Trust is increasingly recognized as an essential element of successful personal relationships, effective teamwork, and large-scale commercial relationships. The amount citizens of one country trust the residents of another has even been shown to correlate with the amount of trade between the countries.
Evaluating the level of trust in a relationship is an often evaded and sometimes sensitive task. My work coaching top executives and facilitating work groups has taught me that the “trust topic” is much easier to discuss once we realize that trust has at least five constitutive components. Examining each aspect of trust, one by one, leads us to better judgments and more fruitful conversations.
When we say that we trust or mistrust a person it means that we have evaluated their:
1. Sincerity — Does what the person says match their internal conversation? Are they telling us what they honestly believe and truly intend? Once a person establishes a reputation for lying, for distorting the facts, and evading reality trust is lost and the relationship becomes unproductive.
2. Capacity — Does the person have the time, funds, influence, authority, or other required resources to deliver on what they are promising? The person may sincerely promise to get the report done by Friday but she may have made too many other promises to complete our task on time.
3. Competence — Does the person have the training, skill, experience, judgment, courage, or other necessary traits to complete the task? The child may genuinely want to prepare breakfast in bed for mother, the child may have the time and all the ingredients to prepare breakfast, but with no experience at the stove should I trust him to prepare an omelet?
4. Consistency — Does this person come through on-time, every time or is there a history of well-intentioned beginnings combined with frequent lapses? Is this the sort of person to whom that-could-happen-to-anyone type events always seem to happen? Is he a person to whom almost and nearly are good enough or is his work thorough and impeccable? Does he realize that it does not matter how many other times he has delivered when it is your delivery that is lost?
5. Care — What about that final, nearly indefinable, element: ownership, sweating the details, pride of authorship? The people who say, “My work is a reflection of me,” “Because it has my name on it,” and “I’ll take care of it.” Is there personal commitment to the outcome; is he careless or careful? This investment of self into satisfying the promise is what carries people beyond excuses and disappointments into being unstoppable and thoroughly reliable.
People routinely pretend to trust one another though they do not. This leads to confusion, inconsistency, micro-management, poor results, deterioration of communication, and–ultimately–more hard feelings than a simple, direct conversation would have created. My work in many high-stakes, emotional situations has led me to conclude that there is a way to say almost anything to almost anyone in a way that works for everyone. Click here for more on how to have a conversation that makes a difference.