with trust on one side, then distrust must be on the other. Actually, the opposite of trust is control. Control? Yes, control. See, when you don’t trust someone you try to maintain control. Staying in control means less risk, and risk is required when trusting someone. Without risk there is no need for trust and trust requires that you give up control to one degree or another.
Myth #7: Trust is all about integrity — Integrity is one of the four core elements of trust and most people identify it as being the most important when it comes to building trust. However, integrity is just one of the building blocks of trust. Another is competence. People who have expertise, a proven track record, and are effective at what they do inspire trust. A third element of trust is connectedness, showing care and concern for others by building rapport, communicating effectively, and demonstrating benevolence. Finally, the fourth element of trust is dependability. You build trust when you are reliable, accountable, and responsive in your actions.
Myth #8: Trust is all or nothing; you either have it or you don’t — Trust is not a one size fits all proposition. There can be different levels of trust in relationships based on the nature of the relationship and context of the situation. For example, you may have a high level of trust in your plumber to fix plumbing issues in your house, but you wouldn’t trust him to repair your automobile because it’s not his area of expertise. Or, you may have someone in whom you confide your deepest feelings to because they have earned your trust as a close confidant, but their history of being habitually late causes you to not trust them to arrive on time for an appointment.
Many times we accept myths as truths because on the surface they seem pretty reasonable. That’s the case with these myths about trust. But when you dig a little deeper, you begin to see that trust is not quite as simple as we make it out to be. It’s actually quite complex and multi-dimensional.
I’m interested in your experience. What are other myths about trust you’ve encountered? Please take the time to share by leaving a comment.
For some reason, probably because trust is one of my most treasured values and I study it, write about it, and help others to build it, I pay particular attention to how people apologize.
Unfortunately, too many people don’t know how to deliver an effective apology (To learn more, see 8 Essentials of an Effective Apology.) Frequent mistakes include making excuses or placing blame, using conditional language that weakens the impact of the apology, or not being sincere or empathetic in your communication.
However, every once in a while I come across a great apology and I experienced such an occasion recently with some colleagues at work. The cool thing is this apology contained the one essential component that makes an apology successful. I’ll set the stage and you tell me if you can identify this critical key.
Ann is one of our most fantastic consulting partners. She brings high energy to her training and speaking sessions and our clients love her. Recently Ann unknowingly double-booked herself for two different clients on the same day—a simple calendaring mistake on her part. Ann admirably tried to fix the problem on her own but her well-intentioned efforts ended up creating more confusion in the process. Diane, the project manager coordinating these client events, and Judy, the staffing specialist who maintains the master booking calendar, spent most of the day rearranging the logistics to meet both client’s needs. In the end everything worked out and the clients were well served and happy.
Ann, recognizing the impact of her actions, sent the following apology email to Diane and Judy.
Dear Diane and Judy,
I don’t even know where to start with my apology for the problematic series of events my actions caused. I am so sorry for…
My oversight on my calendar
Not communicating earlier about this change
The extra time and effort required of you to “put things back together again” including scheduling, communication, and going back and forth with the clients, and
Everything else in this debacle.
(All lessons learned.)
I believe the sincerity of an apology is in not repeating the action you’re apologizing for. This won’t happen again.
The One Essential Component of a Successful Apology
Did you spot the one critical key? If not, here it is:
“I believe the sincerity of an apology is in not repeating the action you’re apologizing for. This won’t happen again.”
Not repeating the behavior you’re apologizing for is the one critical component of a successful apology. If you want to get technical, you could say it’s not even really part of the apology—it’s your behavior after you apologize that’s most important. You can deliver the most eloquent, warm, sincere, textbook apology, but if you repeat the behavior then it’s all for naught. Conversely, you can botch the delivery of your apology but still regain trust over time if you don’t repeat the offending behavior. The bottom line is your behavior will determine the validity and sincerity of your apology.
