Ultimate Action Plan: Building and Learning How to Trust
(I tried to make this short. I put in links that better explain certain sections as you go if you need it)
Foreground: Working Off Their Road Map
Why is Trust Important
Seek to understand more than you want to be understood
Instant and Continuous Communication
Be Transparent Even When It's Difficult
Vulnerability is Everything
How to Trust Again
Look Within - Is there a Reason?
Don’t Discount Your Feelings
It really comes down to decisions.
There is a lot of content on the internet that talks about trust. Not saying they have bad content. They just usually don’t have any real action plans as to how to accomplish anything in terms of what they are talking about. This is not one of those. This was written with the intention of informing you about actions and practices that you can do to improve the trust in your relationships. This article is mostly directed at intimate relationships, but it can be implemented in a friendly, family, or professional relationship as well. The good news about building a trusting relationship is that it makes every other aspect of it better. Trust is one of the pillars of a great partnership. With a strong pillar, it can support all else that comes with it.
Once again, no fluff. This is about action. This is to get you from A to B. No tips and TRICKS. No tricks. This is for building real trust. Many places tell you nifty mental tricks to perform to get people to feel a sense of trust with you. Never stop smiling. Unwavering eye contact. Use profanity. While these aren’t inherently bad actions, they are not the path to a real trusting relationship and not the focus.
At times, you will be asked important questions. These questions will yield important answers that will be the actions you need to take. Do not run from the actions that will make you uncomfortable. Don’t think, “Well, I can just do this instead so it’s not so awkward, confrontational, intense, etc”. Just remember to go into it with good intention. Don’t fool yourself away from what will benefit you and others the most. This is to cut out the needless worry and stress we put ourselves and others through. This is to improve your life through meaningful interaction. This is to improve others lives, as they now get to have you to trust.
If you want to get the most, or anything at all, from this article, then participate. Take action. Do what is asked or at least a version of it that you can agree with. Don’t do nothing thinking that you have gained by the knowledge alone. Knowledge is useless without action. Worse yet, don’t read this to affirm any negative assumptions, misconceptions, or your “side” of an argument. This will not do that. This is to simply show you the actionable steps to build trust in any relationship. Let’s get started.
2. Foreground: Working Off Their Road Map
“The map is not the territory, the word is not the thing it describes. Whenever the map is confused with the territory, a ‘semantic disturbance’ is set up in the organism. The disturbance continues until the limitations of the map is recognized ” - Alfred Korzybski
Alfred Korzybski was a Polish-American scholar who developed a field called general semantics. He was best known for his statement that “ the map is not the territory”. This idea has also been used before by many others including Alan Watts when he says, “the menu is not the meal”. This notion is now used as one of the founding principles behind Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP).
This is going to be a big theme throughout. The analogy goes like this. When we make a map of an area, we do our best to make the map as identical to the land (or territory) as possible. It's not a good map unless it relays the territory well. We try, but we can never get every single detail on the map. We record what we see as important at the time. We leave details out. We generalize. We make mistakes. We make mistakes more often than we might think. We keep these maps with us when we want to reference or think back to the land. We are not actually thinking of the land, we are thinking of our map. That is our guide. Plus, we all make our own maps. While our maps might be similar, they are never really the same. Yes, the maps are based on the same exact thing, but we all make ours a little different. -- It would be the same thing if two people were making a portrait for someone. They are looking at the same person at the same time, but each portrait comes out a bit or a lot different. -- When we’re referencing the land, we don’t actually talk about the land. We talk about the map because that is what we know. Problems arise when we confuse the map for the actual territory. The problem is when we believe that our map is perfect or forget that we are using a map at all. We must recognize that our maps are not the territory. Our perception of reality is not really reality. Our assumptions may, and are very often, wrong. The way we perceive the world is not really how the world is. The way we perceive love is not exactly right. The way we view one another can very well be a misinformed representation.
We must remember that everyone else is just using their own map as well. We all make our maps to the best of our abilities with the experiences that we have of the land, and we all have widely different experiences of the land. No one ever tries to make a bad map.
At this point, you realize that the land represents reality, how things are. The map is our interpretation of reality. The best thing we can do is recognize that we are all working from our ‘maps’, our representation of reality. That, of course, dictates how we drive the car.
The harm assumptions can do to you and a relationship.
To build trust, we must realize that we are working off their road map.
