Trust-Today’s Most Important Currency

September 6th, 2011 by LaRae Quy

Image by bfishadow via Flickr

As a former FBI counterintelligence agent, I’ve spent a lot of time convincing people they could trust me. I needed information from them; in return, they needed to know that I could be trusted to keep my end of the bargain.

The basis of good relationships is trust. If you cannot trust the other person, the relationship does not have a chance of going deeper, whether between parents and children, or bosses and employees.

Requirements for Trust

Trusting someone requires two things:

  • First, you must believe the other person has your best interests at heart.
  • Second, you must have confidence they intend to do what they say they’re going to do.

A breakdown of either one of these points destroys trust. Sometimes it can be regained, sometimes it cannot.

As an agent, I paid attention to the way in which people around me communicated. I picked up information about their personalities that would give me clues on how I could build trust with them.

I did this by taking the time to observe the other person. Just as importantly, I also took the time to observe myself. The tools that I used are available to everyone. Let me share them with you.

Observe Others

1. Sensory Input

Visual Libraries Project

Image by Claire_Sambrook via Flickr

Neuro-linguistic researchers have found links between our mind, language, and behavior. The three primary modes through which people react to the world around them are visual (seeing), auditory (hearing), and kinesthetic (feeling).

These sensory channels become important when building trust because they impact the way we can relate to people in a way that is meaningful to them. Pay attention to the language that a person uses—chances are, they will follow one of the following three patterns in their speech.

  • Sounds like . . . a lot of information.
  • Looks like . . . a lot to learn.
  • Feels like . . . more than I can handle.

If someone expresses themselves using a feeling word, use a feeling word to respond. If someone is an auditory person, use sounds to bring home your point: “it sounds like a thousand people in the room.” For visual people, ask them what the issue “looks” like to them.

2. Gestures

People want to trust people who are like they are. It helps to mirror another person’s actions or movements. Matching and mirroring is an unconscious body language that lets the other person know that you are in agreement. If a person uses their hands to make a point, repeat their gesture when you are making a point. Mirror their attitude, energy level, and manner of speaking.

3. Energy Words

When people are passionate about something, they use words that are freighted with meaning. The first step is to notice the words they use that are full of energy. Here are some energy words another person may use in a conversation that point to their emotional state:

  • Disappointed
  • Baffled
  • Cautious
  • Confused
  • Grateful
  • Hesitant
  • Interested
  • Relaxed
  • Surprised
  • Uncertain
  • Nervous

The list goes on. After you have noticed the way a person uses an energy word, draw attention to it by simply repeating it, and then pausing. By repeating the word, and pausing, it alerts them that you 1) have noticed their concern, 2) are validating it, and 3) giving them an opportunity to further elaborate.


Image by _ viviandnguyen via Flickr

Observe Yourself

Stop and ask yourself whether you exhibit these trust-building characteristics:

  • Share personal information about yourself. How can you expect others to trust you if you don’t trust them in return?
  • Be trustworthy in small things. If you can’t be trusted to follow through on small things, why should they trust you with something more important?
  • Do not gossip. Keeping your word and the confidences of others builds trust and signals that you’re in the relationship to stay.
  • Do not omit important details. You risk being perceived as deceitful. Truth always comes out in the end, so why not tell them everything at the beginning?
  • Be transparent. If you are open and honest about your goals and objectives, you will establish firm ground upon which to build your relationship.

Building trusting relationships is a personal choice anyone can make. The type of communication that builds trust between people involves observing our own behavior as much as observing the behavior of the other person.

How do you build trust with others? When do you feel you can trust someone else? What tips do you have about spotting untrustworthy people?


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