On Building Trust And Why Assumptions Are Deadly

Building Trust

It’s no secret that one of the keys to a solid relationship with anyone, romantic or otherwise, is trust.

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it.” – Warren Buffet

Trust is built over time, in small moments.

In the business world, someone might check you or your product out, have a conversation with you, see how they feel.

They might “opt-in” to something you have to offer for free (e.g. my newsletter 🙂  simply add your email below if you’re not already subscribed!)

If they like you, they might stick around, spend more time with you, find out more about what you have to offer.

You’re building trust.

They might hire you for a small project, and if all goes well, bring you back for something bigger and share your name with other people who can use your help.

But if something goes wrong…

If they get a glimpse into your character and see something ugly, a lack of integrity, dishonesty or something different than the image you convey…

That trust is broken.

Within minutes.

(Keep reading to hear my recent story about my recent breach of trust…)

It’s an even worse betrayal the deeper you get with someone.

In a romantic relationship, you give your heart to someone.

Then if they cheat on you, it is very hard work (that requires more than just time) to get over the pain to rebuild that trust.

Rebuilding trust takes courage and strength, a risk, and at times, incredible forgiveness.

You can read more on infidelity here, and it is totally possible to rebuild trust after this kind of betrayal, and create an even better relationship than you had before.

For any real work, growth or expansion, in romantic, business relationships and otherwise, we must trust others, trust ourselves, and be trustworthy in general.

This week I have been thinking about trust more than usual.

Let me tell you why.

Tuesday morning, on a beautiful crisp fall morning run with that smell of winter’s hints finally in the air (you know that smokey, snowy smell I’m talking about),  I started listening to Brené Brown’s new book, Braving The Wilderness.

I hesitated at first to read it because I felt like I could do fine with the Cliff Notes (Marie Forleo had a nice interview with her here).

I opened Audible to look for a different book I couldn’t find, but of course Audible, like any useful app, can read my mind and told me I want to listen to Braving The Wilderness.

So I followed the flow and got the book.

(If you don’t already have Audible, you can actually listen to the book for free with a free trial of Audible here.)

I guess I trust Audible to know me pretty well, yet I wasn’t thinking about trust or building trust when I set out to read it.

I just wanted something to listen to on my beautiful morning run and I wanted a break from podcasts (stay tuned for mine coming soon, by the way).

I like Brené Brown a lot.

I enjoy listening to her down to earth voice, the way she tells stories, and tremendously appreciate her research and shedding light on topics like shame that most people prefer to avoid.

(The masochist that I am, on the other hand, has attended full weekend workshops on shame in the past, you can imagine how much fun 16 hours of shame is over a weekend…?)

I suggest checking her work out to people frequently.

It’s relatable, direct and makes sense.

I love that it’s research based (even though personally there are few things I loathe more than carrying out research, so as long as I’m not doing it, we’re good).

It’s a bit intellectual, but I believe that makes it more accessible, and makes subjects that some of us might typically run from more interesting.

I’m always surprised when I ask people if they’ve heard of her work and they say “no.” I became aware of her from her TED talk on Vulnerability years ago and appreciated it so much.

Since then, she’s only gotten more popular.

Personally, her work also helps me feel more connected to people in general and reminds me that at the end of the day, we’re all the same messy biology trying to make sense of ourselves and the world, which can often feel confusing and difficult to understand.

I liked taking Brené with me on my run, and ran a surprisingly fast (for me) 8:03 minute mile 3 when she told about meeting her hero Maya Angelou after first recording a Super Soul Session with Oprah years back. (There are few things I love more than those first runs in the fall after the temperature drops.)

I actually had to hold back tears while running for some reason because it was such an emotional moment that she was describing in meeting Dr. Angelou (even listening to the book on 1.5X speed).

But I wonder if my tangent away from the point of trust is eroding yours in me?

Trust me, I’ll get back to trust…

If your trust in me is starting to erode, allow me to try to rebuild it.

One key component of trust is doing what you say you’re going to do.

I’m going to write about trust.

Dr. Brown speaks about “The Anatomy of Trust” in her book and I wanted to share it with you as I think it can be extremely helpful if you’re like me and just want the Cliff Notes at times.

She uses the acronym “BRAVING” to list different components of trust:

Let’s go through each, because I think they’re helpful:

B – Boundaries:

You need to respect yours and mine, and I’ll respect yours and mine too. We also need to be clear about what they are.

