BEfriend #4: The Gift of Trust

Dec 17th 2009

A recent Seth Godin blog post got me thinking about trust.  He wrote,

It’s almost impossible to communicate something clearly and succinctly to everyone, all the time.  So misunderstandings occur.  We misunderstand a comment or a gesture or a policy or a contract.  And then what happens?

Well, if we’re engaged with someone we like or trust, we give them the benefit of the doubt. We either assume that what they actually meant was the thing we expected from someone like them, or we ask about it.  If we’re engaged with a stranger or someone we don’t trust, we assume the worst.  The challenge, then, is to earn the benefit of the doubt. How many of your customers, prospects, vendors, regulators and colleagues give you the benefit of the doubt?

The challenge then is to earn the benefit of the doubt — earn their trust.  How many times have you said to someone, or thought about someone, “I can no longer trust you, you will have to earn my trust.” Perhaps in consumer based relationships, it is appropriate to consider trust, a commodity to be earned.  Perhaps even when it comes to politics or leadership, it is appropriate to talk about earning trust.

But I want to ask you to consider that when the relationship is meant to be a friendship, trust is better thought of as a gift.  The problem with asking someone to earn my trust is that I start to look for the trust-breaks, the reasons why I shouldn’t trust.  When someone is in the process of earning my trust, (in Godin’s words) I find it difficult to give them the benefit of the doubt.  Lynn and I found this to be true in the process of raising our children, when they broke-trust. If we told them they would have to earn our trust back, we found ourselves looking for, watching for another trust break.

We decided that trust is a gift. I can take it away when I feel it is no longer appropriate to trust.  But when I decide to trust, I give it.  I choose it.  Trust like faith is an act of the will.  It is within your rights as a parent, and as a friend to withhold your trust, in fact sometimes it is not just within your rights, it is right.  But when/if you want to take your friendship to another level, trust is required and it is best given as a gift.

Without trust, friendship withers.