It doesn't matter if you are the most trustworthy, honest person on the planet. If they don’t see it that way, then there is no trust. There is nothing to be taken personally when someone doesn’t trust you. The information on their map just tells them to be cautious, and they probably have a good reason for that. Something in the past has happened to them that was of enough significance for them to record that happening and make it a part of their understanding of the world.
Never discredit someone else’s map. It is too easy for someone on the outside to say things like, “that's not a big deal” or “ you are overreacting”. Without getting too deep into it (if you want to get deep into it), the point is that it matters to them. It is a big deal to them. They don’t think they are overreacting. Everything in their past and their understanding of the present logically points toward their conclusion.
We must come to understand their road map of us and everything that affects their relationship with us.
We do this by asking questions aimed to understand, not to interrogate.
If you get mad at the answer to a question, game over. You can't be mad at how they understand the world, no matter how wrong you think it is. The simple truth is that to them, it is very logical. It makes complete sense to them. If you truly want to change someone’s perception, you must deeply understand how they could believe the notion that confuses you.
If you think, “How on earth could you think that?!”, then you haven’t asked enough genuine questions and don’t fully understand.
When we fully and truly understand their roadmap, their beliefs, their fears, their view of the world, their view of you and your actions, you will realize there really aren’t any sides. There are no arguments. There is just understanding. All arguments really just stem from 2 maps claiming to be the territory.
Mainly, really try to remember there is no reason to take anything personally. Their beliefs about you are not attacks at your character. They are just their effort to make sense of the world around them. They have a certain understanding of the world that predates you. You might fit the bill of someone they feel like they can’t trust. This is no one’s fault (Don’t play the Blame Game). It is an opportunity to expand someone’s horizons and teach them something new, which in this case is that you can be trusted despite previous misconceptions. (Sorry for driving in that point so much, it is really a huge asset of knowledge).
3. Why is Trust Important
“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don't grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.” ― Alan Wilson Watts
For the Trustor, if you can’t decide whether or not to trust someone,
a relationship without trust is torture. It is a constant guessing game of trying to know their intentions without asking. It chews up your thoughts and makes you go crazy. The only person with the answers you want is the person in question. Plus, even if you asked them, you wouldn’t fully believe them. You are caught in a catch-22, and you need to make a decision. Trust or don’t trust.
Of course, there are different levels of trust, but the main point is to find a level of trust with a person that you are able to rest on. You need to come to a conclusion on how much you will trust someone even if you might be wrong and might get hurt. The sharp pain of being wrong is far better than the lasting pain of constant doubt and overthinking. You learn from that sharp pain of being hurt, but the lasting paranoia does you no good and eats away at you. You must pick a level of trust that you are able to stop overanalyzing and let your mind go on with its business or you will be consumed with assumptions, paranoia, over-reactivity, and hypersensitivity.
“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
― Ernest Hemingway
Do take note though. You may not require a deeply intimate level of trust with a friend or coworker, but what about in a significant other? This is where your ability to trust is really tested. You trust them with your dream and ambitions as well and your shortcomings and fears. How do you figure out if you can trust them? You figure out if you can trust someone but trusting them. Once you let your guard down, you will figure out if you can trust your partner soon after. The risk is you might get hurt, but the risk of not trusting them is never knowing if you could have in the first place. You might have the perfect partner for yourself, but if you never give them your trust you will never find that out.
4. Seek to understand more than you want to be understood
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” – Peter Drucker
“When people talk listen completely. Most people never listen.”- Ernest Hemingway
The concept plays off the roadmap from earlier. While you might be a trustworthy person, someone still might hold reservations against you. In this case, this is why it's more important to seek to understand their reservations more than just trying to refute, negate, or belittle them. Remember that everything that stops them from trusting you makes total sense to them due to their past experiences.
Obviously, if you do have the best intentions and they don’t trust you, one of two things is happening. Either:
you exhibit a trait of someone they choose not to trust, or
you don’t exhibit a trait of someone they do trust.
When you fully begin to understand their point of view, you will be able to empathize with it. It turns from “How could you think that?” to “Oh, I can see why this could be hard for you”. When you empathize rather than sympathize with their point of view, you can constructively help them come to an understanding of how to escape their own mental traps and inability to trust. I’ve highlighted this point before in Why the Rich go to Rehab, think of it like this.
Your friend is stuck in a 12 ft deep hole and you are standing at the top of it. It doesn't make sense to say things like “It’s not that big of a deal, it’s not that deep, it’s not that hard to get out” if you are not and have not been in the hole yourself. You can’t see the true obstacle of the hole from your point of view. Now, if you were in the hole with them, you’d be able to see it from their point of view. You’d see aspects of the hole that you couldn’t see before. You’d be more equipped to help them out of the hole when you work on it with them rather than directing them from the top. This is the difference between understanding/empathizing and sympathizing/directing.
