How to Build Trust and Strengthen Relationships

Every night I go to sleep with five things on my bedside table: a lamp, a book, a baby monitor, a phone, and a clock. While two of these items serve as an alarm clock, the baby monitor is what wakes me up every morning. Over the past year, I decided to stop setting my alarm to wake me up. Instead of trusting my devices to get the job done, I’ve started trusting my son to babble, laugh, cry, or yell at some time between six and seven in the morning.

When my son wakes up, he trusts that I’ll be there to lift him out of his crib and change his diaper. I trust him to not pee on my face. He trusts me to put the shoe on the right foot, my wife trusts me to do the same. I trust that she’ll feed him breakfast while she trusts that I’ll get him dressed and to daycare on time. When I walk outside with my son, I put him in a car seat that I trust will keep him safe. I trust that my car will start. That traffic isn’t a nightmare. That gravity will keep all four wheels grounded on this good green Earth long enough for me to get there. And when I get there, I trust that someone will be at daycare to take care of his needs. And they trust that I’ll continue to pay for that service.

All of those things occur without much thought or trepidation. There’s no one giving anyone else orders on what to do – just a system and a level of trust that it will work as expected.

When trust exists, we don’t pay much attention to it. Every aspect of our lives, every decision we make, every relationship we hold, every habit, every inkling is founded on a layer of trust. And when our trust is strong, it keeps everything running productively and smoothly. However, when it’s broken or absent, it sticks out like a sore thumb.

In his Harvard Business Review article on a similar subject, author, professor, and founder of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies, Dr. Paul Zak explains that, scientifically speaking, trust is created when a chemical called oxytocin is released in our brains. For our purposes, that isn’t really important. But what is important is that in his research studying what promotes or inhibits the release of oxytocin, he found some pretty staggering statistics on the role of trust on the workforce:

“Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report: 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, and 40% less burnout.”

Without a high degree of trust, we sacrifice all of those benefits and more. That’s why it’s so important that we take stock of where trust exists and where it can improve.

Our suggestion is to work through the seven circles of your life, and to make a short list of the key areas of trust within each. For those areas where your key mechanisms of trust are working, make a point to keep tabs on them. For the areas that are broken, you should make a plan to replace it or rebuild it.

How Do I Build Trust?

If you’ve examined the key areas of trust in the seven areas of your life, and you find that your confidence in one has been shaken, there’s a ton of value in identifying ways to rebuild or rekindle it.

There are quite a few theories floating around on what influences the establishment of trust. Additionally, there are several observed ways of getting that beloved oxytocin to pop up in your brain. Rather than going through every conceivable scenario where that might happen, it might be worth to walk through three of the biggest, overarching themes revolving around models for building trust.

  1. Familiarity

In my opinion, every classic horror flick has that one person you can easily peg within a group of friends who will betray everyone else. Knowing something that the other characters don’t draws the viewer in. If it’s a really good story, then it’ll often elicit a groan from its viewers when the traitor is revealed and the main character says, “How could you? All of these years…”

As cringy as the trope might be, it’s really not so stupid when you think about — no matter how painfully obvious it might be. One of the core tenants of trust is familiarity. And the longer you’ve been around someone or something, the more likely you have built a high degree of trust.

In relationships, sometimes that trust begins to evaporate time. While it’s not always the case, when we don’t give people in our lives some undivided attention, after a while they can sometimes feel like a different person all together. The reason for that isn’t because they’ve changed, it’s just that you’ve grown unfamiliar with them. And as a result, you just don’t have the same level of trust that you used to.

Every time I reunite with my family, my parents or sisters make some comment about how they don’t recognize me. I’ve gotten taller, skinnier, fatter—more professional or “adult.” Then after a single night around the dinner table, and a few off-the-beaten-path jokes, it feels like we’ve never been apart.

If you’re examining your areas of trust, and you’ve noticed a break in confidence, it doesn’t hurt to see if that trust can be repaired with a little quality time. By investing time, you might find that same level of trust you once had, or you might find a different kind of trust that might be just as worthwhile.

  1. Placing Trust

This is going to sound really redundant, but there’s really no better way to put it: Trust begets trust.

