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The Trust Factor

blog charla turner Sep 29, 2022

 

By Charla Turner

Trust comes first. It even comes before a word is spoken in a relationship. Trust is hard to build and easy to break. It can be built over many years and lost in one instance. If someone in the relationship betrays or hurts the other, whether it is real or perceived betrayal, it brings into question all future actions. Many people say trust is even more important in a relationship than love. Trust is the foundation of a healthy, loving relationship, so you can’t even have real love without trust.

It is something we all want from others, but it can be hard to give, build and repair if it’s broken. If trust is the foundation of every relationship, we should understand how we can take action to trust better. Trust isn’t just built by one action or word; it’s built by a million “little” things that add up to be incredibly significant. They either build tight bonds of trust or demolish them.

King Solomon understood that little things can erode trust and become big things that steal our ability to build loving relationships. He wrote to his bride, “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom” (Song of Solomon 2:15). In this picture, a beautiful vineyard isn’t being destroyed by something big and obvious, but by small foxes!

Likewise, it isn’t always the glaringly obvious relationship killers like cheating and lying that break trust. It can be a combination of many small behaviors like making excuses, not following through on commitments, overstepping boundaries, making negative judgments, revealing information that was meant to only be shared with certain people, being stingy with your words, possessions or time, or just not living according to your values. Every interaction we have with people is either building or tearing at our trust levels. It is the foundation of every relationship we have.

Different types of relationships require different amounts of trust. We don’t have to give every person the same level of trust. Child-to-parent trust and parent-to-child trust require wholehearted investment. Romantic relationships and friendships require less. Trusting authority, government, coworkers and bosses, spiritual advisors, other drivers on the road, sales and businesspeople, and advertisers all require varying degrees of trust. We do not, nor should we, trust everyone at the same level.

If bonds of trust are foundational, we need to learn how to strengthen them because when they fail, the impact reverberates and touches us all. When they are cracked or broken, the relationship will eventually disintegrate. Think about the implications. Failing marriages affect everyone around them for generations to come. When relationships among government officials fail, thousands of people, families and nations are impacted. It can result in war with all its ravaging effects. When a business fails, it affects the local economy and all the families attached to that business directly and indirectly. Even if a business is running, trust has a daily impact in the workplace. Paul Zak, in the Harvard Business Review, reports that when trust is high, positive results follow:

Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report: 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, 40% less burnout.1

If each person decided to become trustworthy and developed a healthy relationship philosophy that they lived by, our foundations would be impenetrable.

Pew Research Center has chronicled Americans’ trust in their government since 1958. According to this research, in 1958, 73% of Americans said that they trusted the government to do what’s right “most of the time.”2 Can you even imagine that? By the year 2019, that percentage had dropped 56 points to 17%.

In 2014, Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser looked at interpersonal trust on a worldwide scale: 38%of Americans agreed that “most people could be trusted.” This was in direct contrast with the percentage of people who agreed with that statement but lived in other parts of the world like Romania (7%), Ghana (5%), Columbia (4%), and the Philippines (3%).3 The study also showed that religion played a role in trust: Those who professed a religion were 2.6% more likely to trust others while people that attended religious services regularly and had a positive experience were an additional 20% more likely to trust.4 Isn’t it interesting that there is a significantly higher percentage of trust among people of faith?

Faith is defined in Scripture as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, NKJV). It’s a confidence that God will be true to His promises. Trust is a reliance on our faith. Trust is faith in motion. It could be that people who embrace the concept of a God who created all things, is omniscient, omnipresent and can perform supernatural miracles and combine it with a personal commitment to love people and care for others in their community have a greater ability to trust. If you can trust in a big God, then trusting people isn't so hard because, even if they break you, you know He can heal you. When you know you are guided by God, then every experience you have—whether it is positive or negative—can be use by Him in your life to help you grow.

In her talk, “The Anatomy of Trust,” researcher Brené Brown says that the ingredients of trust can be described by the acronym BRAVING:5

BOUNDARIES: You respect boundaries, and when you are not clear about what is OK and not OK, you ask. You’re willing to say no.

