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Trust and Relationships
by Alan Sieler 

All of us, at one stage or other, have experienced a situation in which we have found ourself not trusting another person. This could have been someone we have just met and almost immediately have not felt comfortable with them. Expressions like "Wouldn't trust him/her as far as I could kick them" or "Wouldn't touch him/her with a forty foot barge pole", or an uneasy feeling about someone, reflect lack of trust.

Unfortunately though, occasionally not trusting someone else also includes those we have known for a while. Doubts begin to creep into our thinking about their motivation and behaviour, and these can begin to have a major impact on the relationship, and our behaviour with them will begin to be different.

When we find our self not being comfortable with another person, regardless of the circumstances, we are not always able to articulate what this discomfort is about. What we experience is a strong gut feeling or hunch, which we are not able to explain.

Not trusting someone means that we do not have full confidence in them and consequently we either limit how we will engage in a relationship with them or withdraw entirely from the relationship. Even if the circumstances dictate we need to spend some time in their company, we might find ourselves very wary of them and limit how we engage with them.

So far the emphasis has been on the negative side of trust, or to be more precise, lack of trust. What about when we do trust people? What happens to us when we trust people and what is different for us when we don't trust people?

When we trust someone, be it personally and/or professionally, we are usually willing to enter into a relationship with him or her. In a trusting relationship we are willing to conduct ourselves differently, engage in a wider range of actions, and also to be more open to a variety of experiences.

Much of our existence, and the quality of our living, professionally and personally, is associated with the quality of our relationships. We exist within a network of relationships, and the quality of these relationships determines our sense of satisfaction, achievement, enjoyment and fulfillment.

Trust enables relationships to develop and flourish. Trust is the “glue” that holds relationships together.

But what is trust? It could be said that it is a sensation, a hunch, a gut feeling. However, it is possible to be more precise. Trust is simultaneously a bodily sensation, an emotion and a judgement (assessment). A gut feeling can be the emotional and bodily component of trust, and yet sometimes we are unable to put it into words.

It is important to be able to be more precise in the way we articulate trust, because we can then deal with it. Trust can be regarded as having four dimensions. When we trust, or don't trust someone, we are assessing his or her sincerity, reliability, competence andinvolvement. Trusting or not trusting someone always involves one or more of these assessments.

Typically we tend to associate trust with sincerity - the genuineness of someone in their engagement with us; i.e. there is no hidden agenda or "cards being held to the chest. However, competence is also a crucial facet of trust, which is a judgement that someone has the ability or skills to do what they say. Someone may be sincere and competent, but not be reliable, consistently not meeting required standards and/or time frames; for example not turning up to meetings at the agreed time, and not completing agreed to tasks on time to a satisfactory standard. Involvement is about whether we someone is tuned in to what (deeply) matters to us; i.e. they have our needs and interests at heart. Involvement can be a more subtle aspect of trust. Often this is a gut feeling. Perhaps someone says all the right words but we have an uneasy feeling and cannot pinpoint that that is about; it is likely this is our intuition telling us the person may not have our needs and interests at heart.

The image people have of us, the reputation we develop for ourselves, whether positive or negative, cannot be divorced from assessments continually being made about our sincerity, reliability, competence and involvement in our dealings with them. Trust lives the nature of conversational engagement with others.

We develop a reputation for being trustworthy or untrustworthy through our actions. Much of this reputation comes from how we enter into making arrangements and being dependable around the agreements and commitments we make. Do our actions match our words?

Within our relationships it is all too easy to take trust for granted and overlook its pivotal role in our interactions with others. Trust can be regarded as a fragile element of relationships that requires continual nurturing. One or two instances can raise important and lingering questions, which may remain in the background and have a silent but devastating impact on the quality of the relationship.

You may like to consider the following points for your own "action research" around trust.

© Newfield Institute

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