Why is Trust So Elusive?
If trust is so vital to our relationships, why isn’t it prioritised more? And why haven’t we mastered it already?
Fear sells: Multi billion dollar industries rely on fear to sell products and services. Countless organisations employ fear as a leadership strategy or performance tactic. Fear is the fastest way to motivate people. It may be a short term tactic but it’s a powerfully primal one.
Trust is dynamic: Human behaviour and emotions are complex and constantly shifting, so trust isn’t static. Instead, it is a daily dynamic of belief and behaviour, of expectation and evaluation. Our beliefs about what trust and trustworthiness looks and feels like shapes our behaviour. Our expectations of how others ‘should’ behave to earn and keep our trust, is subject to constant re-evaluation. We are always alert and gauging who, and how much, we can trust.
Trust is a personal choice: It is given and withdrawn – sometimes without our knowledge - until it’s presence or absence becomes unmistakable. We can’t assume others will trust us, nor can we make others trust us, we simply have to earn it, value it, and continually nurture it.
Trust is an individual experience: We are all a unique (and evolving) mix of personality preferences, life experience, upbringing, and culture. So what is acceptable to one person, may be confronting to another and while some of us are open and ready to trust, some of us need more time. One is not better than the other and expecting people to trust us faster - or to act the way we would - can undermine trust altogether.
Trust requires vulnerability: Trust, in its purest (and its most rewarding) form, requires us to make ourselves vulnerable in the face of perceived risk. Yet giving others the opportunity to judge or reject us, or to abuse our vulnerability makes us hesitate.
Trust needs time: Trust isn’t built at speed, or when we’re talking tactics or engaging on a surface level. It is built in the course of having bigger, deeper conversations about crucial and often challenging topics. Conversations that are often avoided in favour of artificial harmony, or derailed by a lack of time or a reluctance to contribute – and to challenge - without hesitation.
Trust touchpoints are everywhere: Touchpoints where trust is tested, built or broken permeate our work and private lives. We all navigate conversations and events daily that test us - even in relationships which have previously felt high trust. Our success in sustaining, or strengthening trust along the way hinges on the emotional, social and conversational intelligence we presence in those moments.
Trust is contextual: We may trust people in some situations but not all. We may extend trust more willingly, or feel more open to trusting in environments where we feel safer (our own homes, close relationships or secure workplaces) and less so in environments that make us feel insecure (new relationships, new workplaces, moments of high stakes or close scrutiny).
Trust is both fragile and flexible: Because we’re each unique and trust is so personal to each of us, we can behave in ways that are innocent to us but challenging for others which means trust can be easily - and unexpectedly - tested. A foundation of mutual understanding and appreciation in a relationship gives trust the flexibility to bend under strain. When we’re with people we believe understand and appreciate us, we drop our assumptions and defences and engage from a place of positive intent and curiousity rather than assumption and judgement.
Negative behaviours are an easy default: Whether you’re aware of it or not, trust, or its absence is always being felt, and as social creatures our desire to fit in can mean we fall into bad habits. Rather than encouraging openness and collaboration in groups, or engaging in spirited debate that results in better understanding and wholehearted support, we avoid the difficult conversations and join the quiet sidelined conversations in the corridor.
Trust is a whole body experience: Our brains primary focus of keeping us alive, means we are on alert 24/7/365 for signs of safety or threat. Our bodies are constantly engaged in the process of listening, sense-making and response so we’re ready to react as soon as the need arises. And our response to threat, whether real, or perceived, is swift.
Trust is as vital to healthy successful relationships as it is complex. It holds the potential to transform our relationship with our self, with the people we live and work with and even with the organisations and systems we work within. It begins with the willingness to create psychological safety - for ourselves and others.
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