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.

The Definition of Trust

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 of 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 standing 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 and that if they open up or make a mistake you won’t judge them. They must 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.

Be Prepared and On Time

Building trust begins with being reliable, and one of the fundamental ways to demonstrate reliability is through punctuality and preparedness. When you consistently arrive on time and are well-prepared for your commitments, it sends a clear message of respect and professionalism. This behaviour is crucial in both personal and professional settings, as it shows that you value other people’s time and efforts. Being prepared and on time also reflects your ability to manage your responsibilities effectively, which is a key aspect of trustworthiness. It’s about making a habit of checking your schedule, planning, and being ready to engage fully in whatever task or meeting is at hand. Over time, this consistency in punctuality and preparedness will solidify your reputation as someone dependable and trustworthy.

Finish What You Start

Completing tasks and projects that you’ve begun is a vital part of building trust. It demonstrates your commitment to your word and your ability to follow through. When you finish what you start, you prove that you are not just a talker but a doer. This behaviour is essential in building trust because it reassures others that you can be counted on to meet your obligations and responsibilities. Incomplete tasks can lead to frustration and undermine others’ confidence in your abilities. Therefore, focus on setting realistic goals and managing your time effectively to ensure that you can complete your commitments. Remember, finishing what you start is not just about the result, but also about the journey of maintaining focus, overcoming challenges, and demonstrating resilience.

Keep Others Informed

Effective communication is a cornerstone of building trust. Keeping others informed about the progress of projects, changes in plans, or any other relevant information is crucial in maintaining transparency. When you proactively share information, it helps to build a sense of partnership and collaboration. It shows that you respect others’ involvement and their need to be in the loop. This practice also prevents misunderstandings and reduces uncertainty, which can erode trust. Remember, keeping others informed isn’t just about sharing positive news; it’s also about being honest about challenges or setbacks. This level of honesty and openness is what truly builds enduring trust.

Keep Your Commitments

Upholding your commitments is essential for building trust. When you keep your promises, you show that you are a person of integrity and that others can depend on you. This aspect of trust-building is about aligning your words with your actions. It’s easy to make promises, but the real test of trustworthiness comes in fulfilling them. Whether it’s meeting a deadline, upholding a promise to a friend, or following through on a professional obligation, keeping your commitments demonstrates that you are reliable and responsible. It also shows that you take your responsibilities seriously and understand the importance of trust in maintaining healthy, productive relationships.

Stand Firm on What’s Important

Building trust also involves having the courage to stand firm on your principles and values, especially in challenging situations. When you stand firm on what’s important, it shows that you have a strong character and a clear moral compass. This trait is crucial in earning respect and trust from others. It means not compromising on your core beliefs and standards, even when it’s inconvenient or unpopular. However, standing firm does not mean being rigid or inflexible. It’s about being consistent in your values while also being open to understanding and respecting differing viewpoints. In essence, it’s about striking a balance between maintaining your integrity and being empathetic towards others.

Show Care and Concern for People

One of the most effective ways to build trust is by genuinely caring for others. Showing concern for people as human beings, with no strings attached, creates a sense of safety and belonging. This approach goes beyond superficial interactions and focuses on building deep, meaningful connections. When people feel that you genuinely care about their well-being, they are more likely to trust you. This involves being empathetic, understanding, and supportive in your interactions. Whether it’s lending an ear to someone’s problems, offering help without expecting anything in return, or simply being there for someone, showing genuine care and concern lays a strong foundation for trust.

Listen to People’s Feelings

Listening to people’s feelings without judging or minimizing them is a powerful way to build trust. Active listening shows that you value what others have to say and that you are open to understanding their perspectives and emotions. It’s about giving people the space to express themselves freely and acknowledging their feelings. This approach helps in creating an environment where people feel safe and understood. When you listen empathetically, you foster a sense of validation and acceptance, which are critical components of trust. Remember, listening is not just about hearing the words but also about understanding the emotions and intentions behind them.

Forgive and Help People Learn from Mistakes

Forgiveness is a key element in building trust, as it fosters a culture of growth and learning. Helping people learn from their mistakes, rather than holding them against them, creates an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect. It shows that you value personal development and understand that mistakes are a part of the learning process. By forgiving and supporting others in their journey of improvement, you encourage honesty and openness. This approach not only helps in building trust but also strengthens relationships, as it is based on understanding and compassion.

Support People Emotionally and Psychologically

Providing emotional and psychological support is essential in building trust. It involves being there for others during their times of need and offering a shoulder to lean on. This type of support can take many forms, such as offering encouraging words, being a sounding board for ideas, or simply being present during difficult times. By being a consistent source of support, you demonstrate that you are dependable and that others can trust you with their vulnerabilities. This level of emotional and psychological support is crucial in deepening relationships and fostering a sense of security and trust.

