Trust is Granted Not Earned

June 17, 2010

(For this week’s audio message, click here.)

How easily do you grant your trust to other people?  What factors play into your ability or inability to trust certain individuals around you?  What do people need to do to earn your trust?

As I personally reflect on these questions, I’m reminded of both the importance and complexity of trust in our lives, our work, and our relationships.  Trust is one of the most critical elements of healthy relationships, families, teams, organizations, and communities.  However, many of us have an odd or disempowered relationship to trust – we’ve been taught that people must earn our trust, when, in fact, it’s something we grant to others.

I learned early in my life that it wasn’t always safe to trust people – my folks split up when I was three, I went to tough schools and found myself in some difficult situations, and part of my “street-smart, survival kit” was to be very suspicious of just about everyone I came into contact with. While this did serve me to a certain degree as a child and adolescent (at least in terms of survival), as I got older I noticed that my resistance to trusting others created some real issues in my life and my relationships.

No matter how many “tests” I put people through in order to have them “earn” my trust, at the end of that whole process, it was ultimately up to me to grant them my trust (or not) – and then to continue to trust them (or not).

We each have our own internal process about trust – much of which is based on past, negative experiences.  In other words, we get burned, disappointed, or hurt in life and then decide, “I’m not doing that again” and we put up barriers around ourselves to keep us “safe.”

While this makes rational sense, it usually leaves us guarded, leery, and insecure – unable to easily create meaningful and fulfilling relationships with people.  The irony is that no matter how guarded we are, how thick the walls we put up, or what we do to try to keep ourselves from getting hurt and disappointed; it usually happens anyway.

One of my teachers said to me years ago, “Mike, you’re living as though you’re trying to survive life.  You have to remember, no one ever has.”

What if we granted our trust more easily?  What if we were willing to make ourselves vulnerable, to count on other people in a genuine and healthy way, and to expect the best from others authentically?  Michael Bernard Beckwith calls this being “consciously naïve,” which may seem a little oxymoronic on the surface, but at a much deeper level is very wise and profound concept.

Will be get hurt?  Yes!  Will we be let down?  Most certainly.  Will people violate our trust?  Of course.  However, this will happen anyway – it’s just part of life.  Ironically, the more we are willing to grant our trust consciously, the more likely we are to create a true sense of connection, cooperation, and collaboration in our lives, relationships, families, teams, and more – even if we feel scared to do so or it seems counter-intuitive at times.

We almost always get what we expect in life.  What if we start expecting people to be there for us, to do things that are trust-worthy, and to have our backs and our best interests in mind?  As with just about everything else in life, it’s a choice.  As Albert Einstein so brilliantly stated, “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.”

I choose “friendly,” how about you?

How easy is it for you to trust people?  Are you willing to start granting your trust more easily? Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more on my blog below.

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  1. Mike,
    Your article on trust being granted vs. earned caught my attention. It was written from the perspective of trusting other people.
    I give a lot of personal career coaching (mostly unpaid)to unemployed professionals through Job Connections in Danville and one of their resources known as Success Teams-we currently have 32 teams with 6-8 members each.
    The question is the reverse situation of your article–how do job seekers “obtain” the trust of the hiring manager in the short and medium term if they are not earning it? I doubt the hiring manager is going to start the interview with “OK, I am granting you trust for the next hour-tell me why you are the best qualified candidate and why I should hire you.” But let’s suppose you expected that and it happened. [Consider yourself lucky to have found a hiring manager who may be exhibiting some emotional and/or spiritual intelligence.] As an interview coach, my recommendation is to latch on to that and try to learn how prevalent that is in the corporate culture. If it sounds like his/her attitude is the norm in the company, then they are probably listed as one of the top employers where people their jobs.
    As a coach, I’m willing to learn. If I’m not providing tips on how to earn the trust of the hiring manager, what preparation tips can be given to the job applicant to be granted trust by the hiring manager?
    A lot comes to mind such as showing confidence, a warm smile, dressing for success, and filling the room with your positive attitude. The job applicant is the “seller” and has seconds or a very few minutes to set that first impression and then reinforce it as the interview goes on. Leading up to the interview, and during those first precious seconds and minutes, what suggestions do you have for shifting the tone of the interview in the applicant’s favor such that trust will be granted early on?

    PS: As the saying goes “Do something. If it works, do more of it. If it doesn’t work, do something else.” What you do works for a lot of people and I encourage you to do more of it.

    Rod Ford-Smith

  2. Hi Mike,

    Thank you for your powerful and thoughtful insight into trust.

    Your wisdom resonated with me, as I too have let myself disbelieve in people and as a result, put up walls to protect myself, which in contrast only separates me from what we all want: to connect.

    Bless you brother for the great energy you are sending out into the world!

    With gratitude,


  3. Mike,
    I have lived more of my life easily granting than withholding it. My life has been mostly joyful. I have had what was necessary and a lot more. Never, however, enough. For a long time I beat my head against a wall trying to get enough. The trying always failed. Much of the time I trusted that someone would provide what I would need and that happened. once I realized what was going on I relaxed and accepted. Now I am having a strong urge to offer to others and at the same time would like some material benefit from the offer. Energy feels different than what was 10-20 years ago but the blocks are still there. Waste time instead of doing something toward the goal. Never complete only start etc. Your article Reminde3d me of the gratitude I felt, to I know not what, once I realized how I have been supported by I know not what. It also brought to my awareness that for some few years now I have been somewhat less trusting and that I miss trusting.
    Thank you

  4. Mike, Today – at the very moment that I opened and read this issue on “trust” I am grappling with “trust” and relationship with a former business associate.

    In my experience, this particular person does not deserve my trust, and I can’t bring myself to give it.

    So, are there people in your life that you don’t grant trust? Or, are you suggesting that EVERYone gets your trust?
    thanks, e

  5. Hi Mike, My great experience is, when I smile at even strangers or kids, I always get a smile back, that’s trust. I have experienced the deer at Lafayette reservoir come down to the road and look at people as so they knew you, trusting your presence and I always think if the rest of the world would be as trusing what a wounderful world it would be!
    Helga Prangl

  6. Hi Mike,
    Erika makes an interesting point. I find it pretty easy to trust until I am given reason not to trust. So what is appropriate when the person has proven that they are not trustworty?

    It also makes me wonder if you actually read these posts and join in a conversation with those who post to you here.

  7. I agree and understand trust to work in that way as well. It is something granted. I can still, initially feel a knee-jerk reaction to life, or others, in the form of resentment, anger, betrayal, etc. But really, those are all a matter of perspective, my perspective, which can change from day to day. The choice is mine. On this journey, I have also discovered that it is most important whether I trust myself first. It is of secondary importance, whether I trust others. That can be granted or withheld at will. Bottom line…I cultivate a trust that no matter what shows up, I am okay. It sometimes takes a minute for that truth to resurface, but gratefully, it always does.

  8. Great posts, insights, shares, and questions! I always read what people post on my blog and appreciate the comments – when I can I reply directly to individuals, by email (since I get an email sent to me directly when each post is made) – but I may start posting more comments, feedback, and answers (to specific questions) right here on the blog. Thanks for your feedback!

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