The cornerstone of all effective relationships is trust. When we think of verbs that often accompany trust, they tend to be words like ‘earned’ or ‘established’. Few words can indicate a fractured relationship as when ‘broken’ or ‘lost’ are paired with trust. It is noticeable when trust erodes, and those relationships can include business, personal and therapeutic. Industries spend large sums of money learning how to achieve trust. Marketing firms examine what names, phrases and messaging achieves it, and magazines have established quizzes that demonstrate whether someone has the capacity to be trustworthy. Simply put, TRUST is a billion dollar industry without a “how to” guide as to how to achieve, maintain and propagate.
To complicate things further, trust is a word with great variability based on who is surveyed. Individuals have different standards as to how they begin to trust others or the process by which trust can diminish in relationships. What we share is a list of components that create a trustworthy relationship…..elements that people identify as important when they are in a relationship that emanates trust.
When we think of products, few words help consumers cough up a few extra dollars other than knowing that they are purchasing a reliable product that consistently performs the way it is advertised. Reliability in relationships performs in a similar fashion. The concept of consistently doing what we agree to is an essential facet of establishing trust. In 12-step philosophies, folks discuss walking the talk, meaning that what they say matches what they do. Being timely, following through, performing at a consistent level, “showing up and “suiting up” and being consistent to our professional, relational or therapeutic relationships will go a long way in being a trustworthy company, friend, therapist or sponsor.
This is defined as the quality of faithfulness or loyalty and adherences to specific practices and protocols. As behavioral health care providers, we must be faithful to the ethical guidelines set forth by our licenses, certifications and accreditations. Patients and families expect that you are offering services that are evidence-based and that research and clinical training informs their practice.
While the robotic nature of being reliable sounds great, as humans, life can get in the way regardless of our perfect intentions and diligent work to try and be a reliable partner. We all make mistakes, and, in our imperfections, we may do something that we later regret. It is necessary when we wish to make amends or apologize, that we embody the spirit of trust. Effective apologies have three components and each are equally important…we like to call it the “ARC Method to Apologies”.
Acknowledge: Be transparent! Be clear about what you did wrong and how you may have fractured the trust in the relationship. Use “I “and nonjudgmental terms when explaining. Example: Sally, I want to make amends to you. Last night I was preoccupied with all the texts I had received and didn’t hear what you were saying. In retrospect, I realize I was unavailable, so, to make sure I don’t do that again tonight, I am going to turn my cell phone off.
Repair: What do we need to do to correct the situation? Can we go back and do something that we were expected to do? Showing that we really had intentions of being consistent and reliable can add a dynamic quality to an apology. Finding ways to repair a slight or emotional injury can boost the effectiveness of an apology.
Commitment: Nothing can make an apology fall apart faster than repeating the same action for which we just apologized. This can be a difficult process for children and teenagers who can be really effective with the first two steps and then fall apart with the commitment. Remember that a lot of integrity and trust falls into the commitment of avoiding and engaging in the same untrustworthy act.
For better or worse, trust is an established process. Effective relationships often take months or years to build, particularly when trust is lost. A simple trust metaphor- For each day we are reliable, we get $1 in the trust piggy bank. Depending on the importance of the relationship, we start to accumulate a decent amount of money/trust in the bank. Unfortunately, when trust is fractured, so are our savings, and the size of the withdrawal often can be months or years of savings. At worst, our piggy can be foreclosed upon and trust cannot be reestablished. At best, we begin our savings plan and try to avoid large withdrawals from our savings account in the future. For those who are followers of Brene Brown, this is the concept of the marble jar. If I am a marble jar friend of yours, I am the person you can count on and reach out to when in need. If I break that trust, you end up taking marbles out of the jar and my ability to rebuild that trust is not easy. Often in families, where a loved one experiences substance abuse, mental health and/or chronic pain disorder, patience and trust is challenged. In recovery, all can begin to rebuild and put those marbles back in the jar.
Validation is a key component to building trust in all categories of relationships. In business, validating a customer’s needs, goals and concerns can go a long way in establishing a trusted partnership. In relationships, demonstrating that we care about and understand our partner’s/friend’s emotions, needs and perspectives solidifies their willingness to not just engage in the relationship, but it can often result in reciprocal validation for your emotions, needs and perspectives. Validation can also show that we can demonstrate interest in the other person’s experience, reflect their emotions, and show that their experience makes sense (assuming there is wisdom in their experience). There are few things that help connect people other than knowing that the other party is invested enough to understand where they are coming from and that their experience matters and is valid.
Few things can damage relationships like harsh judgments. At their core, judgments are a necessary part of human experience. Finding out that someone’s experience with a product or relationship was ‘great’ often suffices rather than detailing each and every moment of the experience. However, judgments often reflect poorly on the ‘judger’ as well as the person, product or relationship that they are judging. It is much easier to derive information about something (both positive or negative) when we provide statements that are factual and measured. Those conversations also convey information that is clearer and more trustworthy. Again, using “I feel” terms and conveying how one feels about what is happening is a great way to begin to establish trust, be transparent, vulnerable and respond in an affirming clear way.
Understanding Both Sides
It is typically easy to understand our own needs and wishes in
a relationship, and when we get what we want or need, we feel effective. Equally important is being curious about the other person’s needs, and finding ways where both parties’ needs are met with some reciprocity. This comes easy for some people and more difficult for others. Being clear about what we need, why it is important, and understanding the needs of the ‘other side’ can lead to effective negotiation, reciprocity and a sense of connection that helps bring both parties closer together. Think about being a parent. Your child asks you for something: a sleep over at someone’s home, borrowing the car or asking for money. For co-parenting families, discuss the decision with your spouse before giving a response and reply in a united fashion. Nothing fractures a relationship more than having someone say “yes” and the other person giving a firm “no”.
How do you establish trust in your personal or professional relationships? Are there components that you have found essential in establishing effective, trustworthy relationships? Pay attention to relationships where you have accumulated a lot of ‘trust in the bank’ as well as those that you feel are particularly trustworthy to evaluate what components are consistent in those relationships… Let us hear from you so that we may benefit from your experiences.
Dr. Louise Stanger is a nationally recognized expert in the mental health and addiction field. She is also an expert in Sudden Death, grief and loss and had the distinction of working with the Widows and Widowers of 911. She has been the PI or Co-PI on over 4 million public NIH- NIAA or US Dept of Education grants related to alcohol prevention.
Louise is a Published author of Falling Up A Memoir of Renewal, Learn to Thrive – An Intervention Handbook.
Currently, Dr. Stanger is the Consultant and creator of Driftwood Recovery’s Courageous Family Program, a chronic pain, mental health and substance abuse facility in Texas. She continues to speak all over the country and creates original curriculum for conferences. www.allaboutinterventions.com.