5. Instant and Continuous Communication
“Communication works for those who work at it.” – John Powell
Don’t let the wound fester.
Trust is an ongoing task. It starts out hard and gets easier as you go (as long as you keep up with it). If you want to make trust easier and stop any needless stress altogether, you must start using instant communication. When something happens that triggers you to doubt someone’s intentions, you must ask them about it as soon as possible. The longer you wait to talk about your thoughts, the longer the wound festers.
When you get wounded, you treat the wound as soon as possible. The longer you wait to treat the wound, the harder it becomes as the wound gets infected. Just as the wound, your thoughts become infected if you let these unanswered questions go unresolved. It becomes harder to resolve these problems the longer you wait to talk about them. Our minds wander and we assume the worst. Talk to the person in question, as they are the only one with the answers you seek.
Keep in mind that this does not mean to talk to them while emotions are still high. You can definitely take some time to cool down and maybe seek advice before the confrontation. If you storm into a conversation full of accusations, even the most innocent person will get defensive. Seek to understand, not to throw accusations.
6. Establish Self-Congruency
Words and actions must match up
There are two sides to establishing self-congruency.
Part 1: Predictability and Reliability
The first one is the obvious one. When you tell someone that you are going to do something, then do it. Of course, if you make a promise you need to fulfill it, but it's more than that. I’m talking about just the normal things that come out of your mouth on a regular basis. “I’ll be there at 10:00”, “Let’s watch a movie tonight”, “No coffee for me this week”, “I’ll pick it up on the way home”. These are not necessarily promises. In fact, they are very casual. You might not think they are that important, but they are. They add up. The thing is, a very large aspect of trust is a level of reliability and predictability. First, you can’t be reliable if you are not predictably reliable. Being unpredictably reliable is basically an oxymoron. Reliability requires consistently performing when you say you will. In terms of predictability, this is not a negative predictability that means boring or over-done. This predictability is more about credibility. When you always do what you say you will do, even in a minor sense, people notice. Their subconscious starts to build a profile of you.
Have you heard of the Answer or Die question? Basically, you have a gun to your head and a cell phone in your hand. You have one call. It has to be to someone you know (not the police, not customer helplines, etc). If they answer, you live. If they don’t answer... BANG. Who do you call? You might have to think for a second, but you probably have at least one person who, unless they are fighting a bear, will answer the call. That is a profile of predictability, and it's a very good thing. It gives people reassurance that you keep promises, are true to your word, and is an overall quality of a good person. Not to say you are a bad person if you mess up sometimes, but being reliable to others is a huge deal for them. It's always nice to have someone you know will show up. This is different from being honest (while honesty is still important). When you make a promise, you might be honest when you make it and still fall short. This is about delivering and doing it effectively.
Part 2: Inner Congruency & Personal Integrity
You might not think this is important in developing trust with another person, but it is vital. You have to be able to trust yourself. If you can’t trust yourself, it will affect the trust you have with others.
“I don't trust people who don't love themselves and tell me, 'I love you.' ... There is an African saying which is: Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.” ― Maya Angelou
In The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden, it outlines the importance of personal integrity. To keep your integrity, there are moral boundaries that you cannot break for the sake of your own self-image. Now, these are the rules that are important to you. If you go to a strict school with tons of rules you need to follow, we are not talking about those. We are talking about the rules that, if broken, degrade your own image of yourself as a human being. If followed, they give you a high moral image of yourself that definitely manifests itself in all your relationships.
Let’s pretend you have the opportunity to do something you consider immoral, and you know you will not get caught. You can steal from the register, cheat on your significant other, lie about a wrong deed. You can do the immoral deed, but now you are a thief, a cheater, a lier. You will never get caught, but now you know that about yourself. You know what you are capable of. If these seem a little intense, its because it is a really good warning. You have to live with yourself more than anyone else. Be a good roommate.
When you uphold a high moral backing for your inner self, you begin to know your worth. You begin to know that you are worthy of trust, and that shows. People see that.
At least try your best to do it, your real best. If you tell someone you will show up to their party and your car breaks down, you break your ankle, and catch pneumonia while trying to walk in the rain to make it.
