Friday, June 20, 2008


All of us, at one stage or other, have experienced a situation in which we have found ourself not trusting another person. This could have been someone we have just met and almost immediately have not felt comfortable with them. Expressions like "Wouldn't trust him/her as far as 1 could kick them" or "Wouldn't touch him/her with a forty foot barge pole" express this lack of trust

Unfortunately though, occasionally not trusting someone else also includes those we have known for a while. Doubts begin to creep into our thinking about their motivation and behaviour, and these can begin to have a major impact on the relationship, for our behaviour in relation to the other person will begin to be different

It is interesting to note that when we find ourself not being comfortable with another person, regardless of the circumstances, we are not always able to articulate what this discomfort is about. What we experience is a strong gut feeling or hunch, which we are not able to explain.

Not trusting someone means that we do not have full confidence in them and consequently we are not interested in pursuing a relationship with them. Even if the circumstances dictate we need to spend some time in their company, we might find ourselves very wary of them and limit how we engage with them.

So far the emphasis has been on the negative side of trust, or to be more precise, lack of trust. But what about when we do trust people? What happens to us when we trust people and what is different for us when we don't trust people?

It would seem that when we trust someone, be it personally and/or professionally, we are willing to enter into a relationship with them. In a trusting relationship we are willing to conduct ourselves differently, engage in a wider range of actions, and also to be more open to a variety of experiences.

The degree to which we trust someone has a major bearing on the type and relationship we will form with them. Relationships are a fundamental part of our existence. In fact, a substantial part of our existence can be thought of as co-existence, as we live and work together with a range of people.

Much of our existence, and the quality of our living, is associated with the quality of our relationships. We exist within a network of relationships, and the quality of these relationships determines the sense of satisfaction, achievement, enjoyment and fulfilment we assess ourself to be experiencing. Much of meaning in life is bound up with our relationships and the associated experiences.

We learn through our experiences in both positive and negative relationships. Positive relationships provide much of what is important for us to have a meaningful existence, They provide the context to have conversations, and it is through conversations that we are able to accomplish important things, and to grow and learn together

Much of our suffering - be it individually, as a family, work group or a society - comes from not having the relationships and conversations which are vital for us, and indeed, which we yearn for. Unfortunately, because of previous experiences, some people find it more difficult than others to develop trusting relationships.

Trust enables relationships to develop and flourish. When trust erodes, the relationship deteriorates. Doubts, which can creep into our thinking about the behaviour of the other person, can act like a poison and a cancer, quickly spreading to sabotage the relationship. Mistrust has a devastating impact on relationships and on the types and quality of conversations that will occur.

Whilst trust is an indispensable component of positive and productive relationships, unfortunately it is something that can all too easily be taken for granted. We may only become aware of its importance when we feel trust has been broken.

"Trust is the glue which holds relationships together"

But what is trust? It could be said that it is a sensation, a hunch, a gut feeling. However, it is possible to be more precise. It can be claimed that trust is simultaneously a bodily sensation, an emotion and a linguistic phenomenon (a. judgement or an opinion). A gut feeling can be the emotional and bodily component of trust, and not being able to articulate it simply means we have not yet developed the linguistic component.

In focusing on the linguistic component, trust can be regarded as a triple assessment. When we trust, or don't trust someone, we are assessing their sincerity, reliability and competence. Trusting or not trusting someone always involves one or more of these assessments.

Typically we tend to associate trust with sincerity - the genuiness of someone in their engagement with us; ie., there is no hidden agenda or "cards being held to the chest". However, reliability is also a crucial facet of trust. Time and standards are two critical elements of reliability; examples of this are turning up to meetings at the agreed time, and completing agreed to tasks on time to a satisfactory standard. Competence involves having the necessary ability and skills to satisfactorily complete a task

The issue of trust is also linked with identity. The image people have of us, the reputation we develop for ourselves, whether positive or negative, cannot be divorced from assessments continually being made about our sincerity, reliability and competence. The conversations people will or will not want to have with us, and the relationship they will want to develop, will be heavily influenced by the identity we have with them.

We develop a reputation for being trustworthy or untrustworthy through our actions. Much of this reputation comes from how we enter into making arrangements and being dependable around the agreements and commitments we make. Do our actions match our words?

Within our relationships it is all to easy to take trust for granted and overlook its pivotal role in our interactions with others. Trust can be regarded as a fragile element of relationships which needs continual nurturing. One or two instances can raise important and lingering questions, which may remain in the background and have a silent but devastating impact on the quality of the relationship.

You may like to consider the following points for your own "action research" around trust. Think of two important people in your life who are part of your relationships network. One with which you have a positive relationship, and one which is not so positive. What differences do you find in your assessments of sincerity, reliability and competence for each relationship? What is different for you emotionally and bodily in these assessments? What is different about the quality of the conversations? What conversations and other actions, by both you and the other person, need to occur for trust to be built? What small steps are you willing to begin to take to have these conversations?

No comments: