There are times when the critical thing is to build — or rebuild — trust with another person, and you are the one who must initiate that work. Perhaps there is an active sense of mistrust in the relationship, maybe even a sense of betrayal. Or it maybe that there is only a lack of connection, the absence of trust, so that the relationship in business-like neutral when something more would be beneficial.
The work, it seems to me, is two-fold: first, reaching in and then reaching out — reaching in to develop psychological readiness, and reaching out is to make contact and start to grow the relationship.
To begin with, there is often just one central question: “How can I change my relationship with ______(specific person)_______?”
The following principles offer a pathway to the reaching in part of the equation. The principles come mainly from an intrapersonal perspective, meaning they are less about specific behavioral techniques than creating the right state of mind for inter-personal bridge building. Why start there? Even though trust between two individuals is an interpersonal experience, creating it – and sometimes repeatedly recreating it — fundamentally depends on self-awareness. While you do not have control over anyone else’s awareness, you can attend to your own. This is what helps us get beyond the states of self-interest, hopes that blind us to reality and unconscious fears that ultimately impede a grounded, trust-based relationship. The self-awareness you bring to your contact with another is a cornerstone of trust-building work.
1. Claim your inner strength
This principle is all about “getting centered.” But what does “getting centered” mean? To begin with it means that the process involves you finding inner calm, the place where you experience your own most fundamental stability, confidence, maturity and self-awareness. This is your emotional “home base,” a place where you both flexible and powerful. Think of someone who distances herself for a moment from the turbulence of an argument in order to reflect and find personal renewal and serenity. That person is claiming inner strength through an experience of what could be called her “best self” or “true self.” This usually represents remembering one’s own most strongly felt core values such as integrity, authenticity, compassion and humanity. But it is often more than these emotions and values, too. As people learn more about what it means to claim inner strength they find an access point to the “ground of being” from which we all spring as individuals. By acting from this access point, we become freer to act in the world as our true selves.
Claiming your inner strength also implies that you fully accept what is, first without trying to change it. Ironically, this is also the most potent beginning of change. When you face exactly what is happening without denial, distortion, or dismissal, the energies of vision and transformation naturally have room to grow on their own. The ultimate “claim” means embracing your own learning and transformation through core trust in yourself, the spirit of humanity, and life itself.
2. Step away from personal gain and loss
What often stops one person from reaching out to build trust with another are negative beliefs. Sometimes these beliefs are about the other person: “He manipulative,” “she is controlling,” for example. Listening to rather than questioning these beliefs, we convince ourselves of the hostility of others’ motives. Sometimes the negative beliefs about ourselves; for instance, “Who am I to think I have something to offer.” And sometimes it is a cloudy combination of the two. These negative belief sets usually hide some type of longed-for gain for who we are or some feared loss. For example, if I win an argument, I may feel personally validated in getting my way. But I also feel (and this is the true gain) more empowered and secure. If I lose the argument, however, perhaps I’ll not only have to go along with someone else’s “win,” but I’ll also then be subject to derogatory judgments from myself and from others. I’ll fear for my reputation for being better than others. Some common things people like to gain are “winning,” “being right,” “being smart,” “my way” and/or “being good,” “changing the situation,” “changing the relationship,” “changing the other person.” Some common things people fear losing are “influence or power,” “security,” “accomplishment,” “personal freedom,” “reputation and stature,” “relationships,” “current position, rewards or perks.”
When you begin to disconnect from these potential gains and losses, you can begin to frame reaching out from within the context of your own “best self” or “true self,” which often turns out to be more “selfless.” Stepping away from gains and losses is powerful precisely because in working to do so we experience our real underlying addictions to the hopes and fears that run our lives for us. We can begin to see those hopes and fears collectively as a single snakeskin and once that snakeskin becomes conscious it immediately also becomes too small to suit us any longer. We begin to feel the process of reaching out as breaking through our own constrictions.
Perhaps the most important aspect of detachment from gains and losses is that we become less concerned with outcomes. We may not be able to change or influence a situation or a person at all. But that does not change the motive force of our own growth and learning through the act of reaching out. There are absolutely no guarantees that our actions will change anything at all. In fact, they could lead to either gains or losses. But once we are free of those gains and losses – all of them – and we bring that true self forward, clarity, confidence, and real choices become more available.
