Cultivate the Three Elements of Trust

Human interactions rely on trust. We constantly gauge others and try to determine “friend or foe?” from the first second we’re introduced. Others constantly assess us, too. The “Trust Meter” rises and falls throughout specific interactions and long-term relationships depending on how one person perceives another at any given moment.

Without trust, communication and relationships disintegrate, and from there, everything else breaks down, too. You can’t sell a product without trust. You can’t lead change without trust. You can’t foster intimacy without trust. You can’t do much of anything that requires contact with another human being without at least some level of trust.

As France Frei said in her TED talk on rebuilding trust, “The component parts of trust are super well understood.” There are three necessary ingredients. Different people call them different things. Call them what you like. If you want to build relationships, build a team, build a business, or build a reputation, you’ll need all three: Credibility, Authenticity, and Empathy.

For the sake of this article, I’m going to assume you are trustworthy. I’m going to assume you are genuine, caring person who knows what you’re talking about. If you aren’t… well, that’s the subject for another article. A lack of trust can be the result of a lack of these three ingredients—no one will trust you if you don’t make sense, you lack integrity, and you don’t care about anyone but yourself.

Sometimes, though, a lack of trust is not a character issue but a communication issue. To establish trust, you have to demonstrate that you are credible, authentic, and empathetic. You have to show people. You have to communicate it—nonverbally.



What you’re saying has to make sense… to the other person. It’s not enough for it to make sense to you. You wouldn’t say it if it didn’t make sense to you. You have to frame your message in a way that the listeners can grasp. Take their needs, perspectives, and motives into consideration and give them a message that resonates with them.

If your logic is sound, then give your message its due weight. Speak authoritatively. Sit or stand up straight and speak with a voice that curls down at the ends of statements. If you want people to take your message seriously, deliver it seriously.



People need to know that you are who you say you are. They need to know you aren’t hiding anything. One whiff of pretense destroys trust. To build it, follow-through on your commitments, practice what you preach, and consistently live your values.

To be authentic you also need to bring your full self to your interactions. You don’t have to expose your full self, but you need to be fully present. Be grounded in who you are and what you stand for, and allow your unique personality to shine through. Not everyone will like your unique personality. But at least they’ll trust that you are who and what you say you are.



You can be credible and authentic, but others will still question your motives. Yeah, you sound good, but do you care about ME? Frankly, we all tend to be “selfish little clots,” as George Bernard Shaw said, more concerned about our own selves than anyone or anything else. But you also can and do care about others beyond your own self. And that’s when you start cultivating trust: when you are willing and able to put yourself aside, meet others where they are, and care for them. This is why Brené Brown says that trust is built in small moments like remembering details, keeping confidences, and noticing when something is wrong.

Once again, you can care and fail to communicate it! It’s easy to get so distracted by your own self that others feel they are unimportant—or worse, invisible—to you. Start seeing people. That means you have to actually look at them. Tear your eyeballs from your screen and take in the real, live human being. Start listening. Turn off the mental chatter and focus on the other person. What it really comes down to is being fully present with and for the other person.


Like most important things, trust is a simple concept. Three simple ingredients: credibility, authenticity, and empathy. Yet “simple” doesn’t mean “easy.” Grinding these out in your daily life, navigating the pressures of society and distractions of culture, managing your thoughts and emotions, trying to make sense and be who you are and considering others… it might sound simple, but that’s a truckload of stuff to figure out.

It’s worth it though. Trust increases rapport and morale, boosts productivity in the workplace, and helps teams work together more efficiently and effectively. Plus, it just feels really GOOD to have people in your life you can trust and to know they trust you, too.

Trust is not an endpoint. You don’t ever fill up the “Trust Meter” for good. Trust is built over time through demonstration and conveyed through communication. So, keep practicing, keep demonstrating, keep building, keep communicating. Be your true self, speaking reason, focused on the other.

Change your communication, change your life.

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