The Trust Equation

How trustworthy are you?

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Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.

-Stephen Covey

I had a client who came in with a significant problem forming long-term, quality relationships. He didn’t know what he was doing wrong, and how to fix it. He had workmates who he might go out with for drinks once in a while, but no friends. His romantic relationship was a disaster, and they constantly fought. A little backstory: he suffered sexual abuse as a child for many years by a trusted family friend, and came in for work with trauma. However, it was evident right away that his work with trauma wasn’t just a matter of suffering through shame and anxiety all alone. It affected the most important part of life: his relationships.

There are four variables required in trust: credibility, reliability, intimacy, and self-orientation. In order to determine how trustworthy you really are, think of the equation like this.

Let’s break the equation, and understand how to build trustworthiness:
  • Credibility is determined by the things like diplomas, your level of education, or experience. That is, what makes you believable? Credibility is all about context. At work, do you have the necessary training and skills to lead a team of 10 people? Are you manager-material? You don’t need to spend the next 5 years going back to school and getting a diploma if you’re seeking credibility. You can simply get more experience – attend talks (TedTalks or Youtube is a great resource), read books, etc. Credibility at home can simply be your previous experience with handling infants. Credibility with friends can be having a great, running history of great friendships in the past.
  • Reliability is essentially, “do you walk the talk?” Do other people see that you say what you mean, and you mean what you say – by the way you act and the choices you make? The sister to integrity, reliability is all about following your intentions with actions.
  • Intimacy is the level at which you open up to others; it’s about how much you let other people in to who you really are – vulnerability. How much do you let other people into your heart, into your thoughts? It can be a scary thing to do, especially with fear of rejection being a hard-wired thing that we truly experience. But how often do people get to see you without your masks on?
  • And finally, self-orientation is how much of your thoughts, intentions, and actions surround yourself and your best interests. I once met someone whose sole interest, every time we met, was to find ways for me to benefit him. It was all about him. At the extreme end of the scale, narcissistic individuals care about nothing else. But like everything else, this is a continuum. How much do you orient your thoughts, behaviors, and intentions around serving yourself? Do you tap into your mirror neurons’ powers and practice empathy towards others?

The higher your score on self-orientation, the less trustworthy you are (remember middle school algebra? Higher denominator/bottom # = smaller your slice of the pizza pie). The more credibility, reliability, or intimacy you have, the greater your level of trustworthiness.Going back to the story of one of my previous clients, intimacy and self-orientation were causing the biggest disconnect for him and the people around him. Because of his personal history, he had an extremely difficult time opening up his heart and being vulnerable. In addition, because of the shame he experienced, he unconsciously overcompensated by projecting an air of arrogance. So he missed a critical factor in the numerator (top part of equation) and had a huge number in the denominator (bottom part of equation). Clearing the trauma was effortless. Once the trauma was cleared, his ability and desire to become more vulnerable, to seek other people’s understanding, and wanting to connect with others became a priority for him – and all of it fell into place with relatively little guidance.

Which of the four variables are you lacking (or have too much, in the case of self-orientation)? What do you need to work on today? Because after all, all relationships require trust and respect.

Originally published at

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