Trust is one of the biggest and scariest gifts we can give someone. Trust between two people takes time to build and also to assess.
During the building phase of a connection with someone, the uncertainty feels pretty uncomfortable and we may prefer to jump into trusting too much too early, or we might stay in caution mode and avoid giving trust at all.
Ideally, we build trust through experiences over time. When we observe someone in various situations and see how they respond to different settings and in different moods, we can generate enough insight to fully give our trust.
Trust is crucial for healthy relationships and connections.
Trust decreases stress and anxiety, it increases creativity and fun, and it overall allows the relationship (be it romantic, a friendship, familial, with co-workers or neighbors, etc.) to be more robust and productive. The lack of trust is what most quickly unravels a connection between two people. So, what do you need to see or experience with someone to know that they are trustworthy? I get this question a lot! Here are the keys:
Reliability - they do what they say they will, for you and for others. People are quick to notice when we make a promise and then break it. Our ability to keep our word is a clear indicator if we are deserving of trust.
Reliability looks like: they show up at the time they agreed; they return something they borrowed; they pay for something as they promised; they complete the task as agreed; and they don’t frequently commit to things and then fail to follow-through.
Truthfulness - they are honest with you and also with others; white lies are uncommon with them and only used with good intent. If you want to push someone away quickly, lie to them. When we are lied to, we feel foolish and angry; and these emotions do not breed trust or connection.
Truthfulness looks like: they are honest when giving responses; they tell the same version of something regardless of the audience; they are true to their values and don’t morph into a different version of themselves depending on who they are with; they don’t lie to others in order to spend time with you or to please you (you will eventually be on the receiving end of that); they own up to the truth even if you might be disappointed.
Openness - they are willing to share their preferences, opinions, emotions, and plans; they are not too secretive about their life or with their devices. We need a degree of reciprocity to feel like we know a person enough to trust them, so it's vital that both people share about their internal world and both people listen to the sharing.
Openness looks like: they share easily about little details of their day without changing the topic or being defensive; they are open about their opinions and feelings about where to eat or what to do together; they share what they want out of life; they are willing to talk about their past and their present life with a moderate level of detail; they are comfortable with and encouraging of your openness as well.
Kindness - they are kind to you and to others (not just to you); they do not intentionally hurt people or animals and when they do accidentally hurt others, they show genuine remorse and/or a willingness to try and repair the situation.
Kindness looks like: they consider the impact of their actions on others; they make an effort to empathize with the experiences of others; they typically don’t have a pattern of judging those around them negatively; they are willing to offer help and collaborate with others; they are generally not mean.
Respectfulness - they give respect to you and to others; they are respectful of time, resources, finances, and physical space. When people are willing to talk disrespectfully or dehumanize other people, it’s hard to know whether that may eventually be aimed at you.
Respectfulness looks like: they overall see people as equals to them and deserving of humane treatment; they don’t talk about former relationships (romantic or otherwise) in awful terms; they invest time and resources into the relationship but also accept time and resources too; they respect your boundaries (see next).
Boundaries - they have their own boundaries and they respect your boundaries. When you are able to feel that your personal limits (regarding physical touch, emotions, time, money, etc.) are revered and respected, it breeds trust. We also feel more able to trust someone when they are willing to share their own preferences and limits and boundaries.
Boundaries can look like: they ask for permission before showing up or before touching you or your things; they tell you what their spending limits are rather than agreeing to purchase something in the moment and getting mad at you later; they don’t try to pressure you to do something you don’t want to; they don’t “punish” you if you express a limit they don’t agree with. Read further for more detailed info on boundaries.
Accountability - they are accountable to their actions. An important aspect of trust is feeling safe with a person. We feel safe when we know that a person is willing to admit when they hurt us or let us down. We also feel safer when we know that a person will try and repair things, apologize, and try not to hurt us again.
Accountability looks like: if they do something that hurts someone else, they apologize; they work to avoid a defensive reaction and focus on hearing what’s being said; they take responsibility for their choices; they avoid blaming other people or situations; they make an effort to change their words/behavior once they learn they have been hurtful.
Supportiveness - they are willing to stick around even if you are struggling or need them to do something they don’t prefer or is an inconvenience to them. Part of why we hesitate to trust people is because we don't want to risk relying on someone in a moment of need, only to be left high and dry.
Supportiveness looks like: they are willing to listen as you share about your rough day or your tough phone call with your mom; they recognize when plans need to change because the circumstances have changed; they care about things that upset you or at least make an effort to understand it; they are open to feedback from you when you express the need for different or more support from them.
Integrity - they generally follow the laws and expectations of civil society. We feel more able to trust people when we get a sense that they have some basic core values that guide them (ex: trying to “do the right thing,” being helpful, working hard, caring about family, etc.).
Integrity looks like: they don’t regularly cheat at things like games/rules/taxes; they don’t steal things from you or others or their job; they interact with customer service staff honestly and respectfully; they have a system of values that they follow fairly closely.
Confidentiality - they value the “vault.” The vault* refers to keeping things confidential, not spreading rumors or disclosing personal details. One of the quickest ways to breach a person’s trust is to share their secrets. When you observe someone talking badly about others behind their back or disclosing personal information that was entrusted to them, you can count on them doing the same thing to you. To be fair, we humans do share secrets as a way to create a connection, but it’s also a quick way to create a disconnection when that secret isn’t protected.
Confidentiality looks like: they keep other people’s personal stories, emotions, or information to themselves unless they have permission to share it, they respect other people’s desire to have something kept private even if they don’t understand why, they assume information is private unless explicitly told that it’s not.
*Dr. Brene Brown has done significant research on interpersonal dynamics and relationships. To illuminate the elements that indicate a person is worthy of your trust in the workplace, she created the acronym BRAVING, with the V being Vault.
Consistency - they are fairly consistent with their emotions, actions, and perspectives. When we can count on people to act or respond in mostly predictable ways, we feel safety and therefore a sense of trust.
Consistency can look like: they act similarly with their friends as they do with you; they pay their bills on time; they have been able to keep a job or maintain a hobby or long-term friendships; their emotional responses to situations are fairly consistent; their words match their actions.
Pay attention to the pacing of your trust
To reiterate an earlier statement, trust is something that is built over time. Like bricks in a foundation, each piece gets laid down and at a certain point, there is enough evidence to feel safe that it is solid to build upon.
And also, no one is going to be perfect in all of the areas listed here all the time, it’s not possible. Ideally, they demonstrate an overall positive pattern in most of the above areas most of the time. Deciding to trust someone is inherently risky and there is no way to guarantee that you won’t be hurt. But you can give people an opportunity to demonstrate their trustworthiness in smaller ways before you jump with both feet.
If you are a person who tends to rush into trust very early – make efforts to slow yourself down and take note of whether others are consistently displaying the above traits of trustworthiness. Avoid making big decisions or commitments to others until you have had ample time to vet whether they deserve your trust.
If you are a person who struggles to trust people at all – start intentionally looking for these traits of trustability in others. Rather than looking at people through a lens of doubt or self-protection, you can start looking through a lens of “how is this person showing they are trustable?”
Trust is the foundation of a healthy connection between two people. It is also quite fragile and can be easily broken. Consider the relationships where you feel the most secure - what allows you to trust this person? What allows them to trust you? Are there ways you can work to grow more trust in your connections?
Read on for additional information on healthy relationships overall.