If you’ve seen the movie "Meet the Parents," you probably remember “the circle of trust.” Robert De Niro’s character, Jack, a former CIA agent and overly protective father, is obsessed with making sure his future son-in-law, Greg, is a trustworthy and honorable husband for his only daughter, Pam. From Jack’s perspective, a person is either in or out of his circle of trust; there’s nothing in between.
Today’s political and social climate is causing people to reduce their circle of trust. Countless surveys report widespread distrust in media, government, employers and other social institutions. Artificial intelligence, “deepfake” videos and audio recordings blur the lines between reality and fantasy to the point we can’t trust what we see or hear. As a result, our circle of trust keeps getting smaller and smaller.
Cultural influences aren’t the only reason we find it hard to trust people. Our personality and life experiences have a far greater impact on who and when we decide to trust. Whether it’s possessing a naturally low propensity to trust, having unrealistic expectations of others, or letting past breaches of trust hold us back from trusting again, many people have a circle of trust that is sparsely populated.
In order to live and lead in more fulfilling ways, we must expand our circle of trust. Trust is the foundation of any healthy and successful relationship, and for people in positions of leadership, it’s critical to let others into our circle of trust. We can do that by:
- Extending trust. In order to receive trust, you first must give it. It’s a bit of a misnomer to say that trust is earned. The reality is that it must be willingly given by someone, and that can’t happen until trust has been extended. It the leader’s responsibility to first extend trust and then act in a trustworthy manner so that others willingly give their trust in return.
- Trusting smartly. It’s foolishness to extend trust blindly. That opens the door to being hurt and exploited. It’s important to trust smartly by assessing an individual’s trustworthiness. People display their trustworthiness in four primary areas: competence, character, care and consistency. People can be trusted when they are competent in the work they perform; they possess the knowledge and skills for their role at work. People with high character and who act with integrity display trustworthiness. People of character are honest and walk the talk. People who show care and act with good intentions toward others build trust. People trust others who have their best interests in mind. Finally, people trust consistency. People who consistently honor their commitments and follow-through are worthy of trust.
- Starting small. If it’s hard for you to allow people into your circle of trust, start small. Extend trust in measured amounts in low-risk situations. As people prove themselves trustworthy, extend more trust. As you build your confidence in smartly trusting others, extend more amounts of trust in higher-risk situations. It can be scary to extend trust on faith, but there isn’t any other way. Without risk, there’s no need for trust.