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Who should we trust? and when?

Updated: Apr 4

Trust is a paradox. On one hand, trust connects us and help us dare things we would not be able to do on our own. On the other hand,mistrust can be seen as a kind of immune system that does not let go of things that could be harmful to those close to us.

Ernest Hemingway said, "The best way to find out if you can trust someone is to trust them." And maybe that's how it works, that we decide to trust someone and then we will see?

Some time ago, a man asked me what I was teaching and I mentioned that trust was one of my topic. He looked at me a bit surprised and said that "you just have to do what you have promised and people will trust you". And he was right of course, that part of trust is really based on delivering the results we have promised. But is is not always that simple. To be able to also break agreements, without breaking trust is a skill that can be trained.

Stephen Covey Jr. used the image of a tree to give an image of what trust is. He said that not everything on which we build our trust is visible to the eye. Not everything is results or competence. Much of the trees wellbeing depends on how well its roots absorb nutrients and water from the soil. Similarly, interpersonal trust is based on trusting someone's intention, that they mean us well. And how can we then communicate about intention and integrity in a way that creates trust even in challenging situations?

I have a friend I trust one hundred percent when it comes to listening with empathetic ears to me when I need it. I trust her intention, that she wants the best for me. Since she sometimes says no when I ask her for support, I trust her even more because I feel her integrity. Sometimes her empathy reaches me and sometimes it doesn't, but it's more about how willing I am to let it in than about her competence. Imagine that I turn to this person and tell her that I have a very bad stomach ache and she would offer to remove my appendix. And because she's not a doctor, I would a hard time trusting her capacity to perform a surgical procedure and the offer would erode my trust in her. Even if I use to trust her with my "heart" I start wondering if I can really trust her intention that she want the best for me. And where is her integrity when it comes to offering me something like that? Even if she would like to help me in this way I would start to trust her less.

One cool thing about trust is built on our ability to communicate. We can focus on certain things that contributes to the building blocks of trust. But communication is not always enough.

It is not possible to communicate our way out of a problem we have acted our way into.

Wisdom comes from knowing when to communicate and when to act to build our trust.

You can read more about trust in my book Human Connection at Work.

If you sign up for our newsletter, you will receive a free English translation of the book in ebook format.

If you want to learn more about how trust is a central part of NVC based mediation - take a look at


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