7. Be Transparent Even When It's Difficult
“You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.” ― Abraham Lincoln
Being kept in the dark is worse than knowing a harsh truth. This is especially true when someone knows there is an issue but can’t figure out what.
First: Unless you are dealing with people who don’t really know you all too well, it is extremely difficult to cover up your emotions when something is wrong. Really, I mean near impossible unless you have God-given actin capabilities. It shows in your attitude, face, body language, tone, etc.. You most always have a tell. Even if you are great at hiding your emotions, you really have to think about if all the energy used doing that is worth it. It will wear on you, and I’m assuming you have better things you could focus on. “It Isn't the Mountain Ahead That Wears You Out; It Is the Grain of Sand in Your Shoe.” -Muhammad Ali. Even when they don’t say, they most often know.
Second: It’s hard for people to just drop unanswered questions, especially when the question involves someone close to them. If they aren’t told the real answer, they will make up their own to settle the matter in their own head. You have to ask yourself: Do you want them to have the real answer to what is going on or something possibly worse that they made up? Haven’t we all at some point assumed the worst when left in the dark?
Take a note from K.I.S.S. and Keep It Simple Stupid. Tell them the deal. Even if it hurts, it is a step in the positive direction. Progress often requires some painful decisions.
Importance and Logic Behind Honesty
Being honest with others and yourself is plain and simple more beneficial for you. Forget the morality in it. It is better for you and your future. If you lie about breaking the law and get away with it, it will probably make you more inclined to do it again. If you are in a relationship where you feel the need to cheat, you are hurting you and your partner by not allowing both of you to find a partner that will make you truly happy. If you steal from your mom’s purse, it will only prevent you from spending your time finding a way to make more money honestly since you have a different source. The lying and dishonesty satiate the desire to actually make good changes in your life. If you lie, it only perpetuates you down the path of most resistance to true happiness. (I hope this explains it well. If not, the link is in the title to this section).
8. Vulnerability is Everything
One definition of trust is feeling safe when you are vulnerable with someone.
A great first step in gaining the trust of another is to trust them yourself. You trusting someone doesn't open the relationship to 100%. Think of it as those hotel rooms that have another room attached to them with two doors separating the two. Both doors have to be open to see each other. Each person can only control their own door. If you try to kick down your neighbor’s door, they will probably start to panic. But you can definitely knock.
Vulnerability is required in achieving any sort of accomplishment or task. Whether it is starting a business, getting married, or learning how to surf. You make yourself available to get hurt in all these areas, but you have to in order to get them done. Usually, the more vulnerable the task requires you to be, the bigger the payout.
Think about Elon Musk starting Space X. He invested almost every penny he had into that company with the desire to send something to Mars. He was broke. That is one level of vulnerability. Next, he wasn’t starting an advertising agency or car dealership. He was sending rockets that he got from Russians to space. He combined one of the most difficult subjects to learn with the most unpredictable thing that exists (Space). Musk made himself vulnerable to the will of space. Now, he is worth $22 billion. It is a matter of risk and reward. There is always something you have to risk in order to achieve anything, even if it is just opportunity loss.
9. How to Trust Again
If you are trying to build up trust again after losing it, that is really tough. Anywhere that tells you there is an easier trick is really discounting the gravity of the situation. Real trust does not have a fast track, especially once it's been broken. I told you there wasn’t going to be any sugar coating in this article. If you can accept that and are willing to do the work, then keep reading.
There are prerequisites for building back this trust. For starters, the person has to want to trust you again. It’s as simple as that. If they have no desire to trust you or keep you around anymore, then there isn’t a whole lot you can do.
If they don’t want to trust you again
What is happening: when trust is betrayed or seemingly betrayed, it hurts. It especially hurts in an intimate relationship. It sometimes hurts to the point that the person doesn’t want to risk feeling that kind of pain again. Since you may have caused that pain, they shut themselves off to you. They put up a guard. They close their vulnerability to you. They close their door to you. It is a very common defense mechanism. While it is important to be vulnerable in areas of your life that require you to be vulnerable to succeed in, we shut ourselves down to what we see to be not worth it. We make ourselves vulnerable in a relationship on the bet that it will pay out in lifelong companionship, mutual lucrative gain, friendship, or just a general give and take. If one is convinced that the other can’t hold up their side of the deal, it is often difficult to remain open to that transaction. For example, you find out your business partner is stealing money from you. There is a good chance that you won’t want to do more business with them, even with all the contracts and legal consequences for bad behavior imaginable. It would always seem like they are thinking of ways to do it again. If you give someone $5 for a sandwich, and they don’t give you a sandwich, then you probably won’t want to give them another $5 in the hopes of another sandwich.
