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Building Trust Is All about the Little Things

Graphic Showing Angel and Devil WhisperingIt’s impossible to make progress if people don’t trust you. It’s impossible to achieve great things if you’re unwilling to trust others. We’re interdependent in so many ways that building trust is absolutely essential in most pursuits.

Your personal effectiveness will grow exponentially when people see you as someone they can count one. When you trust others, your personal effectiveness will expand because you won’t be trying to do everything yourself. Instead, you’ll form healthy partnerships and collaborations. 

2-way trust is the currency of the future. We’ll need to be both reliable and able to rely on each other in this rapidly changing world.   

Building Trust, Part 1: Being Trustworthy  

At the heart of trust is confidence. The very definition of trust ties the two together. Trust is the “reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.” So, the real question ought to be this: what causes us to have confidence in some people but not in others?

A nice long history with someone displaying integrity, strength and ability would help. When we’re dealing with someone new, though, we can’t just wait for a few years before we trust them. Conversely,  new people that you meet and new people you work with can’t wait a few years to observe you over time before they place their trust in you. 

Suddenly, the idea of earning trust and proving yourself trustworthy seems a bit restrictive and unnecessary, doesn’t it? Because, of course, you can be trusted. You take pride in your integrity, your reliability and your follow through. You work hard to never let others down. The idea that someone may not trust you probably rankles you, at least a little bit. 

Even so, there are some people who simply don’t trust you. They hold back when interacting with you. They question your motives and aren’t as quick to accept your ideas and advice. 

What’s going on here? Chances are that you overlooked the little things. When we don’t know someone well, the little things are big when determining whether or not to trust them  People have been deemed  untrustworthy (or left doubt that caused others to be undecided) by little things like these:

  • You really meant to do it, but you forgot to follow up on a commitment you made. 
  • You expected someone to adapt to your preferences without taking theirs into consideration. 
  • You let some details go unchecked and put someone in an uncomfortable situation. 
  • You changed your actions or direction without explaining why. 
  • You waited until the last minute and expected others to patiently wait and then accommodate you.
  • You spoke harshly or hastily in a way that caused someone to feel marginalized. 
  • You told a little white lie.
  • You were inconsistent in your responses to others, and it looked like favoritism. 
  • You over-estimated your own abilities and didn’t acknowledge your limitations. 
  • You seem remote, disinterested, or aloof about things that matter to others. 


Fair or unfair, these little things have an impact. Although you would never intend to be untrustworthy, these behaviors leave room for doubt. Although it’s a big leap from “he didn’t deliver the work on time” to “I don’t trust him,” this is exactly the leap that people often make. When they have no history or counterbalance, they react to these little things as a course of self-protection.  

Being trustworthy requires you to be aware of the impact your actions will have on others. Since they can’t read your intentions, know your history, or understand your departures, you’ll have to mindful of behaviors that can cause mistrust and work to avoid exhibiting those behaviors. 

Building Trust, Part 2: Trusting Others 

Some believe that trust must be earned. But that sounds like a formulaic approach. How many times and in what specific ways must someone perform in order to be worthy of your trust? Since we know that what we require is not the same with every individual, the notion of being able to earn trust seems a little arbitrary.

Some would say that they trust because they read people well or have a certain gut instinct. That hardly seems fair. What happens when someone who exhibits trustworthy behavior doesn’t pass the gut check? 

Other people feel exactly the same way. When you withhold your trust and expect them to earn it by proving themselves over time, it feels insulting and demeaning, even disrespectful. The response to not being given trust is to not give trust. That’s the law of reciprocity at work, otherwise known as “what goes around comes around.”

You know what happens next. Since they don’t trust you – YOU, of all people who is supremely trustworthy! – then you respond by pulling back even more. You find yourself saying things like “I don’t know about her. She seems sort of cagey…” or “I can’t put my finger on it, I just don’t trust him.”

