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The Stories that Shape Trust

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how TRUST is built. It’s the cornerstone of every relationship we have – and yet there isn’t a magic bullet that creates it or sustains it. And trust is often hard to earn – but easy to lose.

So why is it that we spend so little time thinking about how we build trust? Given its vital role in our relationships – both personal and professional – you would think that it is something that we would ponder more often.

Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way we Live, Love, Parent and Lead – when discussion trust with her daughter – explains that when someone does something that builds, trust a marble gets put in a jar. When someone does something that reduces trust, a marble gets taken out of the jar. For a visual person like me, this metaphor works.

The question then becomes, “what do we do that leads to trust being built—that adds marbles to the jar? What might we do that decreases trust—that removes marbles from the jar?

I know in my world, those who I trust most are not people who have done grand gestures for me. Instead they are folks who have walked beside me when things have been good and bad. People who have reached out to build me up, remind me of what it is that makes me special, and what unique perspectives I bring to the world. These are the folks that are genuine and sincere, and who have my back.

I also know that in my personal world, trust isn’t something that I give easily; at least not the “deep-down trust” that means I will fully open myself up to you, share my worst moments with, and really lean on you for support.

In my personal world, there have been people whom I’ve trusted but have gradually lost my trust in through small, slight actions that add up over time. With others, one decisive action made me lose my trust completely and quickly.

On a professional level, trust is built and diminished in much the same way as my personal world. With clients, I am quick to build reciprocal trust – and I know that reputation is built on how quickly I can establish trust and ensure it remains solid. However, I find myself cautious about partnerships and collaborative opportunities with other entrepreneurs as in the past occasionally when I’ve been quick to trust – and share – the result has not always been what I expected.

Trust is a fragile thing. When we have been hurt we carry those stories in our minds, replaying them each time a similar situation arises. And these “stories” carry weight: they impact our inner and outer realities and our approach to each new person we meet, each new situation we encounter.

From a neuroscience perspective, we can carry stories of distrust around certain types of situations and responses. When we encounter a similar situation, our amygdala—which controls our threat responses—jumps in to protect us. It triggers our fear networks, creating a sense of fight, flee, freeze or appease, causing us to approach the situation with caution or to totally avoid it altogether.

The great news is we can learn to control our amygdala hijacks, to strengthen the trust in our relationships – and set the stage for increasing trust relationships; relationships where we are free (and comfortable) co-creating a shared future over time.

Judith E. Glaser, founder of Conversational Intelligence, defines the five elements for priming trust as follows:

T – Be Transparent.

R – Build Respect and Relationships while sharing.

U – Understand other’s perspectives. Take a walk in their shoes.

S – Create a vision of shared Success and give Support.

T – Tell the Truth. Be honest.

What I love about Glaser’s TRUST model is that it is always a work in progress. While initially we may enter the conversation with sense of “wait and see,” the more open the communication, the more positive the interaction, the more we strive to understand each other and to view things from each other’s perspectives, the greater our sense of “we are in this together, let’s co-create.”

How can you prime for increased trust in your current relationships? In relationships that have fallen by the wayside that you’d like to rekindle? What about future relationships—how can you set yourself up to prime for trust ahead of time?

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