Building Trust In Relationships

John E. Trombley, MMgt
Organization Development Consultant
The Village Business Institute,

Trust and respect are the glue that holds us together organizationally and interpersonally. I suppose one could argue otherwise, but I’m sticking to my guns on this one. It is clear to see that once the bonds of trust are broken, the relationship crumbles faster than it takes for the stock market to react to bad news. Trust and trusting-building is critical to all of us, so understanding where trust comes from must be important as well.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Dr John Van Epp’s ground-breaking course that goes by several different names, such as “Love Thinks”, “P.I.C.K. A Partner”, or “How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk(ette)” ( I especially like the last title best, but then that is just me. The course is built around Van Epp’s Relationship Attachment Model and I have found it useful in explaining the concept of trust in both business and personal relationship paradigms.

Van Epp explains that trust is a mental picture we have based on what we know about another person. The problem is that in the early stages of the relationship we don’t really know much about the other person (maybe our coworker, boss, or love interest), so we do what comes naturally – we make stuff up to fill in the blanks of our mental picture. That is where stereotyping comes from, and we all do it. Stereotyping is a shortcut our brains take in order to categorize a lot of information as quickly as possible. The danger lies in not being open to receiving new information that might be contrary to our mental picture. That brings us to the next step.

We test the mental picture we have of other people by seeing if we can rely on them to act in accordance with their words. Can I trust them to behave in a consistent and predictable manner? In a sense, trust is a neutral concept. I trust bank robbers to act like, well, bank robbers. I would not expect a bank robber to hold my wallet for me. I would trust him to steal it instead. Make sense?

The foundation of trust is in knowing the other person. The less I know about the other person, the less I can rightfully trust them. If you are a sales person, you understand how important it is to build trust with your client. It has been said that it takes seven contacts with a potential customer to get a sale. Why? It is a matter of trust. Trying to close the sale before trust is established only serves to build distrust.

So, what about you? If you are a supervisor or manager, what are you doing to build trust with your employees? Are you consistent in your behavior? Do your actions line up with your words? Or do you expect people to trust you just because you’re “the boss”? If you are not a supervisor, the same concept applies. What are you doing to build trust with your supervisor? Either way, ask yourself, “What mental image have I created in other people’s minds, and is it the one I would desire?”