R – Reliable:

Do what you say you’re going to do. 

I think we can all think of people who are reliably unreliable. That’s not the kind of reliability I’m talking about.

It’s simple: do what you say, be reliable. 

And for the love of all things holy (this is Jenev talking now), show up when you say you will (I recognize my cultural bias here, but I really appreciate timeliness since I so value our time and follow a schedule).

A – Accountable:

If and perhaps more certainly when either of us makes a mistake, we’ll own it and take responsibility. We’ll be accountable for ourselves.

V – Vault:

Keep my confidence. I’ll keep yours. And keep others’ confidence.

Don’t bond over what Dr. Brown calls “common enemy intimacy.”

Raising my hand here, I’ve done it.

As nice as it is to feel “included” at times, ultimately bonding over gossip or someone else’s private material erodes trust in all ways and always.

I – Integrity: 

Her definition of integrity goes like this:

“Choosing courage over comfort, choosing what’s right over what’s fun, fast or easy, and practicing your values, not just professing your values.”

N – Non-judgment: 

It’s okay for you to struggle and ask for help. It’s okay for me to struggle and ask for help. I don’t judge you for it and I don’t judge me for it.

Brené Brown points out that it’s a lot easier for many of us to give help, but not so much to receive it. We judge ourselves when we need help.

That erodes trust, because ultimately, if you judge you? You judge me.

(Remember, our world is a giant mirror.)

G – Generosity:

To be truly building trust in your relationship (and it is a process), you need to be generous in your interpretation of someone and their intentions.

I want to talk about generosity of assumption for a bit because it comes up for me both professionally and personally almost daily.

Before doing so, however, I also want to point out that I don’t think any of us are perfect at B-R-A-V-I-N-G all the time, even if we would like to think we are.

I know for myself, I screw up all the time.

(More on that and how I broke someone’s trust in a bit.)

I’m guilty of going back on my word, gossiping, choosing comfort over courage, and even though one of my superpowers is to be more curious than judging with the best of them, my default can sometimes be a not nice judge on the inside, if I’m not paying close enough attention.

I’ll also mention that I believe what builds trust that is not mentioned here is emotional connection.

Real presence. Attunement. I could go on (and have gone on, and will go on) about the importance of that, but for now, I felt it was important to mention that true and authentic emotional connection takes the cake in the creation of solid relationships and building of trust.

I believe the real question is:

Can I really see you and trust you to see me, and do I matter enough to you for you to suspend your stories to really look at me and listen to me?

Am I important enough to you for you to do that with me?

We all just want to be seen, known and valued.

And this relates to that G for Generosity in rebuilding trust.

It is easy for us humans to go to a “worst case scenario” story out of self-protection, after all, that kind of wiring to be hypervigilant about what’s wrong is partially what we can thank for our survival today

Ultimately, however, this “worst case scenario” it is no longer as necessary from a biological standpoint as it was thousands of years ago when it had its place in our evolutionary history.

Today, I believe that sort of tendency to assume the worst and worry, while it had its place in our history and survival, ultimately is what is responsible for massive amounts of destruction – intrapersonally, interpersonally and globally.

You’ve heard that statement about how stress is connected to all disease, I’m sure. That’s part of what I’m talking about.

Don’t even get me started on war.

So to evolve positively and into a more compassionate world (which I’m hungry for and I bet you are as well) that we can feel good about passing onto our children and theirs and so on, we need to be generous in our interpretations of each other.

This G for Generosity is what stood out to me as one of the most difficult things I see couples face with each other particularly after breaches of trust.

It can feel risky, unsafe, and sometimes, downright foolish.


Sometimes it is.

How do you know when to be generous with your interpretation and when to protect yourself?

These are good questions, but unless you are in an emotionally or physically violent relationship (which, unfortunately, are more common than we might believe), chances are, you default to self-protective “worst case scenario” stories that might ultimately be sabotaging your chances of building trust and connection with your partner and anyone else.

(If you suspect you might be in an emotionally or physically violent relationship, I urge you to get some confidential help. 

Head on over to www.thehotline.com to find that support.)

If you are not in a domestically violent relationship, try extending the benefit of the doubt instead of automatically assuming negative intent.

