Think about the best relationships you’ve ever had. What made them so great?

Good communication? Genuine affection and caring? Maybe you supported and helped one another? All of those qualities are related to the key ingredient in any successful relationship: Trust.

Trust is the fuel of great relationships. Without trust, the relationship isn’t going anywhere.

When you have trust in a relationship you know it. It’s obvious. You can feel it.

The other person:

  • Reaches out for your advice
  • Is more inclined to accept and act on your recommendations
  • Is more likely to treat you as you wish to be treated
  • Gives you the benefit of the doubt
  • Forgives you when you make a mistake
  • Respects your instincts and judgments

When trust is low it’s even more obvious.

We know who we trust, and who we don’t trust and that knowledge affects how we view the person and how we interact with them. If you lack trust in someone, you are less likely to take them at face value. You’ll question their intentions and motives. You’re more likely to imagine hidden agendas. You’ll waste more time and effort defending your position. You’ll likely be less open to new ideas. Trust affects everything about the relationship.

Most of the work people do in organizations today requires the ability to build and maintain trust. Whether you are a leader, a technical specialist, or an individual contributor you need to be able to establish strong relationships with your colleagues and customers. It doesn’t matter if you’re a scientist developing a new drug or a customer service agent interacting with a client, relationships matter.

With high trust, things go faster. Time is a key ingredient in cost. When things go faster, costs go down and profits go up. The ability to foster trust isn’t some “touchy-feely”, nice to have, soft skill. It’s a business requirement for anyone who aspires to leadership.  And it’s not only essential at the top. Trustworthy individual contributors are worth their weight in gold. Your ability to build – and maintain – trust is a key factor, not only in your personal life, but for your business and professional success as well. Lose the trust, lose the relationship. Lose the relationship, lose the business.

I worked on a development project, not long ago, that required coordination and collaboration between two different organizations. It ended up taking four times as long as it should have, because of a lack of trust. It felt as if everything I did had to be vetted. The simplest actions required review after review. We had countless conference calls to discuss minutia and trivial issues. The members of one of the company’s involved questioned the motives and intentions of the other members of the team. Participants from the second organization acted as if they believed that their counterparts didn’t know what they were doing. They seemed to question their competence. The whole project bogged down because of a lack of trust.

So, what makes someone trustworthy? It’s a complex human condition and there’s no simple answer. Trust can take time to develop and can evaporate in the blink of an eye. People choose to invest their trust in us – or they don’t. So in many ways, your trustworthiness rests in the hands of others. How do they perceive you? Their perceptions are their reality. We all live in our own personal universe.

Your trustworthiness starts internally and develops from the inside out. Aspects of your character drive your behavior. People see your behavior and make judgements about your motives and abilities based on what they see. They then choose to trust you – or not. There are three main drivers of their perceptions and judgements about your trustworthiness and a fourth factor that can enhance their overall impact:


People have to know you to trust you. They can’t know you through a façade. If you put up filters and walls, if you “mask up” before interacting with them, they can’t see the real you, and that will limit their ability to trust you.

Authenticity begins with self-knowledge.

  • Who are you?
  • What are your values?
  • What’s your purpose?
  • What do you stand for?

Self-awareness is only the start of being authentic. Your behaviors matter as well. Do you act in alignment with your values and purpose? Do they serve as an internal GPS guiding your actions? Or do you allow the external circumstances and situational ethics to drive your actions?

To be seen as authentic you have to know who you are at your core and you have to live your life in alignment with that self-knowledge. That may mean making decisions that go against your apparent self-interest to maintain that alignment. Authenticity – at its core – is about, are you who you say you are, and do other people see that alignment?


Authenticity is a prerequisite for trust but not sufficient in its own right. What’s your character? Do you subscribe to and live your life according to the principles that govern effective relationships and lead to trust? Are you:

  • Honest
  • Responsible
  • Fair
  • Respectful
  • Loyal
  • Humble
  • Empathetic
  • Kind
  • Courageous

I know those qualities look as if they’ve been taken out of the boy scout handbook, but they really matter. All of those principles have natural consequences for relationships.

If you are:

  • Honest you are seen as having integrity.
  • Responsible you are seen as dependable and predictable
  • Fair you are seen as impartial – without hidden agenda
  • Respectful you’re seen as unselfish
  • Loyal you’re likely to be seen as consistent and steadfast
  • Humble you are seen as open to new ideas and willing to admit mistakes
  • Empathetic you are seen as caring and understanding
  • Kind you are seen as benevolent
  • Courageous you are seen as willing to do the right thing even when its hard

Have you ever known someone who lacked some of those key qualities? Maybe they weren’t honest or loyal. Did you trust them? Probably not. These principles reside deep within our character. They are expressed through our behavior and they have a major impact on how we are seen by others You are not likely to trust someone who you believe is out to do you harm, or who you feel doesn’t care about you.  To build trust, others have to believe that you have a positive intent. That you have their interests in mind. If we demonstrate these principles, we are more likely to be seen as having a positive intent.


My wife and I have been married for 35 years. I see her as authentic and principled. But when it came time to repair the tendon in my elbow last week I didn’t trust her to perform the surgery. Why? Because she’s an elementary school teacher not an orthopedic surgeon. Competence is situational. Are you seen as having knowledge, skill and experience within the area that trust is required? Remember that trust is conferred upon us by others, so it’s their perceptions that really matter. You can have all the knowledge, skill and experience in the world but if it’s not recognized by the other person trust will suffer.

Think about a specific individual and a specific area within which you’d like more trust.

  • Do they recognize and value your technical skills?
  • Do they see you as knowledgeable & well-informed about the issue?
  • Do you have a history of sound judgment with them?
  • To what extent do you have a track record of prior success with them?

Those three main ingredients – Authenticity, Character and Competence are the three big keys to building trust with others. There is a fourth area that has an impact: Likability.

Think of likability as an enhancer. It’s not an essential ingredient, but it can multiply the impact of the big three. On its own, likability doesn’t ensure trust but when it’s paired with the three core ingredients it can dramatically improve credibility and trust. You can be Authentic, Principled and Competent but not very likable and still be situationally trusted, but if you want to deepen the trust and expand the relationship the other person has to like you.

Authenticity, Character and Competence, along with Likability show up day-to-day in our behaviors. To build and maintain trust with the people who matter to you:

  • Be transparent – Make your intentions explicit
  • Let other people see the real you; let your guard down
  • Share information freely – personal(appropriately) as well as professional
  • Do what you say you will do; Be reliable
  • Don’t promise something that you can’t deliver
  • Develop clear expectations
  • Make the other person feel heard
  • When you’ve made a mistake or somehow violated trust apologize sincerely and deeply
  • Forgive others when they’ve made a mistake

Living those simple nine behaviors will do wonders for your relationships. Trust me.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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