Trust is everything! With it, our relationships thrive. Without it, they fail. From the healing of long-standing resentments to the ending of wars, rebuilding trust is one of the essential elements of success. Without it, marriages, families, businesses, and nations grow apart . . . and even fall apart. Building cases of distrust against one another, objectifying those who disagree with or differ from us as “the enemy,” relationships devolve into contentious disdain. Building bridges of trust, being truthful and discovering the common ground on which we can work together, relationships get stronger.
Watching the self-proclaimed “Grim Reaper,” Senate Majority Leader (soon to be Minority Leader) Mitch McConnell, soften and transform into an advocate for unity, and listening to the president’s quasi-concession teleprompter video last night, have activated my trust meter. How can I discern between a genuine change in heart and something that is little more than a tactical ploy to win back trust and credibility because they are no longer going to be in control? Whether or not Mr. Trump, McConnel or anyone else is making a sincere concession or a disingenuous death bed conversion, may not be possible. This is, however, a good time for each of us to assess, and even upgrade, our approaches to measuring trustworthiness.
Here are five ways in which I measure sincerity, which you might find useful as you assess whether those in your life, or running our country, are trustworthy. And if they’re professing some kind of change of heart, is it genuine, or just an attempt to regain status, favor, or leverage?
1. Are their actions consistent with their words over time?
Congruence is when people’s behavior is consistent with their words. When these things line up, it conveys genuine sincerity and has the power to rebuild trust. Listening to our critical thinking and intuition, doing reality checks, and being honest with ourselves when there are red flag warnings can give us a relatively objective view of whether others are trustworthy, and whether it’s safe to move forward in our relationships with them.
2. Have I tempered my hungers, impulses, and anger?
Some of us are so desperate for attention, connection, affection, and affiliation that we jump into relationships, agreements, and narratives that have little or no validity or substance. We put ourselves (and often others close to us) at risk when we want to believe in someone or something so much that we act impulsively or adopt a mindset that makes little rational sense. We can also do so out of an unconscious desire for revenge or retribution, out of irrational, conspiratorial-grade fear, as a gesture of oppositional defiance, or to gain a new identity. When we approach life in this kind of a reckless, ready-fire-aim manner, and get caught up in a vicious cycle of disappointment and despair, we become the estranged, distrusting version of ourselves.
3. Am I being wary of con men and women?
As I was told by a 40-year-old man I was interviewing for my Secrets Men Keep book, “You’ve got to learn how to fake sincerity if you want to get laid.” This was a good reminder that some people are street-smart masters of manipulation and deceit. Their ability to con suggestible followers, customers, constituents, partners, or voters into doing almost anything is limitless. Pathological liars are adept at faking sincere affection, appreciation, faith, truth, morality, and even love. They are also specialists in faking changes in heart and finding their religion. Most everything they say and do is to benefit themselves and they always leave a trail of broken relationships, businesses, and legal and financial agreements in their wake. Be wary of clever, smooth-talking con men and women.
4. Am I seeing trust as a continuum?
Breaking ties with a con man, or woman, is one thing. But trust isn’t always an all-or-nothing affair. You can often measure your trust of someone or a situation on a scale from 1 to 100, with 100 being “completely trustworthy and safe,” and below 10 being “completely untrustworthy and dangerous.” Once you measure your trust on this scale, you can assess whether it is appropriate for the kind of relationship you wish to have with them.
Being one droplet away from a deadly virus has put all of us in life-and-death situations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Seeing someone wear a mask, socially distance from us, wash their hands, and get a vaccine may give us a greater sense of trust. Or, we may be so terrified of being infected that we hide away in isolation. Asking ourselves, “Where on the continuum of trust am I?” is important for assessing what, in reality, is safe, as well as for deciding how and with whom we should go about our health practices, social life and political leanings during these challenging times.
5. Has someone earned my trust?
Asking good questions, being keen observers, and taking our time to build trust allows us to get to really know people. We assess whether they can be trusted and to what degree. And then we can take the steps to build trust. Since we all screw up and inadvertently hurt people we care about now and then, there will be opportunities to forgive people who are sincere in their attempts to reconcile and redeem themselves after a transgression. And also to forgive ourselves. There will also be opportunities to say good-bye to undeserving people who’ve proven themselves to be dishonest, deceitful, unreliable, and who have failed to earn our trust.
Trust is the glue that holds us together, gives us confidence and faith in one another’s good intentions, and opens the doors of possibility in our relationships. It also helps us calibrate our trust meters out in the world, where we’re asked to discern what is true and who is genuinely trustworthy in our families, businesses, and government. In a nation that is increasingly dependent on us learning to successfully work together, collaborate, compromise, and co-create, knowing how to build rather than erode trust is essential.