Check in with the person to see where they intend to be coming from.

Try to connect – essence to essence.

That means identifying, then surrendering or at least offering your story.

It’s a risky and vulnerable thing to do if you’ve been hurt to say, “ouch, that hurt me, did you mean to just hurt me like that?”

After all, what if they say, “yeah I meant to hurt you, and take this while you’re down!”

That would hurt even more.

(Sadly, that is what you might be dealing with if you are in a violent relationship, so instead, consider getting immediate confidential support with that, at a site such as www.thehotline.org)

In a way, with whatever story you are telling yourself, you may be trying to preserve and protect what connection may be there, but in so doing you are shutting down the opportunity for a deeper connection.

The real generosity comes in when you are willing to suspend your stories of self-protection in the name of seeing things from the other’s perspective and seeing their true essence and not the one that you think you see.

So simple and yet not easy especially when there has been hurt and pain.

More times than not, we skip that step and misinterpret each other in those moments.

In efforts to rebuild trust, it erodes.

I see it happen before my eyes all the time.

And in fact, upon getting back from my run on that beautiful crisp Tuesday morning, I experienced it myself.

I received an email from someone I didn’t know on my mailing list.

And they blasted me.

I broke this person’s trust.

Divine Timing, Audible, in suggesting that book an hour before I got this email?

I believe so.

Here’s what happened:

I got this angry email, and was accused of taking someone’s money and not providing what I said I would and they were disgusted.

I? Was horrified.

I felt that familiar and unpleasant rush of blood and sympathetic nervous system activation that rendered me a bit useless for a few minutes.

For 10 uncomfortable seconds or so I felt defensive, and then I realized, they may be right.

I messed up.

And then I felt even worse.

I completely lost their trust.

Understandably so.

In the grand scheme of things, it was not a huge deal and I would like to think our “relationship” was repaired after a few emails of explanation.

However, her initial reaction was disgust.

She was disgusted with me.

Yuck. Speaking of shame…

She paid me for something she did not receive.

Turns out, this led me to discover that I was having technical glitches and had no idea people were buying my ebook in the past few weeks, but for almost 2 weeks, sales were going through and for some reason they were going to a non-existent place.

Folks weren’t receiving the books.

She believed I totally scammed her out of $18.97, understandably so.

So very thankfully, my team was on it right away, the issue was resolved and we were able to recover the names of people who bought the ebook and I sent them over (if you were one of them, look out for an email from me!!!).

Though this was a casualty of technology, it was still my fault, something on my site wasn’t working, I take full responsibility.

I’m SO grateful that she spoke up and dropped me a line.

Even from her “story” of me being some kind of online slime ball scam artist, she was at least trusting enough to speak her mind and let me know that’s how she felt.

She extended the olive branch.

In a bit of a rage, she acted from that 1% chance in her mind (whether she was aware of it or not) that maybe I do have a heart and am not someone who just wants to take her money, but actually have something of value (I’d like to think) in exchange for her dollars.

She gave me a chance.

The best chance any of us can get:

To rebuild trust.

She was angry, understandably so, but at the same time, she was generous enough to let me in to her experience.

There were others who said nothing.

I don’t know if they thought they did something wrong and didn’t receive the download or they didn’t care or they were just busy or if they thought I was just a scam artist or whatever, but I didn’t hear from them. 

Technology turned on us and she forged a connection despite that.

She allowed me to rebuild trust with her, and hopefully as a result of her speaking up, I was able to with the others who I let down as well.

At the end of the day, breaches of trust are tremendous opportunities to rebuild trust.

Moments of conflict and confusion allow us to slow things down, figure out what happened in reality between us, and share stories of what’s happened within us.

The challenge is to get up close and take a look.

“People are hard to hate close up.” –Brené Brown

You can’t get close if your story is in your own way, and you don’t give them a chance.

Extend the benefit of the doubt even if it feels easier at times to discard, run with your assumptions, and move on.

I believe it’s an easier and more compassionate way to live, and a fantastic way to rebuild trust.

What do you believe?

Let me know in the comments how you have rebuild trust in relationships – you’ll never know who you’ll be helping.

Thanks for reading, and here’s to your best relationships,


1 Comment
  1. Jin 5 months ago

    Where can I find more information on this exact topic of being generous with our assumptions of other peoples intent?

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