Relational Trust: A Key Foundation to Building Relationships

I spend a lot of time talking about relationships… between one individual and another…between professional and client… or between employers and coworkers. Often, I talk about relationships between parent and child, or teacher and student. Usually, the relationships I speak of are ones in which the person is struggling with someone close. But in all of these situations,  one key concept seems ever-present: relational trust.

Trust is a universal foundation to almost every relationship.  

Mother and son arguing
Trust is one of the most fragile relational dynamics that we share. It takes a very long time to earn, grow and develop; yet, it can be lost in mere seconds.

Trust is one of the most fragile relational dynamics that we share. It takes a very long time to earn, grow and develop; yet, it can be lost in mere seconds. I have talked to so many who have been “burned” by broken trust.  It happens at work, at home, at school…anywhere that relationships occur.

People entrust themselves to others for a variety of reasons: authority, like a teacher or parent; or assertive power, like a coach or employer.  There are individuals who entrust themselves because of attraction or romance. Others simply desire a connection and will do just about anything to get and sustain that connection.

In any relationship there is risk. 

Risks can be reduced if we understand that trust is something that needs to be built over time. Without understanding the risks and merits of relational trust, and without being intentional about building it, then we become involved in a high threat situation, sometimes without even knowing it.

Take, for instance, when someone starts a new job. Is it truly healthy to trust the management, ownership, supervisors and fellow workers without knowing them? When I present our values to our new employees, one of the first things I tell them is that they have permission to make us earn their trust before they entrust themselves to us. Depending on their past employers, earning their trust may take some time.

When I describe trust to those in my sphere of influence, I describe it as a process, one that begins with an individual’s definition of relational integrity. 

Trust begins with relational integrity then builds incrementally over time until we feel safe to entrust ourselves to others.  In romantic relatoinships or marriages, I often find that individuals have entrusted themselves to someone with whom they do not have relational integrity.  How sad to discover such a truth later in the relationship.

That is why I encourage individuals to define what relational integrity looks like to them.

What are your values for relationship-integrity? 

When I ask that question, I usually hear relational characteristics like unconditional acceptance, kindness, compassion, support, respect, nonjudgmentalism, sensitivity, loving acts, nurturing and so on. If someone consistently demonstrates those characteristics over time, then it becomes easy to trust that person.  If not, then trust should not be granted.

Sometimes an individual will trust someone in selected aspects of a relationship and remain guarded in others. 

Trust can be compartmentalized until issues in question are resolved. 

Correctly, trust requires a long process for most people because it is necessary to develop a consistent pattern of care.

However, when the one who gives trust, tests and proves it until a pattern of consistent care exists, the opportunity to entrust (be vulnerable to the one who is trusted) becomes present, no matter what the circumstances. Few people reach this level of relationship.

Relational integrity should always be both given and received in a good relationship.
Relational integrity should always be both given and received in a good relationship.

Sharing quality relationships that really work takes care. Relational integrity should always be both given and received in a good relationship.  Yes, we each should prove that we are trustworthy.

Because trustworthiness deepens with continued relational integrity, we can celebrate that we truly have someone in our life to whom we can entrust ourselves.

It is interesting that parents, teachers, employers, pastors and other authority figures can believe their positions of authority mean they naturally should be trusted. 

I think anyone building a relationship should realize the need to show dignity, respect and genuine care for those in their lives no matter what their role or position. Doing so will help those that we are in authority over to truly feel safe enough to trust, communicate and be transparent with us. If we are not relationally respectful (or safe), trust becomes conditional. People will learn not to take relational risks if they are abused, ignored or not respected. 

Imagine within our homes, schools, workplaces, churches and communities if we were cognizant that relational integrity should be measured before we grant trust to anyone…

…and that the trust pattern needs to be consistent over time before we entrust ourselves to someone. What would happen to marriages?  How differently would children respond to discipline? How differently would students act in their schools?  What would happen to the crime rate? What would happen to those victimized by people they know? How many volatile relationships would be quickly ended if we expected those around us to have relational integrity? 

So much dysfunction and destruction overwhelms relationships today, and it frequently leads to tragic consequences. I believe that earning relational trust is a key principle, core to making some significant changes in our schools, homes and communities.

If trust is broken, we should be able to earn it back over time

I truly believe that to protect our children and adults, we should examine relational trust for those with whom we are in relationship. I also think relational integrity and trust are the best ways to build, protect, and nurture good and healthy relationships in almost every sphere of life. 

We know that healthy relationships are vital to almost everything we do in any part of our lives! First build relational integrity, then trust, then entrustment. Intuitively, it feels right, doesn’t it?

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *