Are you more inclined to initially distrust others than to trust them?

Trust is the ultimate outcome of investing in others. And, high character and competence are essential for realizing trust. Simply put, when it comes to relationships, trust matters. In fact, it’s essential. But, trust is not only a belief in someone, it’s also about putting that belief into action. Trust, to be fully realized, must be extended to others.

If you chart trust on a continuum, at one extreme there is distrust and suspicion. On the other side is blind trust and gullibility.

While occasionally, some of us teeter on either extreme, most of us land somewhere in the middle. But I have concluded, after watching and coaching people over the past few decades that the majority of relationship snags are rarely caused by people trusting too much; they are caused by people trusting too little.

There are many factors that contribute to people being distrustful of others:

We may have learned to be suspicious because of our family of origin.

Maybe our cultural and social conditioning gave us reasons to mistrust.

Certainly, what we read or watch can breed more fear than trust, and can work to shut down a natural trusting heart.

The most common reasons we mistrust is because of past negative experiences. It’s usually life’s emotional-trip-ups that cause us to withhold our trust.

A friend of mine, Kurt, was five years old and was in his backyard playing with a neighbor’s new dog. With the enthusiasm of a child his age, he pulled too hard on the dog’s collar, startling and hurting the dog. The dog lunged at Kurt and bit him on the face. Kurt was terrified and ran home screaming and bleeding. His mother rushed him to the emergency room where he was given fifteen stitches and he had a big bruise under his right eye. Due to that frightening, negative experience, Kurt adopted a strong belief: All dogs are dangerous and shouldn’t be trusted. From that time on, he avoided all dogs. And, even though his belief is not universally true, at 58 years old today, he still avoids eye-contact with a teacup poodle.

The Consequences of Not Extending Trust

How many of us have adopted similar beliefs, only with people? You may have done so, if you’ve been burned by a boss, business partner, or had a bad experience in a past relationship. Or, you got overwhelmed by listening to the constant stories in the news about corruption. Once we develop a suspicious worldview, especially if it originated in a strong emotional experience, we tend to look at everything through that lens. If we have been burned in the past, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion in the present that no one can be trusted. It can negatively color our perceptions when we meet someone new, and if the propensity notto trust runs deep, it may justify our ongoing disassociation and mistrust of them and their motives. Of course, maintaining an element of caution is vital to living safely and securely—living at either end of the trust continuum can make life difficult for ourselves and those around us.

How to Extend Trust

The best approach is always to start with a high propensity to trust, then follow it up with three quick assessments, which are a combination of using both your head and your heart:

Assess the situation:

First, identify and consider what you’re trusting the person to do: to deliver a weekly report to you on time? To win an important legal case? To sell software? To build a rocket? To honor and cherish you until “death do you part?”

Assess the risk:

Second, assess the potential risks: What happens if the person to whom you’ve extended trust fails, underperforms, gives up, gets distracted, or missteps? Are the stakes for failure high, or can you tolerate a learning curve? Be realistic and objective.

Assess the credibility:

Finally, assess the character and competence of the person to whom you’re extending trust. Do you trust them to be honest and follow through (character)? Do they have the experience or skillset necessary for the task at hand (competence)? If not, do they have the discipline and drive to grow into it?

Once you’ve made the three assessments, you can determine where your trust should fall on the trust continuum:

· If the risk is relatively low and the credibility of the person is high, by all means, extend trust

· If the risk is high and the credibility is low, you m ay need to slow down the process, modify your plan, and work with the person to increase his/her skills before you extend trust. In some cases, even when the credibility is solid, the risk may be too high to immediately extend trust.

The better we assess, the less likely we will misplace our trust. Extending trust is a matter of the head and the heart. While you start with a high propensity to trust, you must follow it up with a diligent assessment of the credibility of the person to determine whether or not to extend trust.

What to Do If Someone Won’t Extend Trust to You?

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you can’t prove yourself to someone who withholds trust. While you can’t change someone’s propensity to trust or distrust, you can certainly influence it. You can invite them to extend trust by proactively working to increase your own credibility – your character and competence.

Sometimes earning trust takes a dogged determination to prove your credibility one small step at a time. If you find yourself in such a situation, don’t be afraid to schedule a conversation with the individual from whom you want or need trust. Simply ask, “What do you need to see from me to earn your trust?” And while this may seem obvious, it’s often so obvious that we fail to do it. Once you’re clear on the other person’s expectations, follow through on modeling the identified behaviors and check in regularly. You can often earn someone’s trust if you’re willing to invest in the process.

In life, there is risk in everything. Even after thoroughly assessing, you can get burned by people to whom you’ve extended great trust. It’s happened to me on occasion and it hurts. But I still believe there’s so much more to be gained by extending trust to others and in becoming a person that is trustworthy. I believe that Stephen R. Covey said it best when he said, “Trust is the glue of life. . . It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”