The Elements of Trust

I congratulate myself for making it through three blog posts without going deep on trust. Trust is fundamental for me in so many ways and is embedded in my core value of Integrity.

In my learning with the Newfield Network, one aspect I found insightful was their distinctions for the elements of trust. Consider when someone makes a promise to you, and you find yourself doubting that this person will deliver. Essentially, you do not trust them to fulfill the promise. These distinctions allow you to diagnose why you do not trust them to deliver, which in turn help you remedy the breakdown to ensure the promise will be fulfilled.


The first element of trust is sincerity. When the speaker makes a promise to you, are they sincere? Do you assess that their internal motivation for making that promise aligns with the external motivation they have presented? When there is a misalignment between what the speaker says externally and the motivation they experience internally, the speaker lacks sincerity. If you believe the speaker of the promise is insincere, then you will not trust them. We frequently experience this breakdown of trust with politicians – they make a lot of promises that many of us feel are not sincere.


The second element of trust is competency. The speaker making the promise may be sincere, but may lack the necessary knowledge, skills, or abilities to fulfill the promise. I can promise to stand in as lead guitarist for your band, but you’ll likely reject my promise because you know I’m not a competent guitar player.


The final element is reliability. You may be sincere, and you may possess the necessary competencies, however if you have a history of failing to deliver, I may not trust you because I believe you are unreliable. Perhaps I’m an excellent guitar player, but in your experience, I often show up an hour late to an event. You can’t trust me in this situation because you can’t rely on me to arrive at the performance on time.

Putting Them into Practice

Lately I’ve been using these distinctions in my practice. I initially assumed Arete Pursuits would have one and only one coach – me. In this model I never have to trust anyone else to represent my brand. With the response I’ve seen since launching my practice, my personal board of directors has been quick to point out that I’ll soon be faced with the choice of taking on additional coaches or turning customers away. This begs a difficult question – who else do I trust to represent my brand? As I consider potential partners, I sometimes get that gut feeling and know I wouldn’t trust them, but I’m not sure why. The elements of trust help me quickly pinpoint why I’m feeling that way.

It’s rarely an issue with sincerity. I think anyone who isn’t sincere about coaching never makes it to my candidate list.

Sometimes it’s a question of competency – perhaps this individual has no intention of obtaining an International Coaching Federation (ICF) certification. Or their background and expertise doesn’t fit the Arete Pursuits target market. Sure, you may be great at coaching agricultural farmers, but does that competency translate to technology and education leaders?

If the root issue is reliability, then the question is why do I assess this person as unreliable? Are they late to events? Do they have a history of failing to deliver on a promise?

Whether the trust breakdown ties to competency or reliability, with some effort I can typically pinpoint the specific issue. This in turn allows me to consider whether that breakdown can be remedied, and if so, allows me to provide specific feedback to the potential partner about what would need to change.

You can read more about Trust in Language and the Pursuit of Leadership Excellence, by Chalmers Brothers and Vinay Kumar. See the section on Distrust starting on page 121.

I invite you to think about a trust breakdown you’re experiencing in your life. Can you identify which element(s) of trust are missing? Having done so, how does this help you understand and resolve the breakdown?

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