Trust Is a Must, Or The Relationship Will Bust

A relationship without trust is not a relationship.

During the 1980’s, our nation was chanting the “Ghostbusters” theme song. Almost everyone was wondering, “Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters!”

As we enter the 21st century, we’re faced with a much more serious question. We’re forced to ask, “Who you gonna trust?”

And it’s no wonder, Most news stories are variations of the same theme — trust gone awry. On a national level, we see politicians make laws that don’t apply to themselves, and we see political candidates distort their records. In the business world, we see advertisers who make false claims, and we hear business consultants tell us re-engineering is the way to go — then read in the October, 1995 “Wall Street Journal” they were wrong.

The same is true in relationships. We live in an age where mutual suspicion has replaced mutual trust. All too often we hear people say, “You can’t trust anyone anymore.”

And what’s the result? People are afraid. They close up. They become cautious, selective, and reserved in what they say and to whom they say it. They share their deepest secrets with their friends instead of their spouses. Or they refuse to speak out at a team meeting but freely talk behind people’s backs after the meeting.

People become defensive. They look for an upcoming attack, or they resist change and new experiences as something being done “to” them rather than “for” them.

Well that simply can’t be allowed to exist — on the national, business or personal level.

Mutual trust is the basic ingredient of every effective relationship. Employers and employees, members of a team, husbands and wives must be joined in trust, or the relationship will eventually disintegrate. Trust is a must or the relationship will bust.

If we’re going to re-energize our country, re-energize our companies, and re-energize our relationships, we need to rebuild our trust. It’s our trust — or lack of it — that determines the strength of our motivation and the depth of our commitment. As Sissela Bok writes in her book, Lying, “Whatever matters to human beings, trust is the atmosphere in which it thrives.”

There is some good news, however. Trust can be built — if you follow a few key principles. But — and this is a BIG but — you’ve got to follow all these principles all the time. It doesn’t work if you only follow some of the principles some of the time. Here goes.

=> Principle #1: Start with the presumption of trust.

Trust starts with a belief in the other person — because trust is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you mistrust one of your employees, if you suspiciously watch that employee every minute, you will find some behavior that confirms your mistrust. No employee does his best in that environment.

On the other hand, if you believe in an employee, if you trust an employee’s intentions, judgment, and competence, you will have an employee that blossoms. In that kind of an environment, the employee feels supported and encouraged, and as a result, produces better results.

You tend to get what you expect. So you’ve got to begin the trust-building process by presuming you can trust the other person. You don’t start with suspicion and judgment.

Fortunately, you can trust most people. Some years ago, at Stacey’s Restaurant in Traverse City, Michigan, customers paid their bills and made their own change at the cash register. For 25 years this popular restaurant operated on the honor system, having one word printed across the top of the menu – “TRUST.” Owner Julia Stathakis said, “When you trust people, they’re not going to steal from you.”

Of course, some of you will say, “Hold it. Not all people are trustworthy. Some people will disappoint you no matter how much you believe in them.” True. But I like the way basketball coach John Wooden puts it. He says, “It is better to trust and be disappointed occasionally than to distrust and be miserable all the time.”

And if you’re a business person, you might like what B. C. Forbes had to say. He said it was, “Better to be occasionally cheated than perpetually suspicious.”

If you want to build trust, you’ve got to trust. You’ve got to take a leap of faith. You can’t be like that mother that told her child, “You can’t go in the water until you learn to swim.” Well, you can’t learn to swim if you don’t go in the water, and you can’t learn to trust without trusting.

=> Principle #2: Be completely open.

It’s a lot easier to trust someone if you know what he thinks, how he feels, and where he plans to go. And it’s a lot easier to trust someone who volunteers such information or who is open about such things.

By contrast, it’s very difficult to trust someone who keeps a bunch of secrets or surprises in his back pocket. And it’s difficult to work with someone who withholds a great deal of information.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that to be true. They asked 50,000 employees to rank the ten factors that most influenced their morale back on the job. They ranked “openness” or “being kept fully informed” as the second most important piece in the morale-building, trust-building process.

Unfortunately, many companies fall short of this openness ideal. I remember speaking to a group of employees who came to my seminar filled with anger. They had just read in the newspaper that one-third of their jobs would be eliminated in the next three months, and that was the first time they had heard about the downsizing. Obviously, they didn’t feel very important, and they didn’t feel very respected when the public knew more about their company than they did. They had a hard time trusting their company forever after.

One of my professors, when I was back in college, was Dr. David Johnson. He summarized the importance of trust when he said, “Little happens in a relationship until individuals learn to trust each other.”

Come on back next week, and I’ll give you a few more principles on how to build the trust in your relationships.

Action:  What kind of person are you? Do you tend to trust people until they give you a reason not to? Or do you tend to be more cautious, waiting for people to “earn” your trust?

There’s certainly a risk in taking the first approach. But most of the research indicates you’ll have more success in your personal and professional relationships if you take the first approach.