Trust: what it is, and how to initiate it

Trust. The big kahuna. The sales industry seeks it; doctors assume it; couples demand it; change can’t occur without it. But what is it? Why isn’t it easier to achieve? And how can we engender it?

I define trust as the awareness of another (or situation) as safe, similar, and sane enough to connect with, and occurs when they

  • have core beliefs that align and seem harmonious,
  • feel heard, accepted, and understood in their own right,
  • feel compatible or safe as a result of interacting,
  • believe their status quo won’t be at risk when connecting.

Unless these criteria are satisfied, trust can’t occur no matter how kind, professional, necessary, or well-intended another person or message is. It’s a Belief issue.  


We gravitate to, and trust, folks with similar foundational Beliefs and world-views that match well-enough with our own to proclaim ‘safety’. The problem is that when trying to connect with another, we’re at the effect of their unconscious filters that immediately signal ‘risk’ when there is a perceived misalignment between our Beliefs. 

Largely unconscious, illogical to others and hard to change, our Beliefs have been created during the course of our lives; they regulate us, define who we are and are the glue that enables us to show up congruently in the world. They sit at the core of the normalized habits and assumptions that maintain our behaviors, choices, and actions daily, restricting our life choices such as our occupations, politics, values, mates – even our child rearing practices. And our Beliefs are the initiators of our behaviors – behaviors being Beliefs in action.

For me, the most damaging restriction caused by Beliefs is to our listening: we hear only what our Beliefs sanction, regardless of what our Communication Partner (CP) intends. When researching my book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? I was surprised at the extent our Beliefs cause us to bias, misunderstand, assume, and filter in/out what others say. And since our brains do their filtering unconsciously and instinctively, without telling us what they added or subtracted, we can’t even know for sure the meaning that our CP intended. We actually might hear ABL when our CP said ABC – and our brains don’t inform us they omitted D, E, F, G, etc.There is no way to know if what we think was meant is accurate unless we recognize a discrepancy. But by then, the damage has largely been done since we respond based on what we think had been said/meant (and indeed often getting it wrong).


Sadly, because everyone’s Beliefs systems are idiosyncratic, we (and often they, themselves) can’t understand how anyone’s internal system of rules, values, history, habits, experiences etc. is structured or what drives it. This becomes problematic when we need a trusting relationship to accomplish our goals and we’re not clear how to achieve it. Bad news for sellers, coaches, managers, etc. who attempt to promote change or buy-in by pushing ideas and content, unwittingly causing resistance and distrust, especially when the ideas promote our own Beliefs (even in the name of ‘helping’ others) potentially at the expense of triggering our CPs. Here are some of the ways we fail when trying to engage trust.

Relationship Building: We’ve been led to believe that having a relationship encourages buy-in to new ideas. But it’s a conundrum: polite as an interaction appears or how necessary our message, we can’t build a relationship with folks with divergent Beliefs, or fight their automatic filters that react to us immediately, regardless of the efficacy of the information. In other words, ‘pushing in’ doesn’t work, even if our data and intent are accurate. We might have a superficial connection, but not a relationship; ‘making nice’ does not constitute a relationship, or engender change or trust.

Information: Our chosen vehicle to ‘get in’ is often with information that we believe to be rational and appropriate, without accounting for how it will be perceived by the filters our CPs hear it through. Sometimes, with the best will in the world, our brilliant attempt to share the ‘right’ data inadvertently tells our CP that they’re wrong (and we’re right). When we try to motivate, push, share, persuade, etc. we fail to realize that our CPs only understand our intent to the degree it matches their Beliefs, as well as how their listening filters translate it for them, regardless of its efficacy. So with the best will in the world, with folks who might really need what we’ve got to share, we aren’t heeded.

In fact, information is the last thing needed to facilitate change or buy-in, as everyone is pretty protective of their status quo and fears the new information carries the risk of disruption. So save the information sharing for when there’s a clear path to mutual Beliefs and trust has been developed, and then offer the information in a format that matches Beliefs. Think about it: if you’re an environmentalist, offering ‘rational/scientific’ data that ‘prove’ climate change won’t persuade those who disagree; if you’re a proponent of doctors, you won’t use alternate therapies to manage an illness no matter how strong the data for changing your nutrition.

Clear Communication: We all think we communicate clearly, yet we’re not as effective as we think given our CPs filters that end up preventing our ‘risky’ data from being heard accurately. Certainly we believe we’re choosing the ‘right’ words and approach to convey our intent. Yet our message is accepted only by those with similar Beliefs and resisted by the very people who need our information the most.

Since our great ideas and eager strategies don’t engender trust in folks with different Beliefs, and without trust we can’t change minds, what should we do? We can help our CPs redefine and reconfigure their Hierarchy of Beliefs and open up new possibility in ways that don’t feel invasive but actually create trust. But they have to do it themselves.


Every one of us has a Hierarchy of Beliefs that’s unique to us, and comprises our status quo. So ‘Don’t kill others’ may be higher on the scale than ‘Be polite’; need for consistency/honesty/authenticity in a relationship may be a Belief that’s a precursor for trust in all relationships.

Here’s the problem: as outsiders we can’t use our data to cause our CPs to change because anything outside their norm causes resistance; yet it’s quite difficult for our CPs to reprioritize their Hierarchy on their own as it has become incorporated into their status quo, and their reactions follow habitual neural pathways. Right or wrong, everyone’s Beliefs are normalized.

We can facilitate them from outside, but without bias or intent, i.e. no information, opinions, scientific data, etc. Everyone’s Hierarchy is unique, certainly unknowable to an outsider; so we must carefully initiate new thinking by facilitating them through to their own brand of congruent change.

Let’s say I have a very strong Belief that no one should ever be allowed to kill anyone else. But I learn that someone will be coming to my home to kill all my family members. Will I be willing to kill the intruder and save my family? Maybe, or maybe not. But I certainly will make sure ‘Keep Family Safe’ is ranked higher than ‘Never Kill Another’ and make my decision from there.

In order for our CPs to shift their Hierarchy of Beliefs to expand congruent choice and engender trust we must enable our CP to fit anything new into their current structure so the ‘new’ matches the values, traditions, rules, and system of the status quo.

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