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  • Writer's pictureChuck Cusumano

Building and Maintaining Trust

By Chuck Cusumano and Jillian Broaddus

Building and maintaining trust… what a tricky yet most important concept!

Trust is such an important and foundational concept. And the reason we say it is a concept is that research is still inconclusive as to whether trust is an emotion, behavior, attitude, or rational process. Or as Paul Thagard Ph.D. states in Psychology Today, “Trust is an emotional brain state, not just an expectation of behavior.”

Executive coaching has a formula to help understand trust and it is represented like this:

Trust = Motive + Reliability + Competence

This formula is useful and relies on reasoning to determine trust. It is our ability to calculate another person’s reliability, motive, and competence. Now, reliability could be measured as a calculation of the number of times an individual did exactly as they set out to do, divided by the attempts. And Competence could be measured by a test or certification in a particular area. However, an individual’s Motive can only be known if you can read their mind. Or in most cases, it is what we feel (emotion) the other person’s reason is for doing what they are doing. In other words, it is subjective. And therefore, it adds emotional guesswork into what would otherwise be an objective process. That is why we started off this blog by stating, “What a tricky, yet most important concept!”

Additionally, research tells us that we view trust from a self-referencing point of view: Our reluctance to trust is rooted in feelings of insecurity and egotism, and our ability to trust is founded in feelings of safety and acceptance. In other words, if you are not confident in yourself, it is difficult to be confident in others. And if you are secure in your self-image, you are more likely to trust others.

Then there is the differentiation of trust-givers and trust-earners. As we talked about in a past blog on trust, some of us give trust at first sight and it remains until you do something to lose it. Others of us withhold trust until you do things to earn it. There is no ‘right’ way, but knowing which type of person you are in a relationship with is most important!

But why is trust so foundational?

Trust is foundational to relationships, both professional and personal, because it forms the basis for cooperation, mutual understanding, and open communication. When trust is established in a relationship, individuals are more likely to feel secure and confident in sharing their thoughts, feelings, and ideas. They are also more likely to feel comfortable relying on each other and working together to achieve shared goals – all of which are the bases for teamwork, collaboration, and group unity, whether it be in the workplace, our communities, or our interpersonal relationships.

There are several sources of reference that support the importance of trust in relationships, including research in psychology, sociology, and organizational behavior. For example:

  • Social Exchange Theory in psychology suggests that trust is a key factor in determining whether individuals will engage in a relationship and continue to invest in it over time.

  • Research in organizational behavior has found that trust is critical for building effective teams and organizations, and that it can have a positive impact on employee satisfaction, motivation, and productivity.

  • Sociological studies have shown that trust is an important component of social capital, which refers to the resources that are available to individuals and groups through their relationships and networks.

Without trust, most of our social cohesion begins to deteriorate. Our relationships, social groups, families, work environments, and our communities fail to function adequately. That is why we must understand how to build and maintain trust if we are to be successful in any social construct!

Here are 5 techniques that we have found helpful to begin your journey on building and maintaining trust with others:

  1. Be honest and transparent: People are more likely to trust someone who is open and honest with them, and who does not hide their thoughts or actions. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Playing the polite but not-so-honest card will only fracture the relationship. You do not need to be unkind to be honest.

  2. Keep your promises: When you make a commitment to someone, it is most important to follow through on that commitment. Things happen in life; people understand that. If something changes and your promise cannot be kept, then tell them as soon as possible and see if moving the date will help.

  3. Communicate effectively: It is important to practice active listening and respond to others' needs and concerns. Put the phone down! Better yet, do not even have it when engaging in a conversation. Summarize what you believe you have heard and allow the other person to give you affirmation that you are on the same page. Communication is a back-and-forth process, not a one-way process.

  4. Show empathy: When you can understand and relate to others' feelings, it builds reliability into your relationship with them, as they know you understand what they are experiencing. If you are not practicing empathy, you are conveying an unwillingness to invest in the relationship, which – in turn – creates mistrust.

  5. Be consistent: When people know what to expect from you, it increases your predictably, which increases your reliability! And knowing that you can be counted on to be there is one of the greatest indicators for trust!

Building trust takes time and effort, but it is well worth it in the long run. By following these techniques, you can establish strong, trusting relationships with others, which will lead to greater success in all areas of your life. If you still have questions on building and maintaining trust or are just looking to take it to a higher level, reach out to us at We are always up for a new and trusting relationship!

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