We’re left with a dilemma. If they won’t trust you until you trust them, and you won’t trust them until they’ve earned it… And their lack of trust somehow validates your lack of trust… well, it’s not likely that a mutual trust is ever going to form in this relationship.

On the other hand, there are relationships in your life that have formed quickly and easily. The trust was there right from the start. You didn’t hold back. There was no mandatory holding time. No one, not you and not the other party, had to earn trust. It was just inherent in the relationship. How did that happen? Was that the gut instinct at its finest?

Or maybe it was something else. Maybe it was as simple as this. You extended a little bit of trust and it was reciprocated. You smiled and the smile was returned. You disclosed a little bit of personal information, displaying trust and vulnerability as you did. A little sharing was returned to you. Or you allowed someone to help you, letting them know that you believed in their ability and accepting what they had to offer. You opened up to trust and, by doing so, you paved the way for a relationship (founded in trust) to grow.

Trust is a two-way street. You don’t trust until you’ve been trusted. There’s give and take on both sides, a mutual exchange. And it has to begin somewhere, so why not with you?

You may be thinking “yeah, but…” right about now. You’re right. There are people who have already violated your trust. You’ve been burned. You are reluctant to trust those individuals again. If your trust has been violated, read this article to discover ways to reset the relationship and allow for the restoration of trust. 

In the meantime, extend a little trust to someone who hasn’t broken your trust and doesn’t deserve the holding time either. Be sure to check out the 12 Dimensions of Trust, too, if you really want to improve leadership skills. The cost to you of denying trust without cause may be greater than you think.

What Do We All Need to Do Differently When It Comes to Building Trust? 

Since there’s more to trust than honesty and integrity, building 2-way trust begins with understanding all the dimensions that people evaluate to determine whether or not they can trust someone. 

When you have a vague sense of distrust, you can diagnose what’s really going on by considering all 12 Dimensions of Trust. This will help you pinpoint the issue and deal with it rather than continuing to operate with that distrust in the way. 

When it seems that others aren’t fully trusting you, a self-assessment is in order. Honestly assess your own behaviors in all 12 Dimensions of Trust to identify what might be getting in the way. 

The 12 Dimensions of Trust are:

trust graphic-1

Integrity: Consistently makes ethical choices regardless of convenience, profit, fun or other personal benefit.

Competence: Skills & knowledge are commensurate with expected results. Strives to learn & increase competence.

Consistency: Reliable, steady, predictable. Everyone knows what to expect from this person. Someone you can count on.

Loyalty: Makes and keeps long-term commitments to individuals, teams & organizations. Supports others at all times.

Availability: Makes time for needed conversations and listens without distractions. Is fully present.

Fairness: Uses objective criteria to evaluate situation. Does not exhibit favoritism, holds all to equal standard. 

Decision-Making: Knows & shares decision-making criteria. Involves others in decision-making process. Explains rationale of decisions.

Follow Through: Delivers what has been promised. Honors agreements and accepts responsibility if commitments are not kept.

Openness: Communicates with complete disclosure, doesn’t hold back information. Shares opinion even when it’s not popular.

Discretion: Respects confidentiality. Gets permission, uses care before sharing information with others.

Constructive Intent: Shares sensitive messages without causing defensiveness. Communication motives are not self-serving.

Accurate Self-Assessment: Understands and acknowledges his or her own limitations, seeks and accepts help when needed.

When teams learn about all the dimensions of trust and do restorative work to patch inadvertent breaches, they are better able to come together constructively and productively. Mistrust is often the “elephant in the room” that no one wants to talk about. This tool makes it easier to open the conversation without triggering defensive reactions. 

In 1-to-1 relationships, this is also a good conversation starter. Breaking trust down into its piece parts makes it less onerous and easier to discuss. At People First Productivity Solutions, we conduct team building workshops and individual or small group coaching to help people build bridges of trust in these ways. 

To learn more about the 12 Dimensions of Trust, check out this on-demand webinar