Trust is an interesting thing. We all know what it is, and we know when we have it (and when we don’t), but if I ask you to actually define it, things get a bit more tricky. Furthermore if I ask you why you don’t trust someone, you might be able to pinpoint to a specific thing, but it’s more likely that it’s just a gut feeling.

This fuzzy notion of what trust is and how it works is problematic in business, because we often have to either build or repair trust with co-workers. But beyond – just being a good guy, how do you actively build trust?

The good news is, there is an answer! When you break down trust into its component parts, you can use the individual elements to both diagnose a relationship of mistrust, and to actively mount a campaign to build trust.

Before you review the five components of trust below, I suggest that you think of two specific relationships. One where trust is high, and one where trust is low. As you go through the rest of this article, consider each aspect against these relationships and see how accurate this mental model is.

The five components of trust are:

  1. Attitude of ‘no harm’
  2. Transparency
  3. Reliability
  4. Long term approach to relationships
  5. Track record of success

Having an attitude of no harm towards someone allows them to feel safe. Without it, they will always be in a flight or fight mode which will undermine any other steps to build a trusting relationship. In many ways this is either a red light or a green light, meaning if this element isn’t present then the other four elements really don’t matter. Repairing, or getting past, an action that was interpreted as deliberately harmful is very difficult and time consuming (ask any divorcee).

Being transparent is what people typically call ‘honesty’, but in some ways it goes further than just telling the truth. It also involves taking the time to explain your intent and rationale. In other words, being open about your intent.  Sometimes, being transparent means being open about a mistake or a misjudgment.

When you are reliable you do what you say will do. I used to have a colleague that called this the ‘1:1 say-do ratio’. But reliability also has an element of consistency, meaning that you act and behave in a way consistent over time. Being consistent provides others a level of predictability that feels safe as they interact with you. It’s interesting how in many ways, working for an unpredictable boss is actually worse than working for a guy that’s a consistent jerk!

Having a long term approach to relationships means that you are genuinely interested in providing value to others over the long term. It’s a perspective where you value the long term success of others rather than a short term or ‘transactional’ relationship. This is obviously critical when your team members are concerned, but is important for any relationship of trust.

Having been successful in the past is a nice-to-have element where trust is concerned. A track record of success helps others believe in you today, and in what you are capable of in the future. I say that it’s a nice to have because people are given second chances every day, so if the other four elements of trust are present in sufficient quantity a poor track record can be overcome. Of course it’s still better to have a track record of success, it just isn’t absolutely required.

Now hopefully you evaluated one high trust and one low trust relationship against the five concepts listed above. If you did, you can probably see how these elements can be used to not only determine why a relationship might have low trust, but can also be used to figure out how to move forward by working to actively repair the damaged component.

I’d love to get your thoughts on the accuracy and usefulness of this model in the comments below!