When we’re just starting to form trust with someone else, one of the best ways to build trust with someone else, is to give them an opportunity to be trustworthy. In one particular study mentioned by Dr. Zak, he and his team gathered a group of participants who would send money to strangers. If they wanted, they could triple the amount that was sent to them, and then choose whether or not they’d share the returns with the original sender. What they found was that the more money someone received, the more oxytocin they produced, and as a result, the more trustworthy they would be in sharing their gains.

In a since canceled British TV gameshow called Golden Balls, you can see a real-life example of this being played out where the stakes are fairly high. At the end of the show, the show’s two contestants are required to put their reward money up to a test of trust and faith. In front of each contestant sits two golden balls. One ball has the word “split” written inside, and the other has “steal.” The rules of this segment are simple:

  • If both contestants choose to split, the pot is evenly divided between both players.
  • If one contestant chooses to steal and the other to split, then the person who chose steal gets all of the money.
  • If they both choose to steal, then they both walk away empty handed.

Needless to say, the two contestants usually begin appealing to the other’s senses to split the money. It requires a hefty level of trust on both ends to ensure that either player won’t get duped. However, in this particular episode, one player demanded an unprecedented level of trust from the other player. Instead of telling the other player he was going to split the money, he told him he was going to steal, and if the other person chose split, he’d reach out to him afterwards with his half of the reward.

After appealing for his trust again and again, the man ultimately resigned, recognizing that if he mistrusted him and chose to steal, there was a good chance he wouldn’t get anything at all. When the two contestants chose to reveal their choices, they were relieved that both had chosen to split the money.

There’s an argument to be made that the person advocating to steal the money was mistrusting the other player and chose to limit his choices as a result. However, given what we know about trust, the other player choosing to go along with the scheme means he’s placing an extraordinary amount of trust in the other player. And as a result, that person is likely boosting his sensation of trust as well!

In our day to day, this concept of placing trust to earn trust pans out more frequently than we’d think. If you’ve got a big project that’s nearing deadline, and you recruit a fellow team member to the task—placing that extra bit of faith in them helps develop trust where there may have been little before.

If you’re having trouble trusting someone or are just starting on the path of building trust, it doesn’t hurt to give that other person a chance!

  1. Clarity

When it comes to building trust with someone else, it helps to lay all of your cards on the table for everyone to see. That requires a certain level of trust in someone so openly. However, the impact of doing can pay dividends.

Clarity helps two parties cut through any negative thoughts that might stand between someone wanting to place their trust in someone else and actually doing so. Like the old Dunder Mifflin saying goes, “Secrets, secrets are no fun. Secrets, secrets hurt someone.” It isn’t always easy for someone to come to an understanding when they don’t know everything they need to know about a person or opportunity. While some people might have the ability to take a blind leap of faith and trust that the other person isn’t holding a trump card, that isn’t always the case. For those who want to know as much as they can, it’s often the case that when there’s a knowledge gap, they’ll make up their own stories or theories about what could happen if they choose to trust someone else.

A great example of how clarity works to build trust exists within our partner company Keller Williams Realty. Within our company there exists a system of profit sharing—from the ground floor, all the way up to those working at corporate, there’s a way for everyone to earn a share of the profits generated by the company. However, one of the thorns sticking in the side of most profit share systems is that the companies participating choose to keep their books close to the chest. With an incentive system that is determined by something like profit, it requires those participating to trust that the organization isn’t making any frivolous moves or that they’re actually sharing the profit that the company is generating.

That’s why Keller Williams maintains a policy of keeping their financials open for anyone to see. At any given moment, they can get a breakdown of what money’s coming in, where it’s being spent, what profit it’s generating, and how much of that profit is going to be shared. As a result, there’s a substantially high degree of trust between the company and its contractors and employees who participate!

Here at The One Thing, we want you to take a look at where you’re placing your trust and where you think you could use a little more of it. If you’ve got a great story revolving around how you’ve built trust with others, share it with our community on our Facebook page! And while you’re there, read about what other like-minded individuals are doing to make building trust in their life a priority.

 

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