I was deeply affected many years ago by a workshop of Stephen R. Covey, when he explained that trust can be thought of as a bank account. Here’s the concept:
- You build up trust by your reliable and generous actions, those are the “deposits.”
- You lose trust when you make a mistake and damage someone, those are the “withdrawals.” It’s much easier to make a withdrawal than a deposit.
- When you damage someone more than you’ve benefited them, you’ve exhausted your bank account. They won’t want to trust you anymore, and it’s extremely hard to dig yourself out of that hole.
- Like bank accounts, deep trust is developed over the course of many years. It’s impossible to create deep trust in a short time.
This is a powerful idea, and explains a lot about how people work.
When you’re building up trust with someone – your family, your boss, your colleagues, your friends – there are a number of questions you need to focus on:
- Who exactly am I building trust with?
- What do they value, both tangible (what I do) and intangible (how I do it)?
- What will they see of my actions, both directly and indirectly?
- What would quickly damage the trust?
- What will help ME to trust THEM?
One of the difficult parts about building trust is that it relies partially on perceptions and assumptions. That’s a primary source of making mistakes that damage trust: It’s not that you DID something bad, but that it APPEARS you couldn’t be trusted. That’s the best reason to make sure you’re consistent between your words, actions, and intentions. When people perceive inconsistency, they make lots of bad assumptions.
But how can you have that other person trust you when you don’t trust them?
Like any relationship, it’s based on gradual progress, step by step. You have to take a little bit of risk to trust the other person, and build things up over time. Step by step.
Trust is reciprocal, to a certain extent. I have to trust that my mechanic will do good work and be honest, and he needs to trust that I’ll pay in a timely manner. But the trust levels don’t have to be identical. That’s actually what gives it the freedom to grow over time.
And if you’re able to extend your trust just a little bit more, that will help others to more quickly learn to trust you.
by Carl Dierschow