You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don’t trust enough. Frank Crane – Historian and Sociologist.
If you are anything like me, you’ve been screwed over and learned a lot the hard way. You’ve built street smarts which have served you well. Some ‘normal’ people may even say that your skepticism borders on paranoia. But you justify it with real examples of people trying abuse you or rip you off and your ‘eyes in the back of your head’ have saved you on numerous occasions.
Now maybe you’re in a new environment, you are off the streets, out of a dysfunctional family, or ended an abusive relationship, and now you need to build new relationships, find business connections, help your community, nurture your family and the skills that served you so well in the past… are… well… pretty much worthless.
To succeed in this new environment you need to expand the radius of trust around yourself. A radius of believability, safety, and compassion.
Here are 20 ways you can expand your trust radius:
- Write down the names of the people you absolutely trust. If your list is long, you can stop reading now. If your name is the only one on the list, you need to read this post.
- Suspend your own position and gain understanding. Be open and never rigid. When someone challenges your view of life, business, politics, religion, or any other deeply held value or belief, listen and consider what they are saying. Let the other person know that you value their contribution. Defensiveness destroys trust and communication.
- Admit your mistakes. Everyone knows how important this is, but few of us practice it. We tend to dig our own graves repeating our mistakes. We tend to defend all of our decisions simply because they are ours. But when you decide to think, act, or feel a particular way and aren’t getting the results you desire it is time to look for the mistakes you are making. Sometimes the mistakes are obvious and we deny them. Other times we need to dig deep down within ourselves to find them. But when we do find them, we must admit them and and make a conscious effort to correct them if we want to build trusting relationships.
- Admit your fears (at least to yourself). Do you know what many of us do when we are afraid? We get angry. In most cultures fear is considered a weakness and we’ve learned to convert it to anger. For some reason, anger is more socially acceptable than fear, especially for men. Did you know that some of the most violent men, at their core, are nothing more than frightened little boys who are masking it with anger? A quick way to destroy trust is to direct anger at someone else. The next time you feel angry at someone, ask yourself why. What’s really under the surface? Is it fear? Fear of competition? Fear of inadequacy? Fear of economic loss? Fear of emotional loss? Insecurity? Most of us never confront and admit our underlying fears which destroy trust.
- Use authentic words. Have you ever heard people who sound scripted? The obvious example is a politician spewing platitudes and cliche. I’ll never forget how robotic Al Gore sounded during the 2000 campaign. When I hear a politician speak, I think, “Will you say something in your own freaking words for once!” If you’ve been in a few corporate meetings, you’ve probably heard something like this, “robust technologies which will create a paradigm shift utilizing synergies between disparate global systems streamlining processes and measuring real-time global metrics creating agile competitive decision making strategies.” Don’t be that guy. Unless you’re a professional actor, use your own words or you’ll sound like a phony. Authenticity builds trust, phoniness destroys it.
- When someone shares deep feelings or crazy ideas don’t judge them. Have you ever come up with a crazy idea during a brainstorming session? So crazy you were afraid to mention it? Did you mention it? If you did, you probably don’t need to work on this. If you didn’t, you probably do. Are you too quick to shoot down other people’s ideas because they seem far out? People thought Galileo, Copernicus, Tesla, and Fred Smith were nuts. A lot of great ideas sounded crazy at first. If you learn to tone down your inner judge, you will find that you will begin to trust yourself and your own original ideas. The next time you hear yourself thinking, that’s nuts, or when you get uncomfortable because you sense deep emotion, stop and ask yourself why. If you are honest with yourself you’ll probably learn things about yourself you’ve never known before.
- Never intentionally hurt someone. People usually do this with spoken words intended to discredit someone. Other times they do it in vengeance. Some even call it justice. Intentionally hurting other people will never satisfy your emotional needs; it will only deepen your wounds. If you have a conscience, you will carry guilt and lose trust in your own judgement. If others learn of your attacks (even if they are verbal) the distrust will spread. The reasons you see so few people of integrity in politics are: people of integrity do not want others attacked in their name and they do not wish to have their families smeared. Debate ideas, but don’t smear people.
- Keep agreements, commitments, and promises. Do this both in the spirit and the letter of the agreement and people will put their trust in you. People will defend you because they know you mean what you say. Do not make agreements, commitments, and promises lightly. Do not make ones you don’t intend to honor. Don’t make them with deceptive loopholes and language. Do and mean what you say.
- Have faith in those you choose to associate with. Have faith that your spouse, children, co-workers, friends, employees, and neighbors will make good decisions even when you are not present. If you don’t trust them, they won’t trust you.
- Embrace differences. We fear and distrust the things we do not understand. Many times we don’t understand something because it is unusual, foreign, or new. It could be a different language, different values, different style, different music, or a different lifestyle. But if you embrace differences, you will learn to accept and trust others as they are and more often than not they will return your trust.
- Embrace disagreement. But do it in a honest ethical intelligent way. Don’t be a ‘yes’ man and don’t expect anyone else to be one either. Your willingness to accept disagreement shows others that you trust them and care about finding the best solution. It shows that you know they are trying to find the best solution too. Look at disagreements as an opportunity to learn something new. Your willingness to embrace disagreement will show others you value their ideas and opinions even when you may not agree. People will feel safe discussing important issues with you.
- Act in the best interest of others. It doesn’t matter if you are in sales or in programming, if the first thing you think about when delivering your services or product is the end user or the customer, you will build loyalty and trust. Your commitment to the best interest of someone else will show in your work. On a personal level, if you are a spouse or a parent and you act with the best interest of your family members in mind, your relationship with them will grow and strengthen. A sure way to destroy trust is to consistently act in a selfish manner.
- Be willing to ask others for help. We all need other people. We can’t go it completely alone because we can’t know and do everything that needs to be done. Some of us (I have been one) believe asking for help is a weakness. It isn’t. If you learn when and who to ask for help, it will become one of your greatest strengths.
- Listen to and consider criticism. This is hard for most of us, but if you trust that others only criticize when they believe you can do better, you will become less defensive and expand your radius of trust. There is always something to be learned from criticism, warranted and unwarranted. Consider it, accept it or reject it and move on.
- Give direct, specific, non-punishing feedback. Indirect non specific feedback which feels like punishment will cause others to suspect your motives. They won’t feel safe in your presence, but if instead, you are direct and specific they will grow to trust your feedback. For example, if an employee published a poor quality photo on your website, tell them directly that you expect better content, be specific about your standards and give them examples. Follow up by trusting them to have higher expectations next time and give them another chance to get it right.
- Tell people you trust them. I’m not telling you to lie. I’m saying, when you trust others, tell them so. I recall a neighbor giving me the code to her security system, allowing me to enter her home while her family was on vacation so I could borrow some medicine for my son. She specifically said, “Steve, don’t worry about it. I trust you.” I was surprised how good her words felt. Sometimes we don’t realize the value of kind words.
- Have open free flowing dialogue. Never try to dominate a conversation. Listen to what others are saying, give them time to talk, don’t interrupt, and when they are ready to end the conversation, let it end. People will be more likely to engage you in conversation because they know you are listening and attentive to their cues. Free-flowing dialogue encourages communication and builds trust. No one likes to be dominated.
- Accept people for who they are. Never demand they play a particular role. I see parents try to make athletes out kids who have little interest in sports. Other parents try to make mathematicians out of kids who would rather be writing music. Managers try to force people to play roles or learn skills that do not suit them. Lack of acceptance for people, their interests, and their strengths destroys trust. Actors play roles, real people live their lives. Unless you are a film director, don’t expect people to be anyone except who they are.
- Practice Trust. If you struggle with trust, try trusting someone with something that will do little harm if they disappoint you. Loan someone a tool or a few dollars. Let someone else, maybe the waiter, recommend something at a restaurant. If you always drive, let someone else drive for a change. The more you practice, the more you will trust. Just like building physical strength, building trust requires exercise.
- Sit down when you interact with people. Sitting shows that you are giving people your full attention and time. Standing, pacing, checking your watch sends the message that you don’t value the interaction and that you want it to end as soon as possible. Sitting down and actively listening builds trust.