Thank you, Ann, for modeling an excellent apology and giving me permission to share it with the Leading With Trust readers!
Feel free to leave a comment about your own experience delivering and/or receiving apologies.
Can 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.
Having someone break your trust is a painful and inevitable fact of life. There will be a number of situations during your lifetime where people will let you down, whether it’s something as innocent and unintentional as forgetting a lunch date, or as major and hurtful as a spouse seeking a divorce. You will have your trust broken. It’s not a question of if, but when.
What’s important is your response after trust has been broken. You have two choices: victimization or resiliency. Victimization is characterized by an attitude of powerlessness, blaming others for the negative situations in your life, believing that everyone else has it better than you, and a constant seeking of sympathy for your lot in life. Either you’ve experienced it yourself or you’ve seen it others. It’s characterized by statements like: Why me? People can’t be trusted. I can’t change my circumstances. Why is everyone against me? It’s not my fault.
The other response to having your trust broken is resiliency. Resilient people choose to embrace the power they have to make the best of their circumstances, to learn from their experiences, grow in maturity, and move toward healthier and more satisfying places in life. Statements that reflect the attitudes and beliefs of resilient people include: This will make me stronger. This hurts but I’ll deal with it and move on. I’ve got so many good things to look forward to in life. I’m not going to let this get me down.
Here are five concrete ways you can move from having a victim mentality toward an attitude of resiliency:
1. Own your choices – You can’t control everything that happens in your life, but you can control how you respond. You can choose to wallow in self-pity, depression, anger, or resentment, or you can choose to grant forgiveness, experience healing, and seek growth moving forward.
2. Quit obsessing on “why?” – Rather than asking “Why me?” when someone violates your trust, ask yourself “What can I learn?” Many times it will be impossible to know exactly why something happened the way it did, but you can always choose to view challenging circumstances in life as learning opportunities. Did you trust this person too quickly? Did you miss previous warning signs about this person’s trustworthiness? What will you do differently in the future?
3. Forgive and seek forgiveness – Years ago I heard a saying about forgiveness that has stuck with me:
Forgiveness is letting go of all hopes for a better past.
We often refuse to grant forgiveness because we feel like it’s letting people off the hook for their transgressions. In reality, choosing to not grant forgiveness is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. It does nothing but hurt ourselves and hold us back from healing and moving forward. If you are the one who has broken trust or played a part in the situation, do what you can to seek forgiveness and bring healing to the relationship. It’s the right thing to do.
4. Count your blessings – People with a victim mentality often gravitate toward absolute thinking. Words like never and always frequent their conversations: I’ll never find someone I can trust. People always let me down. Life is rarely so absolute and one way to remind ourselves of that truth is to count our blessings. In the big scheme of life, most of us have many more positive things in our lives than negative. Make a list of all the things you’re grateful for and you’ll realize how fortunate you really are.
5. Focus forward – Victims tend to live in the past, constantly focused on the negative things that have happened to them until this becomes their daily reality. Resilient people keep focused on moving forward. They don’t let circumstances hold them back, and they embrace whatever power they have to learn, grow, and take hold of all the good that life has to offer.
Having someone break your trust, particularly if it’s a serious betrayal, can be one of the most painful experiences in life. The easy path is to let it take you down the road of victimization where everyone and everything else becomes responsible for all the pain you encounter. The harder path is resiliency, choosing to acknowledge the pain, process it, deal with it, learn from it, and move on toward healing and growth.
Feel free to share your comments about how you’ve chosen resiliency over victimization. I’d love to learn from your wisdom.
By nature I’m a pretty trusting person. Under normal circumstances I tend to extend trust to others expecting they will reciprocate in kind. If the other person proves to be untrustworthy, then I’ll dial back the level of trust I place in him/her. In relationships where I’ve experienced distrust, I’ve found it usually isn’t caused by one significant breach of trust (although those are the ones that grab our immediate attention), but rather several smaller instances over time. A broken promise here, a missed deadline there, and a pattern of unreliable, unethical, incompetent, or uncaring behavior becomes the trend.