RELIABILITY: You do what you say you will do. This means you’re aware of your limitations and don't overpromise. You are able to deliver on commitments and balance priorities.

ACCOUNTABILITY: You own your mistakes, apologize and make amends.

VAULT: You don’t share experiences that are not yours to share. You need to know that your confidences are kept, and, at the same time, you keep sensitive information about other people confidential.

INTEGRITY: You choose courage over comfort and what is right over what is fast, easy, or fun. You choose to practice your values rather than simply profess them.

NONJUDGMENT: You feel free to ask for what is needed and communicate those needs without judgment.

GENEROSITY: You extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words and actions of others.

In her extensive research, these are the “little” things she found that build trust—the ingredients to building trust.

A Harvard Business Review article, “Re-Thinking Trust” by Roderick Kramer, says that several other factors are involved in trust. The chemicals in our body play a role. The level of oxytocin in our bodies directly correlates with the level of trust we have in someone. When people’s levels of oxytocin were measured, they found more oxytocin was produced when the levels of trust were higher.6 The more oxytocin we produce in a given situation or relationship the more we trust. We know that feelings are historically unreliable, so if we release oxytocin because of our feelings, it can cause us to trust poorly. Hugging, kissing, cuddling and sexual intimacy can all trigger oxytocin production which can strengthen bonds. You can see how getting physical can blur the lines of trust, we can end up trusting people based on feelings alone, and our feelings can get us into trouble because they are not necessarily trustworthy.

The way we see others in terms of confirmation bias also plays a role. Confirmation bias is defined as “the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.”7 In other words, we already believe something is true, and we find data that seemingly backs up our already existing belief. We all do this without exception. Belief systems are developed over time, and they are deeply rooted inside of us.

I remember growing up believing that salesmen were all dishonest and were just trying to gouge people for money. Whenever my dad took me along to buy a car, I would feel uncomfortable thinking they were trying to take advantage of us. There were jokes made on television about car salesmen and even articles written about how people were ripped off which further deepened my bias. While it is true in some cases, not all car salesmen are dishonest. In fact, I know some pretty godly and upright ones—including my own cousin. We also have a friend who owns several car lots, and it seems as though everyone who buys the particular car make and model that he sells gets it from his dealership. They have built a reputation for fair prices and great customer service. They actually build long-term relationships with their customers through their service department.

There are honest and dishonest people in every arena because, well, people are there. To this day, I still feel edgy around salesmen and don’t typically warm up to them when they try to make conversation and be personable. I am thinking, You don’t really care. You just want to sell this car. If I start talking to you, then, somehow, you are going to take advantage of me. You just want something from me.

Maybe you have decided to never trust certain people, companies, organizations, or industries ever again. This is often substantiated by past evidence or experience but not always.

My childhood pastor used to tell the story of how his dad was friends with Sam Walton the owner and founder of Walmart. Sam had asked his father to go in with him to start this company, and his dad declined. Can you imagine the regret he felt? Whatever his reason for declining, it all goes back to trust. When we hold onto stereotypes that are often false and act on them, it can be referred to as implicit bias. Implicit bias is when, instead of being neutral, we have an aversion to a certain group of people. Some stereotypes are often harmless but can become harmful when we act on them and make judgments and decisions based on them (explicit bias).

Research has shown that we tend to trust those who are most like us. There are a lot of people in the world that are not like us, so there is a good chance we are going to be more untrusting than trusting if we only trust those like us. According to Kendrick’s “Re-Thinking Trust,” we also hold to the illusion of invulnerability. This means that we believe we have taken the appropriate steps and measures to not be vulnerable, and we’ve minimized risks, so we assume that we are safe. We believe we are right about our belief systems and whom we trust. Couple that with unrealistic optimism, and we have a recipe for pain. On top of all that, people can actually fake any indicator of trustworthiness, so how can we know for sure whom to trust?

