What does it take for you to trust someone? How do you demonstrate that you are trustworthy? Here we discuss two trust questions which might help.

Webster defines trust as, “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.” What we know about trust is that it’s difficult to build and easy to break. According to research by Patrick Lencioni, it is the foundation of teamwork, because, without it, teams can’t have productive conflict, and won’t be able to focus on what’s most important. Trust is multidimensional and includes a variety of factors.

We’ve been working with teams and leaders for nearly 15 years and one of the most common issues we work on is trust. We’ve been collecting our clients’ definitions of trust and discovered a consistent and powerful phenomenon. Everyone’s answers boil down to two basic definitions that can be articulated in the form these two trust questions.

1. Can I count on you?

This trust question is most consistent with Webster’s definition. For these people, trust is built by being dependable and consistent. These people want to feel confident that you are prepared and on time, that you follow through and keep your commitments. Showing you have a backbone and stand firm on what you believe can be the icing on the cake. Conversely, trust can be broken if any of these conditions are not met.

2. Am I safe with you?

This trust question is rising in popularity as issues like psychological safety and inclusion are becoming an expectation in more and more workplaces. These people want to know that you care about them as a person, that if they open up or make a mistake you won’t judge them. It’s vital that they see you have a heart and will include and support them. You may be as dependable as the sunrise, but if they don’t experience interaction safety with you, they won’t trust you.

Personality correlates with how trust is experienced. Research using the Process Communication Model, a behavioural communication model of individual differences, suggests that 60% of the population builds trust through safety, while 40% builds trust through dependability.   Among executive leaders, the proportion shifts dramatically, with up to 85% preferring the question, “Can I count on you.”

Up to 85% of executive leaders prefer the trust question, ‘Can I count on you?’ Yet interaction safety is built by answering the question, ‘Am I safe with you?’

Trust and the Golden Rule

It’s only natural that we would earn trust in the same way we expect others to be trustworthy. That’s the Golden Rule. The danger is that we may be trying to earn trust with someone who is asking a different trust question than we are answering. Have you ever done your best to earn trust and it still didn’t work? Or, have you been surprised to find out that someone didn’t trust you? Even with our good intentions, our efforts may fall flat and do more harm than good if we are answering the wrong trust question.

Furthermore, this dynamic is magnified in environments where the majority of people share the same trust question. It’s easy to assume that “everyone trusts like we trust,” which can influence everything from mission statements to policies, to performance evaluations, to disciplinary action. Have you ever felt betrayed by someone not because they were untrustworthy, but because they answered the wrong trust question for you? The reverse is most likely also true.

Double Your Trust With These Behaviors

Anyone can double their trustworthiness and build a more trusting work culture by answering both trust questions.

To be a person whom others can count on, follow these tips

  • Be prepared and on time
  • Finish what you start
  • Keep others informed
  • Keep your commitments
  • Stand firm on what’s important

To be a person with whom others feel safe, follow these tips.

  • Show care and concern for people as human beings, no strings attached
  • Listen to people’s feelings without judging or minimizing
  • Forgive and help people learn from mistakes
  • Support people emotionally and psychologically
  • Open up with others about how you are feeling

How do I know?

You don’t have to leave it up to chance on who prefers which trust question. Here are some easily detectable character strengths that correspond to each one.

Can I count on you?

  • Logical
  • Responsible
  • Organised
  • Dedicated
  • Conscientious
  • Observant
  • Charming
  • Adaptable
  • Persuasive

Am I safe with you?

  • Compassionate
  • Sensitive
  • Warm
  • Spontaneous
  • Creative
  • Playful
  • Imaginative
  • Reflective
  • Calm

If you aren’t sure, you can always ask people and use this as a conversation to begin building trust.   The most trusting work environments are those where people behave in ways that positively answer both questions. Everyone wants to come to work where they know that safety and dependability are the norm.

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

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Nate Regier, Ph.D. is the CEO and founding owner of Next Element Consulting, a global leadership firm dedicated to bringing compassion into the workplace. Dr. Regier is a former practicing psychologist and expert in social-emotional intelligence, interpersonal communication and leadership. Recognized as a Top 100 keynote speaker. He is a Process Communication Model® certifying master trainer. Nate is the author of three books—Beyond Drama: Transcending Energy Vampires, Conflict Without Casualties: A Field Guide for Leading with Compassionate Accountability, and his newest book, Seeing People Through: Unleash Your Leadership Potential with The Process Communication Model. He hosts a podcast called OnCompassion with Dr. Nate, writes a weekly blog, contributes to multiple industry publications and blogs, and is a regular guest on podcasts.