Trust is like love. Both parties have to feel it before it really exists. While trusting and being trustworthy are related, they are not the same thing.
In this post you’re going to discover the Trust Formula and the most important elements of trustworthiness. It will show you which areas you should focus on in order to fix shaken trust or to avoid breaking it in the first place.
Breaking Down Trust
Charles H. Green, the author of the book The Trusted Advisor, identified four aspects of trustworthiness. They can be collated into four variables: credibility, reliability, intimacy, and self-orientation. They cover most of the meanings of trust and they have been combined in the Trust Formula, which says:
T = Trustworthiness. C=Credibility, R= reliability, I = Intimacy, S = Self-Orientation
Credibility generally has to do with your words. It’s how you communicate. Dr. John Gottman, a living legend among marital experts, states that there are four communication behaviors that are destructive in this respect.
They are also the predictors of a breakdown in a relationship and an individual’s credibility. These are: criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and contempt.
Gottman considers contempt the worst. But you rarely wake up with contempt for someone. It builds over time. So you have to look for the underlying behavior, which from his research proved to be sarcasm.
Therefore, the obvious ways to boost your credibility in marriage include:
- Cut off the criticism and replace it with these much more productive ways to express your dissatisfaction.
- Avoid defensiveness. We’ve all been defensive. When we feel accused unjustly, we fish for excuses. Most frequently that means blaming the accuser back right away. In effect you’re saying, “The problem isn’t me, it’s you.” Instead, accept (even partial) responsibility for the problem, and act on it.
Defensiveness: “It’s not my fault that we’re always late; it’s your fault.”
Antidote: “Well, you’re right. Part of this is my problem—I need to do a better job managing my time.”
- Stop giving the silent treatment (aka stonewalling) and instead approach your spouse in this way.
- Stay away from sarcasm. The origin of the word ‘sarcasm’ derives from the Greek word sarkazein which means “to tear flesh.”
Reliability is rooted in consistency, predictability, and familiarity. If your spouse feels your are reliable, then they know they won’t be (unpleasantly) surprised by you. They get what they expect from you.
Here are a couple of examples how you can boost your reliability score:
- State expectations up front and report on them regularly. If you said you’re going to get the roof fixed in June and it’s Christmas now (and you didn’t say a word about it ever since), then this does not boost your reliability.
- Keep your promises. Even better, make lots of small promises and consistently follow through on them.
- Be on time.
- Give timely information. Communicate if you fall behind, and take responsibility for it. If you’re about to be late getting home and your spouse is already expecting you, give them a call immediately after you learned that you’re going to be late.
- Give accurate information. When you are leaving the house, let your spouse know where you are going. It shouldn’t be so hard saying something like “I am going to see my sister Liz. I will spend the whole day at her place, see how the children are doing, and then come home around 7:00 PM. Is that all right with you?”
Intimacy refers to whether your spouse feels accepted and appreciated as they are. It means they feel close to you so they feel safe to be vulnerable with you. Intimacy can be boosted in many ways, such as
- Become a great listener starting today.
- Spend enough meaningful time together. But how much is enough?
- Touch without sexpectations (as a primary motive).
Self-orientation is something most people identify as the biggest opportunity for improvement in the trust equation. To highlight this common problem, Charles H. Green deliberately placed it below the denominator line of the Trust Equation.
The higher your self-orientation, the lower your trustworthiness. It works the other way around too: The lower your self-orientation, the higher your trustworthiness.
Simply defined, self-orientation is about focus. Better so, it’s about who you focus on—yourself or your spouse. If your partner can say, “I trust that he cares about me,” then you have a low level of self-orientation. And that’s good.
The higher your self-orientation, the lower your trustworthiness.
Here are a couple of ways to boost your self-orientation score (i.e. lower your self-orientation perception that your spouse has about you).
- Ask yourself this question frequently (preferably every day), “What can I do today to make my spouse’s life more pleasurable?”
- Pay attention to the little things that matter the most. You know, when you do something for your loved one just because, expecting nothing in return.
- Show curiosity about what’s happening in your partner’s life.
- Follow up on something your spouse confided to you before. This will show them that you were actively listening the last time you talked. It shows them that what they are saying is important to you.
- When your spouse is talking to you, encourage them by frequently using phrases like “Go on,” “I understand,” and “Tell me more.”
- Avoid using ‘buts.’ Instead, pitch in with your opinion in a more inclusive way that doesn’t invite resentment (especially when used often).
- Even when you are having an argument, always look for a win-win solution.
- When you screw up, apologize the right way (and not like a jerk).
- Avoid unsolicited advice. “Poor dear” is better than an “I know the solution, dear.” It’s highly probable that your partner just wants to be heard.
- Show that you are on the same team. Even if you think your spouse is wrong, don’t side with the other person (especially not your spouse’s boss!) Instead, give the emotional support your loved one needs at that moment and support them. You’ll be able to dispense your advice later on.
This is when you pause and think about how lucky you are to have someone so special in your life. Not because you want a favor back, but because you love them and would do it even though they may never return the favor.
The good news is that you actually don’t have to focus on all four aspects of trustworthiness at the same time. Instead, just pick one that you think you can do the best job improving at and start with that.
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