“I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche
Yes, this is an over-simplification, but I’m hoping it gives you an idea of the problem. With a significant other: it is not $5. It is your love, trust, faithfulness, honesty, etc.. It is not a missing sandwich. It is betrayal, cheating, lying, or at least the perception of these things (playing off the other person’s map). Only if one is capable of proving that they are capable and willing of upholding their side of the deal will the trust start to be rebuilt.
Also, this does not include charitable interactions. When you do something for someone without expecting anything, they really can’t hurt you. Win-win.
10. Look Within - Is there a Reason?
When you are finding it really hard to trust someone even though they aren’t giving any real signs of being unworthy of that trust, there are some questions you need to ask yourself.
Are there any scars?
Are you taking your experience from past relationships and having them affect your mentality about new ones? Has something happened to you in the past that makes you have negative over-generalizations about those who you want to start new relationships with?
It is very understandable to be aware that some people don’t have your best intentions in mind. If someone has hurt you in the past, it is very easy to have the “never again” mentality toward any other relationships in the future. The problem with closing yourself off from the bad is that it also closes you off from the good. When you put up your walls, no one gets in. Everyone new becomes a new suspicion rather than a new opportunity.
“All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.”― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
When you are constantly suspicious of another, it is too easy to get caught up looking for some sort of proof that either verifies or negates that suspicion. Trust requires a level of belief with no real proof of that truth. If you can’t let the past go to some degree in order to have faith or the benefit of the doubt in the other person, it will be constant torture for you. You will never be able to enjoy that relationship fully. Know that this is not saying to trust blindly. If there is really something objectively wrong with a relationship, then don’t discount it. It is just important to check if it is a real issue or you getting in your own way.
So ask yourself: Do I have a real reason to suspect something, or am I being paranoid due to past experiences?
Are you ready?
Are you ready for another relationship? Are you willing to trust again with the chance of getting hurt?
If you are still holding onto the past and are unwilling to give trust again, it will show. It will manifest in your actions and attitude in the relationship. Remember the door situation? Imagine having your door wide open, but you are looking at their door that is cracked open a quarter of the way.
Learn from the past. Take notes. Learn the signs that led to the negative outcome that may have happened, but let go of the pain. If you carry the pain with you, you will dump that pain right into the next relationship. This is not to say that the past will stop hurting. This is saying not to bring it into your next relationship. If you are not able to do that yet, it might be a good question to ask.
If you were cooking with your shirt off and got burned, it is good to learn from that. Next time, put a shirt on. That doesn't affect your ability to cook. However, if you renounce hot water for burning you and vow to only cook with cold water from not on, that won’t really work. You need hot water to cook, just like you need vulnerability to trust.
11. Don’t Discount Your Feelings
Many times in these situations, we think it is necessary to push feelings aside and think solely based on logic. While it is very helpful to look at a situation objectively with reason, we can’t throw our feelings about a situation totally away.
First: I am in no means discounting logic. It’s just that it is easy for any of us to confuse our feelings with facts and act based on impulse and instinct. We are not cavemen, things are more complicated now. We must:
Analyze it logically to get simple facts.
See how those facts make us feel
“Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within everybody's power and is not easy.” - Aristotle
It is easy to get caught up in our heads and emotions about a situation. When that happens, we might be having strong emotions about things that don’t make sense, are not relevant, or do not matter. Make sure what you are feeling is applicable and justified.
If you end up having more emotions stirring around after you have broken down the situation, ask why. Be very honest with yourself as to why you feel a certain way. You would be surprised how many emotions toward a subject have roots that are totally unrelated to that situation.
12. It really comes down to decisions.
“It is more shameful to distrust our friends than to be deceived by them.” ― Confucius
You both have to make that decision very often, but it is still just a decision.
“Am I going to trust them?”
Every time something happens that raises triggers you emotionally, every time you talk to them, every time you get that feeling, you have to answer the question: Am I going to trust them?
With all that’s been said, ask yourself that. Do I have a reason not to? Am I bringing in old pains? Are these feelings truly justified? - Am I going to trust them? The more you say yes to that, especially when it is difficult to internally, the easier it gets. Trust isn’t obvious. It is not proven. A lot of it is faith. Do remember that you can ask for help. You can get advice from so many places, but ultimately you still have to make the decision. Trust yourself to do that.