No. 9: Trust

The new general manager, Juan, was nervous. He was actually in charge. Knowing that made him feel good and uncomfortable at the same time.

He looked at his watch. The store would open its doors in 45 minutes. His floor managers would be arriving any minute.

Juan made eye contact with a man coming out of the break room.

The man walked toward him. “You must be the new GM. Hi, I’m Jake,” the man said warmly.

“Oh, yes, I am. My name’s Juan.” He noticed Jake’s tie and vest. “You must be one of my two FMs.”

“Yes, sir. Madeline is the other FM. She’ll be here in exactly 5 minutes.”

“Really? Exactly? You tracking her on your phone or something? How could you know that?” Juan said playfully.

Jake smiled, “You’ll find out. Maddie and I have worked together for seven years. Every day she has walked through those front doors at exactly 20 after ready to work. And I do mean every day at exactly 20 after. She’s as reliable as a Swiss watch. Trust me.”

Juan talked with Jake in the final minutes before the workday began. Juan was curious now and kept one eye shifting between the front door and his watch. Jake told him all about the store, about how he and Maddie liked to run the floor. Juan found it easy to like Jake.

Juan heard the front doors open as he looked at his watch. It was exactly 20 after.

Maddie walked in, straightening her tie.

“Unbelievable. You were right,” Juan said grinning, incredulous.

“Told you. You’ll love her. Maddie is the best. I’d trust her with just about anything.”

Few experiences bring us more comfort than when we find someone we can trust. Humans are social creatures and we want to know that our family, friends, and coworkers are reliable and have our best interest at heart. Being in relationships with people we can trust gives us a sense of security that can only come from support we can count on.

The Many Layers of Trust

Trust is a multifaceted concept. Researchers Jason Colquitt, Brent Scott, and Jeffery LePine investigated two features of trust. The first, trustworthiness, embodies one’s ability, benevolence, and integrity. This means that when people are trustworthy, they are loyal, want to do good for others, they are consistent, and they fulfill their promises. The second, trust propensity, is defined by one’s willingness to rely on others before they have had a chance to prove they are trustworthy. People with high trust propensities will be more open to cooperating with others and to believing what others say. Because trust is a many-layered construct, it is not always easy to know when it is a good idea to trust someone.

Building Trust

We know we can trust people when they have shown consistency over time. This does not necessarily mean that we have to know people for a long time before we begin to trust them. It depends on what we trust them with. Going on a first date is not inherently risky. Having sex with someone is much riskier. The levels of trust in the first date relationship and the sexual relationship should be much different. The same can be said of other types of relationships. Medical degrees, licenses, certifications, and endorsements are awarded to people who have shown a consistent ability to perform over time. Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) receive 4-6 weeks of training. Registered nurses (RNs) are awarded their license after earning their college degree and passing a board exam. Doctors become board certified after four years of college, four years of medical school, five years of residency, and passing exams. Patients put different levels of trust in each of these medical professionals. CNAs provide patients with basic care like bathing. RNs are highly skilled and perform complex tasks under doctors’ orders. Doctors diagnose patients and carry out incredibly complex medical procedures. It is wise to trust those who have earned it and incredibly risky to trust those who have not.

Dealing With “Trust Issues”

Most of us have been disappointed and hurt by people we have trusted. Some of us respond to being betrayed by distrusting everyone. This is usually what my clients mean when they tell me they have “trust issues.” They refuse to put trust in anyone in an attempt to keep people from being able to hurt them. The problem with this strategy is that it keeps them from experiencing one of life’s greatest joys: a safe, supportive, stable, and trusting relationship with another.

When my clients and I work on “trust issues,” we identify ways of figuring out when it is safe to trust someone and it no longer makes sense to keep him or her at a distance. Establishing clear expectations in a relationship is a part of this process because it sets a standard by which someone’s reliability can be measured. I also talk with them about the importance of being willing to discuss potential pitfalls in the relationship and looking out for red flags like broken promises. As scary as learning how to trust again can be, many of my clients find the prospect of being in relationship with trustworthy people to be well worth the risk.