Learning to trust

By Rosie Walford

We seldom give thought of how trust is built, repaired or maintained.

Leadership consultant Rosie Walford advises that trust is built, repaired and maintained after assessing the four elements: Sincerity, reliability, competence and care. Photo / Thinkstock
Leadership consultant Rosie Walford advises that trust is built, repaired and maintained after assessing the four elements: Sincerity, reliability, competence and care. Photo / Thinkstock

When I trust someone I'll believe what they say, share what I have, and reveal my dimmest truths. I'll even give them my keys. I anticipate - and then receive - safety, acceptance and generosity at every turn. But where trust is missing, I find myself withholding ideas, information, material goodies, and affection itself. Everything is tight, suspicious and thoroughly unpleasant.

Trust is the intangible which makes the world go round or go wrong. It can't be bought and can only be given. It's a precondition for success and creativity at work, at home and beyond. And yet we seldom consider how it is built, repaired and maintained.

In my training as a coach I learnt the Newfield model of trust. They hold that trust isn't one big sweeping appraisal - though it feels like one.

If I trust you, it's actually based on four elements of risk assessment about you: "Sincerity" is the assessment that you say what you mean, mean what you say, and act accordingly. "Reliability" is the assessment you keep the specific promises you make.

"Competence" is the assessment you have the capacity necessary to do what you are doing or propose to do. And "Care" is the assessment that you have my interests in mind as well as your own when you make decisions and take action.

This risk assessment is mostly conducted below the level of conscious awareness. Sometimes it's based on what we've observed directly, sometimes what we've heard from others, and least reliably of all - from what we believe about "that kind of person". It ends up being an amorphous, but powerful gut feeling.

I'm a great one for following our instincts. But sometimes we confuse liking or lust with trust. Can we make the trusting process a little more conscious when we need to? Yes. We can use the four assessments to see why we trust or distrust others, and to choose how to act. Of course it may be that we trust someone to water our plants but not borrow our home. What's happening there?

To entrust is a decision to make something we value vulnerable to another person. And that something we value can take many forms. At work, for example, we are concerned about our reputation. With my house, it's privacy and the survival of some unique fragile antiques. If we find ourselves distrusting someone, we have to ask ourselves "What is it I value that I'm trying to protect?"

It's then interesting to view those precious assets in the light of the other person's reliability, competence, sincerity, and so on.

Quite often I find that my unconscious risk assessments are flawed, or irrelevant or that I'm responsible for more than half a potential problem myself. And what's more, my defensive behaviour to protect what I value probably looked deeply untrustworthy to others and brought ungenerous behaviours my way.

More than once when I - or clients - have taken stock, we've been able to initiate a wholly different conversation with the other person. We've agreed on safe specific behaviours and rebuilt trust.

If we've done something less than brilliant, we often sneakily hide it, blame others, and think we've got away with it. But trust will be lost. And even if nothing is openly said when trust is damaged, it's likely that we won't be easily trusted again.

Don't let this happen! Much better to come clean, accept responsibility for personal failure, and name how we will handle similar issues in future. That's a trustworthy stance.

In fact a small disappointment, well handled, can actually build trust.

If we fail in a relatively unimportant way, then show our colours in our recovery, the message sent is that we are responsible and aware, even if a mistake was made.

In being trustworthy we can start to trust and like ourselves. If we seek to trust others wisely, and communicate what's important, our trusting nature will be frequently confirmed by sound behaviours, respect and reciprocity from others.

Thus, our instincts - and wider trust in the world - are honed.

* Rosie Walford is a coach, leadership consultant and cultural change innovator who coaches individuals and leaders to make good choices even in chaotic situations, through The Big Stretch. The Big Stretch uses a wide spectrum of creative thinking techniques and the mind-shifting power of nature to focus people on meaningful, integrated paths of action. She's running a weekend retreat at Te Moata, Coromandel, from April 15-17. info@temoata.org or ph (07) 868 8798.

- NZ Herald

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