Friday, January 4, 2013

The Traits that Foster Trust and Forgiveness

One might think that the best and most readily available material about how to foster, build and rebuild trust might be found in Christian books. There are a few, and I've mentioned many of them. I've been sad to discover, however, that some of the best material on the subject can be found in literature about how to manage employees in the workplace. I would like to think that some of the church growth material includes these ideas, too, but I am unfamiliar with that literature. I am familiar with older management material, so I've borrowed from it to help us learn some lessons in trust to help prepare the way for forgiveness in our troubled relationships. I'd also like to think that these ethical concepts worked their way into management theory because of the virtuous “borrowed capital” from Christianity's influence within society.


Characteristics of the Trustworthy

As noted in the previous post, trust is a belief in a positive outcome and a willingness to make oneself vulnerable by acting on that optimistic belief. Breaking that down a bit further, it seems that the core components of trust depend upon certain qualities that manifest in the trustworthy person.

  • Competence (Reasonable sense of personal safety based on ability)
  • Reliability (Actions are dependable but also match spoken messages)
  • Integrity (Ethics as well as a certain degree of honest self-disclosure/reciprocated vulnerability)
  • Benevolence (Kind and appropriate concern for the welfare of others which assumes a sense of optimism, a willingness to share control, and an ability to tolerate imperfection in others as well as ambiguity)


Competence and Reliability. What does this look like in real life? People who are trustworthy are capable of doing what you trust them to do. A sane adult does not trust a toddler to catch them if the fall, but the toddler knows that they can trust the adult. A trustworthy person not only does what they say they will do, but their messages and their words and promises are all congruent with one another. This can be a great problem for people who don't possess a healthy level of self-awareness, because they often don't even perceive that they are inconsistent in this area.

Integrity. Integrity manifests in through ethics, and a trustworthy person respects and honors others, and they show self respect as well. The principles by which one lives become evident through behavior, and the consistency with which a person adheres to their chosen principles builds trust with those who find their ethical and moral code to be acceptable. A functional moral code will provide for degree of reciprocity in vulnerability, and without it, relationships become quite one sided. Mutual respect encourages transparency, and an ethical code provides the safety of structure that protects people emotionally. Integrity also manifests through a sense of loyalty within a relationship. A healthy component of one's code of ethics also includes an honest assessment of one's own limitations. Realization of our limited, imperfect nature allows us the liberty to ask for help from others and to admit our mistakes.

Benevolence. Benevolence and kindness foster trust, also contributing to the feeling of safety within a relationship. Building upon the structure that good experience creates through demonstrating that actions match spoken intent, kindness shines through and glues these other factors together. Mutual care flows very naturally from respect which creates a sense of optimism, as all of these factors lean on one another to form a place of trust within a relationship. Benevolence allows us to overlook small infractions, mistakes, and imperfections that naturally occur between individuals, as well. Kindness also smooths over concerns that we might have about control.

Benevolence also provides for a sense of emotional safety within a relationship which allows for sharing power through a sense of cooperation. This fosters a willingness to negotiate in a dance of give and take through mutual care. People also need to feel that they have value to others in a relationship of trust, and this wards off fear that they will lose the relationship every time they make a mistakes or cause offense. Those who realize that they are interdependent with others help them tolerate any concerns that they have about ambiguity about where the relationship will lead or how our interactions with others will conclude. Benevolence allows us to be well disposed to forgiving, the virtue which near the core of giving others “the benefit of the doubt” in a spirit of optimism when we do not understand what another person says or does.


Becoming Trustworthy

An earlier post mentioned Cloud and Townsend's book, Safe People, teaching us how we can both identify safe people for us to trust and also to help us understand how we can become more trustworthy. The information pulled from management training also echos the same virtues, and we can hopefully learn from this information that studies in effective teamwork on the job elucidate for us. By working at becoming more competent, reliable, ethical, and benevolent in our relationships, we can do all that we can to change our difficult relationships.

Scripture gives us the best information that we can possibly hope for concerning how we can develop the best character. But sometimes, it is helpful for us to think about things in a different context so that we can see ourselves more clearly. Consider these qualities as a way of healing broken relationships and building up the good relationships that we have already – another tool to help us learn to be more forgiving.

In summary, consider another list of ways to build trust (adapted from Beyond Intractability):
  • Perform competently, consistently, and predictably.
  • Communicate accurately, openly and transparently.
  • Share and delegate control.  
  • Show concern for others. The trust others have in you will grow when you show sensitivity to their needs, desires, and interests.
  • Establish a common association and perhaps a shared identity. Build a culture of “we” instead of “me.”
  • Commit to spending time together to cooperate and work out problems.
  • Pursue common goals and efforts.  Promote shared values.



Posts to follow continue to explore
trust-building as a way of fostering forgiveness.