We can start by trusting the One who is completely worthy of our trust. The One who designed and created us. Proverbs 3:5-6 (ESV) instructs, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” When it comes to trusting others, we need to look both inward at ourselves and outward at others. This will help us spot and identify the traits of trustworthiness and untrustworthiness. Let’s call them green lights and red lights. There are other times when we should proceed with caution. We’ll call those yellow lights.

However, before we look at other people’s traits, we need to look inside ourselves and examine the following areas:

  • Our need for this particular relationship.
  • Our track record in trust.
  • Our expectations.
  • Our values and our boundaries.

Once we have evaluated those, then we can look at trusting others. We must trust ourselves before we can trust others. The more confidence we have in our decision-making the more we are able to place confidence in others. That confidence will come mostly from our relationship with God. He defines our value and worth, and when we know our true identity is from Him, we can walk in confidence.

 

 

The Ingredients of Trust

When looking at both ourselves and others, we have to understand both the ingredients of and the definition of trust. We have learned that trust isn’t just one entity but that it has many ingredients. When trying to define trust, all the definitions have the same central meaning:

  • Trust is how people feel when they know they won’t be taken advantage of.
  • Trust is feeling comfortable taking risks.
  • Trust enables confidence and a willingness to take action on the basis of the behavior of another.
  • Trust is the feeling that the goodwill of others who are making decisions is based on the good of all and not the gain of one.
  • Trust is being comfortable depending on others, expecting them to do the right thing without monitoring or controlling them.
  • The Oxford Dictionary definition is the “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.”9
  • The Hebrew definition consists of faith, belief, confidence, fidelity, loyalty, trusteeship, allegiance, confidence, religion, and devotion.
  • The Greek is translated similarly with the descriptors of confidence, trust, reliance, confidence, faith, credit, loyalty, belief, trust, conviction.

 

 The Trust Test

  • Do I have strong boundaries? Am I clear about my personal boundaries with others, and do I respect others’ boundaries?
  • Am I reliable? Do I do what I say I am going to do? Do I overpromise and underdeliver? Or am I clear on my limitations and competencies?
  • Do I take responsibility for my actions, or do I blame others? When I make mistakes, do I apologize and make amends?
  • Do I share information that was meant only for me? Can others trust me to keep their confidential information?
  • Do I consistently choose to do what is right over what is fast, easy, or fun? Do I actually practice what I preach? Do my actions line up with what I say I value?
  • Am I honest with others about what I need, and can others be honest with me about what they need without worrying about judgment.
  • Do I believe the best about others’ intentions, words, and actions?
  • Am I emotionally healthy?
  • Do I truly care about others, or am I more focused on my personal aspirations? Can I see the big picture?

 

ENDNOTES:

  1. Paul Zak, “The Neuroscience of Trust.” Harvard Business Review, 31 Aug. 2021, hbr.org/2017/01/the-neuroscience-of-trust.
  2. “Public Trust in Government: 1958-2021,” Pew Research Center - U.S. Politics & Policy, 28 May 2021, pewresearch.org/politics/2021/05/17/public-trust-in-government-1958-2021/.
  3. Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser, “Trust,” Our World in Data, 22 July 2016, ourworldindata.org/trust#:~:text=The%20World%20Value%20Survey%20allows,the%20bottom%20of%20the%20chart.
  4. Ortiz-Ospina and Roser, “Trust.”
  5. Brené Brown, “SuperSoul Sessions: The Anatomy of Trust,” Brené Brown, 25 Oct. 2021, brenebrown.com/videos/anatomy-trust-video/.
  6. Roderick M. Kramer, “Rethinking Trust” Harvard Business Review, 1 Aug. 2014, hbr.org/2009/06/rethinking-trust.
  7. “Confirmation Bias English Definition and Meaning,” Lexico Dictionaries | English, www.lexico.com/en/definition/confirmation_bias.
  8. Roderick M. Kramer, “Rethinking Trust” Harvard Business Review, 1 Aug. 2014, hbr.org/2009/06/rethinking-trust.
  9. “Trust: Meaning & Definition for UK English,” Lexico Dictionaries | English, www.lexico.com/definition/trust.

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