Define Potential Blog

Trust Me…

27 February 2020

Recently I had the opportunity to reflect on trust and the role it plays in every relationship and every transaction we undertake.

Months in advance, I booked our Christmas accommodation and, with only weeks to go, we received a message from the vendor cancelling the booking.  They had decided to no longer do short term rentals which left us without accommodation over the peak Christmas period.  Luckily a friend of a friend came to our rescue and we ended up renting a house.  This was not a house that was usually rented out however, it was more of a favour for us.  As I transferred a significant payment to a stranger, I realised that I was relying completely on trust, and so were they – both trusting the judgement of our mutual friend that the situation would work out okay.

In the end, it did work out, but it has made me reflect on trust. What do we mean when we say we trust someone?

If you think about it, every interaction we have involves an element of trust.  When we put an online order through, will it be delivered?  When we confide in a friend, will they keep our confidence?  When we ask someone for help, will they take advantage, or will they help?  We rely on people we work with to deliver on their word all the time – to turn up to meetings, to provide the input we need for something, to meet a deadline.  Trust is part of our daily lives.

There are probably some people or organisations that you trust more than others.  Possibly without conscious thought, we make a judgement of our level of trust every time we interact with each person every day.

What is Trust?

So, what is trust? The definition from the Oxford Dictionary is “Firm belief in reliability, honesty, veracity, justice, strength etc. of person or thing”.  This could potentially mean that if we believe someone is not reliable, we also believe they are not honest, and vice versa.  This can lead us to possible errors in judgement.

In many circumstances, we use ‘trust’ as a blanket assessment, without really analysing what we mean by it.  I have some friends that I know will almost always be late to social engagements, so in that sense, I cannot trust them to turn up on time.  However, I trust those same friends in other ways – to be honest, or to keep a confidence, or to be on my side no matter what.  I cannot use a blanket assessment to say I trust this friend or not – trust is variable depending upon the circumstances.  However, at work, we often collapse these judgements – if someone is often late to work, we may tend to use this to make a judgement about their general reliability – to deliver on a deadline, or even to do a good job.

Four Elements of Trust

“Trust” can be considered in four different elements. These are:

  1. Sincerity – are they genuine in their actions or intentions – do they truly mean what they say at the time that they say it?  Is there a hidden agenda in play?  Are they just saying what they think we want to hear?
  2. Reliability – can we rely on them to deliver on time and to a particular standard – i.e. to meet our expectations with what is delivered, by when, and to the particular standards we require?
  3. Competence – is the person able to deliver on a task – do they have the skills, knowledge and capability?  Someone may be very sincere and reliable, but if they cannot deliver, sincerity and reliability cannot make the difference.
  4. Involvement – is the person committed to delivering on what is important to me?  Are they ‘on my side’?  This final dimension is often what my coaching clients mean when they say they don’t trust someone at work.  This can range from a team member or a peer who may be sincere, reliable and competent, but who doesn’t seem as emotionally invested as a supervisor may expect, or has a competing agenda – and is serving their agenda rather than yours.

Breaking it down into these elements is important.  If we say that we don’t trust someone, what do we mean by this?  A listener may interpret our comment and the word ‘trust’ quite differently and take actions that are not appropriate.  Understanding what we mean by trust can also be useful to work out exactly what is not working in the relationship.  This allows us to address the particular issue that will make the difference.  Imagine a situation where someone is very sincere and involved but simply not competent or even reliable.  The conversation we would have to address this breakdown in trust would be quite different to the conversation where someone is competent and reliable but insincere or not involved.

Building Trust in Relationships

Next time you feel that trust is missing in a relationship, try giving a rating to each element of trust.  How would you rate (each out of 5) your colleague’s sincerity, reliability, competence and involvement?  This will clarify what may otherwise be a vague feeling and may give you some insight into how to address it.

Perhaps a more interesting exercise, would be to flip this reflection around.  If you think there is a lack of trust in a relationship, you could look at how the other party might rate you against each of these elements.  Would they rate you highly on each element, or might they have reason to mistrust you on one or more?  You might get to see that they may have made an assessment about your trustworthiness that is based on a single element that has implications for how much trust they put in you in other areas.  For instance, turning up late to meetings might get collapsed into a feeling that they cannot rely on your competence or sincerity.  It might be worth addressing the areas where you think it might be impacting on the relationship.

If you are interested in exploring this further, or you are experiencing a lack of trust with work colleagues, or feel that perhaps they don’t fully trust you, it can be worth employing a coach to come up with strategies to rebuild and improve the relationship.

Kate Neser, Executive Coach – Define Potential, Director – Kate Neser Executive Coaching and Consulting

Kate is a Professional Certified Coach with the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and holds a Level 3 accreditation with the Institute of Executive Coaching and Leadership, and has a Graduate Diploma in Ontological Coaching with the Newfield Institute. Kate has worked as an executive coach since 2010, after managing a successful career in the public sector for nearly twenty years. Kate specialises in executive coaching, interpersonal communication and leadership and management development.


The Concise Oxford Dictionary, 6th edition.

Seiler, Alan. Coaching to the Human Soul, Ontological Coaching and Deep Change, Vol. 1, Newfield Institute 2014.

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