Distrust doesn’t happen overnight. It develops progressively through stages, and if we can recognize these stages when we’re in them, we have a chance of addressing the situation before distrust takes root.
1. Doubt – The first stage of distrust begins with doubt. You start to experience a slight uncertainty about someone’s trustworthiness that causes you to pause just a bit. It might be that nagging doubt in the back of your mind that you can’t seem to dismiss, or something just doesn’t feel right about the situation even though you can’t put your finger on it exactly.
2. Suspicion – Doubt, if unresolved, grows into suspicion over time. Suspicion is belief without proof. You’ve started to see a pattern of behavior that may indicate a lack of trust, but you don’t quite have enough proof to make a firm conclusion. Your trust radar is telling you that something is wrong.
3. Anxiety – The third stage of distrust is anxiety, a feeling of apprehension or uneasiness, that is often manifested physically. When dealing with someone you don’t quite trust, you may may experience nervousness, a rapid heartbeat, anger, a knotted stomach, or even disgust.
4. Fear – At this point in a relationship, distrust has risen to the point where you are afraid to show vulnerability. You have experienced repeated breaches of trust and have grown to distrust another person to the point you are afraid for your emotional well-being.
5. Self-protection – As a result of the fear you experienced, you move into a state of self-protection. You put up walls in your relationship to prevent the other person getting close to you. This act of self-preservation reduces your vulnerability, but also cements the state of distrust in the relationship.
Trust is the cord that holds two people together in relationship, and when it’s severed, disconnection occurs. When you can no longer be vulnerable with the other person, you begin to experience different things in your relationship. In his book, Beyond Boundaries – Learning to Trust Again in Relationships, Dr. John Townsend describes several common experiences of damaged trust:
Withdrawal – Instead of acting carefree, which is normal in a trusting relationship, you become more reserved in sharing personal information. You quit taking risks in the relationship because the safety net has been removed. Loneliness or feeling dead or frozen inside is common.
Movement to task – To compensate for the lack of trust in the relationship, you may over-invest yourself in tasks related to hobbies, work, school, church, or other activities. You stay active in other parts of your life because you find it easier to “do” than to “connect.” You shut down the personal part of your relationship with the other person.
Unbalanced “giver” relationships – Townsend points out that it’s common for a person to be the “giver” in all relationships and to avoid “receiving.” Being the giver allows you to remain safe from being vulnerable with another person. You will listen, help, and guide others, but withhold letting others help you. Being the giver also manifests itself in co-dependent relationships.
Bad habits – Trust issues can often lead to problematic behavioral patterns in your life. It’s easy to suppress our emotional feelings by over-eating, drinking too much, or other addictive behaviors.
Distrust can spread through a relationship like a wildfire. What starts as a small ember of doubt can mushroom into a full-on blaze of distrust if we don’t take steps to address it early. The best way to prevent distrust from taking root is to proactively focus on building trust. Trust must be continually developed and nurtured throughout the course of a relationship, not just when it’s been damaged.
You’ve been betrayed by people you trusted and it has shaken you to the core. Time and time again you’ve opened yourself to the risk of trusting, only to be disappointed repeatedly. You’re hurt and bruised; mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and maybe even physically. You question if trust is worth it.
You’re trapped in a downward spiral of distrust. Doubt and suspicion permeate your relationships, causing you to keep others at arm’s length. You fall further into states of anxiety, fear, and self-protection, until the only solution you see is to build walls around yourself to keep the pain out. It works. Your walls keep the pain out, but trap the loneliness inside. You question if trust is worth it.
You know that life without trust is unfulfilling and you want more. You deserve more. The safety, strength, freedom, joy, and happiness that comes with trust is waiting for you, so you resolve to try again. Baby steps perhaps, but you will start again. You believe that trust is worth it.