Open Up With Others About How You Are Feeling

Finally, building trust requires vulnerability, and a great way to demonstrate this is by opening up about your feelings. Sharing your thoughts, emotions, and experiences with others invites them to understand you better and builds empathy. This act of openness creates a reciprocal environment where others feel comfortable sharing their feelings. By being transparent about your emotions, you break down barriers and foster a deeper level of trust. It shows that you are human, relatable, and approachable, making it easier for others to connect with you on a more personal and trustworthy level.

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 people approach situations and decisions with reason and clarity. They analyze facts before forming judgments or making promises, ensuring that their commitments are well-thought-out and realistic. This rational approach assures others that their decisions and actions are based on sound reasoning, which is a fundamental aspect of trustworthiness.


Responsibility is a hallmark of trustworthiness. Responsible individuals take ownership of their actions and the consequences that follow. Dependable in fulfilling their duties and obligations, they build confidence in their ability to handle important tasks and decisions, demonstrating a strong sense of accountability.


Organization is crucial in being trustworthy. Organized individuals manage their time and resources effectively, ensuring that they meet their commitments. This trait demonstrates that they can handle complex tasks, keep their promises, and deliver results as expected, showcasing their reliability and efficiency.


Dedication is evident in trustworthy people through their commitment and perseverance. They show a consistent pattern of effort and determination towards their goals and values, reassuring others that they can be relied upon to see things through, even in challenging circumstances.


Conscientiousness is closely tied to trustworthiness. Conscientious individuals are careful, diligent, and thorough in their actions. They consider the impact of their actions on others and pay attention to details, signifying a deep sense of responsibility and ethical standards.


Being observant is a key characteristic of trustworthiness. Observant individuals are aware of the details in their environment and the needs of others, allowing them to anticipate and respond effectively to various situations, enhancing their reliability and perceptiveness.


Charm contributes to trustworthiness by facilitating positive and engaging interactions. Charming individuals connect with others easily, build rapport, and create a positive atmosphere. This trait helps in gaining trust through empathetic and engaging interactions.


Adaptability is essential in a trustworthy person. Adaptable individuals can adjust to new conditions and challenges effectively, demonstrating flexibility in their thinking and actions. This flexibility reassures others that they can handle unforeseen situations with competence and resilience.


Being persuasive is part of being trustworthy. Persuasive individuals effectively communicate their ideas and convince others of their viewpoints. Their persuasion is based on honest and transparent communication, reinforcing trust by ensuring that their intentions and messages are clear and sincere.

In summary, a trustworthy individual is someone who embodies these characteristics, creating a reliable, credible, and dependable persona that others can confidently rely on.

Am I Safe With You?


Compassionate individuals show a deep understanding and empathy for the feelings and sufferings of others. Their ability to relate and respond to others with kindness and care creates a safe and nurturing environment. This trait is crucial in building trust as it assures others that they will be met with understanding and support in times of need.


Sensitivity involves being aware of and responsive to the feelings and circumstances of others. Sensitive people can perceive and react to the emotional states of others, making them approachable and trustworthy. Their ability to recognize and respond to the needs of others creates a sense of safety and comfort in relationships.


Warmth in a person’s demeanour generates a welcoming and friendly atmosphere. This characteristic is characterized by kindness, approachability, and a genuine interest in others. Warm individuals create an environment of comfort and safety, encouraging open and heartfelt interactions.


Spontaneity refers to the ability to act on impulse or without premeditation, in a natural and uninhibited manner. Spontaneous people often bring a sense of excitement and unpredictability, which can make interactions with them feel more authentic and engaging. This trait can contribute to a sense of safety by breaking down barriers and encouraging genuine connections.


Creativity is not just about artistic talent; it’s also about finding innovative solutions to problems and approaching situations in unique ways. Creative individuals bring a fresh perspective and are often open to new ideas and experiences. Their creative approach can foster a dynamic and stimulating environment where people feel safe to express themselves and explore new possibilities.


Playfulness is a trait that manifests in light-heartedness and a sense of fun. Playful individuals often have a positive and uplifting energy, making them enjoyable to be around. This characteristic can create a relaxed and safe space where others feel free to let down their guard and enjoy the moment.


Being imaginative involves having a rich and active imagination. Imaginative people can think beyond the conventional, envisioning possibilities and ideas that others might not see. This trait can contribute to a sense of safety by encouraging open-mindedness and a willingness to explore new ideas and perspectives.


Reflective individuals think deeply about their experiences and actions. This introspective quality allows them to understand themselves and others on a deeper level, fostering empathy and insight. Their reflective nature often leads to thoughtful and meaningful interactions, which can enhance feelings of safety and trust.


Calmness is a quality of being peaceful and untroubled. Calm individuals have a soothing presence, which can be particularly reassuring in stressful or challenging situations. Their ability to maintain composure and offer level-headed support makes others feel safe and grounded in their presence.

In summary, individuals who are compassionate, sensitive, warm, spontaneous, creative, playful, imaginative, reflective, and calm create an environment where others feel safe and cared for. These traits collectively contribute to a nurturing and supportive atmosphere, essential for building trust and security in relationships.

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.

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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.