Understanding Trust Issues
in Relationships

Use distinctions in language to discuss trust issues in relationships

For many of us, trust is equated with honesty. If we don’t lie, cheat, or steal, we believe we are trustworthy. Should a friend or a co-worker tell us they don’t trust us for some reason, we think they have accused us of being dishonest, and we feel offended.

We don’t want to commit the same offense with friends or co-workers, so we often avoid discussing trust issues in relationships.

Yet avoiding conversations about topics of trust in important personal and professional relationships often increases distrust, making it difficult for you to interact with those with whom you live or work.

But if your relationship with them is important, eventually you are going to need something from them, or they are going to need something from you.

When that moment arrives, how will you communicate with them about your lack of trust?

A Definition of Trust

Trust is about a lot more than being honest. To talk effectively about it, you need to change the way you look at it.

In The Thin Book of Trust, Charles Feltman defines trust as “choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person's actions.” You make this choice because you believe this person or this institution will look after whatever it is you value, or at least not harm it.

Steven Covey, in The Seven Habits of Effective People says trust is a combination of character and competence. Character has two components: honesty and reliability.

Honesty or sincerity means you will not make a promise unless you intend to keep it. You won’t say “Yes!” to something unless you fully intend to do it.

Reliability means you will do whatever it takes to fulfill a promise. You will complete the task on time and to the extent agreed upon.

Competence means you have the required knowledge, skills, and experience to do what you say they will do.

Charles Feldman adds another distinction: care. Care means you have the interests of the other person in mind, as well as your own interests. He considers care the most important distinction for building trust in relationships because people will broaden their trust in you if they believe you care about what they value.

The Usefulness of distinctions

Honesty, reliability, competence, and care are distinctions about trust. They enable you to use the power of language to assess how you think a person is likely to behave if you entrust something you value to them.

They also empower you to talk about trust in relationships with confidence because they focus on patterns of behavior in which there is a gap between what a person has promised to do and what he or she has done. They don’t pass judgment on the individual’s over-all character.

For example, your distrust of someone who cheats on you is not about his or her competence or reliability or care. It is because they are dishonest. Their pattern of promising one thing but doing something else reveals, at the outset, a lack of intention of keeping their word.

Or, your misgivings about putting someone on an important project are not because the person is dishonest. It is because they are unreliable. They are regularly late for meetings and sometimes miss deadlines.

Or, their lack of skill or experience is why you have not given them more challenging assignments. They are hardworking, honest, and reliable, but until they take a training course to upgrade their skills, your assessment of their competency is that it is not high enough for more demanding work.

Strong communication skills are vital if you want to discuss trust issues in relationships effectively.

Effective Communication Coaching teaches you how to make promises, turn down requests, and negotiate offers that build and maintain trust.


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