How do we build trust?

Good relationships are built on trust.

This is true whether we’re talking about relationships with friends, colleagues, families or people with whom we do business.

As a coach, trust is essential to my work and it is a foundation stone of an effective and fulfilling coaching relationship. Given the number of different ways in which we use the word – for example,  ‘she trusted that they would enjoy their stay’ or ‘I’d trust him with my life’ or ‘I like to check things out for myself, rather than take them on trust’ or ‘we should never have trusted them’ – it can be tricky to pin down an exact definition.

I was recently introduced to the Trust Equation, devised by Trusted Advisor, and it has helped me to better understand and quantify what builds trust so I thought it could be useful to you too.

trust reliability credibility intimacy self-orientation

The three numerators are credibility, reliability and intimacy. Let’s look at them each in turn:


How do we know if someone is credible? We listen to what they say and see if their skills and experience back that up. Say you’ve gone to buy a new camera: you will trust the words of a sales person who is a keen amateur photographer, tells you about the pros and cons of each camera and admits when they don’t know the answer to your question. Are you able to demonstrate your expertise and are you honest about any gaps in your skill set?


If your car keeps breaking down, it’s unreliable and you can’t trust it. Do you feel like you can depend on your manager? Is their behaviour consistent? Do you do what you said you would do when you said you would do it? Can you be relied on?


I know, I know – ‘intimacy’ isn’t a word we’d often use to describe our working relationships and if I’d had the brilliant idea of the Trust Equation, I might have used a different word but as I didn’t, let’s work with it.

Trusted Advisor defines intimacy thus:

Intimacy refers to the safety or security that we feel when entrusting someone with something. We might say, “I can trust her with that information; she’s never violated my confidentiality before, and she would never embarrass me.”

When we feel such security in a relationship, we are happy to go beyond the superficial. When you have that trust with your manager, you feel confident that you can talk to her about the deeper reasons behind an issue in the workplace. Do your colleagues have faith that you will not abuse their trust?

Now we’ve defined the numerators, let’s not turn to the denominator:


When we focus more on ourselves than on others, it diminishes trust. If you feel like a salesman is desperate to close a deal so he meets his target for this quarter, you’re less likely to believe he has your best interests at heart and you will find it difficult to trust him. If you’re busy talking how yourself whilst you’re running a performance appraisal, your team member is going to wonder whether she can trust you to help her achieve her goals.

On the other hand, if we focus on the other party and don’t try to impose our own agenda, he will feel that we are genuinely supporting him. He will feel heard and acknowledged. He will trust us.

Building trust is different for each of us and we will do it in our own instinctive – and distinctive – way. However, the Trust Equation helps demonstrate that we increase trust when we increase our credibility, reliability and intimacy and decrease self-orientation.

Today’s pebble for your thoughts: do you need to work on your Trust Equation? 


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’d like to transform your work or your life, why not email me to see how we can work together?

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