3. Focus on the good and the true
The third principle is to look at the situation very carefully to see what in the other person is good and what in the situation is actually true. Building trust relies on this fundamental reassessment that “re-writes” our negative beliefs about another person by confronting their fundamental inaccuracy, learning to step past them to focus on more positive aspects. “My boss does not hate me. My boss may be angry at me because of what happened this morning, but that’s not the same as hate.” This is not simply turning lemons into lemonade. It is addressing what’s real from outside of the gains and losses and hopes and fears that keep us smaller than we really are.
This principle draws on capacities to resolve a moral dilemma: How much do we risk bringing our true self forward? Often this is the most difficult principle enact, and we may shuttle back and forth between claiming inner strength, letting go of gains and losses, and focusing on the good and true in a circular quandary. I can see myself going forward. But what if this is just naïve, a way to be “shot down” or hurt because I am vulnerable, open and present?
This dilemma is resolved by active surrender to the truth and to the good in our focus, letting it drive a positive vision for the relationship you genuinely would like to have. You and I are not perfect, but we can begin to cross the gulf to one another, and I am willing to put my hand out first by telling the truth to you in a way that expresses the good I see in you. My renewed belief is that our relationship can be better, perhaps much better. My actions toward you can be generous, open, supportive or forgiving, right now. I do not need to work my own agenda with you – or my agenda for you. I simply bring the soul of our relationship’s possibilities forward. In doing so, I let you see me, my imperfect process of reaching out to you; my imperfect process of personal learning and growth. I let you see my incompleteness. I let you see the snakeskin I am attempting to break out of – with you.
4. Connect through appreciation and ownership
First and foremost, to genuinely connect means that I am ready to express my appreciation for who you are. I appreciate your experience and struggles, your sensitivity to work you’ve done to get here, wherever here might be. I appreciate the goals you have and the diverse talents you bring. I appreciate the way you think and feel, the adversity you’ve faced, the things you’ve already accomplished. And beyond all of these things, I appreciate the person within and your potentials. In the moment, I am your advocate and supporter. I am one who can be on your side even if in telling my truth to you, there is conflict, disagreement and a certain amount of pain.
Ultimately, trust could be said to be the product of these two core elements: truth and appreciation. Where trust is present, one does not exist without the other. I can express my appreciation, but if that also does not convey my truth about you, about me, about our relationship, then the relationship is still superficial. If I tell the truth, but without appreciation for you and your circumstances, I create the unsafe conditions that spawn defensiveness, denial, and argument.
And, finally, part of the truth always needs to be my ownership for my part of the relationship. If there is a history, ownership means my part of the responsibility for past problems and commitment to improvement. If there is no history, ownership means building a sense of welcome for feedback and openness to learning and change. Without this ownership, the encounter cannot develop a sense of equity, fairness, and mutual depth. While truth and appreciation can build trust to a point, ownership offers additional qualities of vulnerability and commitment, and it is these qualities that invite real engagement.
5. Engage to stay engaged
Genuine connection is a good step, but the nature and value of relationships go far beyond the act of a single meeting. A relationship, to be durable, goes through moment after moment of truth, appreciation, and ownership. Enduring trust is built from these moments, and the deepest forms of trust develop only when there is a promise not just to connect, but to stay connected. This is especially true because all relationships involve tensions, conflicts, and points of potential disconnection. The greatest challenge is when conflict has led to mistrust and is fueled by a sense of underlying betrayal. Then mistrust becomes its own self-reinforcing destructive force and the relationship will need to be fed by crossing a gulf again and again, utilizing all the principles. It is true, that at a certain point one or the other party may say, “I can’t stay with this. The pain is too great,” or “The effort is too great.” But there is no shame in that parting if people have been thorough in attempting to make the crossing, satisfying their own deepest sense of personal integrity. Partnerships cease, employment contracts fail. But there is no real failure when there has been a genuine effort and the energy has simply shifted away from the relationship in order to fulfill other potentials within the people.
Engage to stay engaged means that we don’t drop the ball too soon and without first having put ourselves fully into the exchange. We don’t give up easily. We learn to work through conflicts we can’t at the outset see a way through. We live a commitment to one another as long as we can.
As you think about these five principles and the trust you may need to build, which of them comes forward as the biggest stretch for you? Pick just one. Focus on building that part of your mindset; then decide how you want to move forward to actually reach out to talk with the other person.