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Do you know how to build trust?

Updated: May 25

I’ve been writing a lot about relationships, attachment, human-to-human interactions and connections and I want to go deeper with this relationship knowledge. As a Trauma Informed Leadership Strategist, I'm on a mission to help others grow in skills that faire better for interpersonal interactions. Read on to learn some of the HOW of Trauma Informed Skill Application. Because trauma informed is a practice, a demonstration of skills; not a what you know, rather a how do you take what you know and use it to engage differently with the world, and the people in it. Read on to learn more!

Last month, I talked about how to build intimacy safely in a romantic relationship. Building any connection with another requires trust. Safe intimacy implies trust. Safe, supportive community implies trust. Safe workplace environment implies trust. However, trust should not be implied or assumed, but built and grown over time.

What exactly is Trust?

Let’s dive into trust, both in personal and professional relationships, and what it means to cultivate trust with the goal of making places and spaces more comfortable (a.k.a. safe-feeling) for more, if not all, people. What is trust? What does trust feel like? What does trust look like? Merriam Webster defines trust as “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something; one in which confidence is placed; dependence on something future or contingent; to rely on the truthfulness or accuracy of; to place confidence in; to rely on; to hope or expect confidently.” Basically, trust = confidence in the consistency. When you trust something, you believe in its accuracy; you believe in its follow-through; you believe in its reliability. There’s no guessing game. Face value = face value. No hidden agenda. Trust is clear, transparent, predictable, reliable, consistency. Without trust there are questions. Questions of accuracy. Questions of intention. Questions of motive. Questions of actions and behaviors. Questions of decision-making. Without trust, there is mistrust, which is uncertainty about the accuracy or reliability of something, or someone. Webster defines mistrust as “to have no trust or confidence in; to doubt the truth, validity, or effectiveness of; to be suspicious.” This sounds about right to me: mistrust = suspicious of accuracy, reliability, character. When I’m suspicious of the accuracy of something I certainly am asking questions. One reason for this is to determine more truth, truth about motive, truth about validity. Another reason is to gather more information to increase confidence. Maybe there is mistrust because there is misunderstanding. Either way, mistrust most certainly will lead to questions.

Check out a LIVE discussion between me and one of my Trauma Informed Colleagues as we discuss T.I. skills and decision-making as it fits within our own personal agency. The sum? How can we make decisions for ourselves that are trauma informed and demonstrate self-compassion when the systems we are in don't necessarily give us options? View the discussion in its entirety by clicking here.


Cultivating Trust

According to Merriam Webster, Trust is: assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something; one in which confidence is placed; dependence on something future or contingent; to rely on the truthfulness or accuracy of; to place confidence in; to rely on; to hope or expect confidently.

So, if trust is not implied, assumed, or maintained on its own, how do we cultivate trust? In my article featured in Authority Magazine, I discuss cultivating trust. “To create a culture of trust requires use of trauma-informed and human-centered applied skills. Having trauma-informed knowledge is not enough. You have to know how to apply those skills in real time with real people. Without transparency, consent and choice, and space-holding, it’s unlikely a culture of trust will exist.” Okay, there’s a lot of ‘trauma-informed speak’ embedded here. Let’s break it down a bit. Some trauma informed principles include offering choice and gaining consent before doing anything (including saying anything) that may cause harm to someone else; operating from a place of transparency to remove the guessing game; holding space for others in their pain or struggle, without making it about you; holding space for yourself when you feel unsettled, emotional, or activated in your nervous system which models self-compassion; being consistent in your actions, and if you can’t be consistent, offer explanation. These skills and qualities are effective in work relationships AND other interpersonal relationships, like with friends, your partner, your children. Valuing the cultivation and maintenance of trust means valuing relationships.

How exactly do you build trust?

You may be wondering, HOW, exactly you can build trust. What are some tangible actions you can take to start building a foundation of trust between you and another person, or group of people? We’ll start with personal actions you can take. For example, doing your own work. What does this mean exactly? It means getting real with yourself about your patterns, habits, behaviors, reactions, thoughts, biases, and self and world view. This is often best accomplished in psychotherapy treatment. Why? Because once we take a deep dive into our own psyche, we always uncover some stuff we weren’t expecting. And we learn things we weren’t expecting. And often the things we uncover and learn are unhealed wounds that lead to faulty beliefs about self (and often others) which translates in to maladaptive patterns of thought and behavior which impact those around us…often without us, or others, having any awareness of the driving force of decisions and choices. And many times, that impact is not positive and not beneficial, and often can be harmful. A psychotherapist is trained to help you navigate these parts of yourself, and guide you to being a healthier, more embodied, whole human. And when you yourself are healthier and more embodied, you have greater opportunity to positively impact those around you. In addition, learning about yourself, and then being your authentic self (and being comfortable with your authentic self), is part of that self-work. You cannot be comfortable around others, or with others, if you are not comfortable with yourself. Finally, a willingness to engage in life-long learning about yourself, others, trauma informed principles, healthy relationship dynamics etc. is a key piece to cultivating, and maintaining trust, between you and other people.

Next, we expand from self-work to work on self that more clearly and directly impacts others. For instance, learning effective communication skills. This includes understanding biased and aggressive language and terms, and choosing to engage in both verbal and non-verbal communication without judgment and without violence. This takes both education and practice. Many of the things we say are colloquialisms and terms that are woven into the fabric of the air we all breathe, like most social constructs. We often repeat things without questioning if they make sense…or if they are biased or judgmental towards someone. Social constructs exist in language and often social constructs are biases—biases about what is ‘good’ or ‘appropriate’ vs. what is ‘not good’ or ‘inappropriate.’ Appreciating the differences among us and extending that appreciation outwards can positively impact those around you. If you have difficulty understanding or accepting people, places, or things that are different than you or your cultural norm, I encourage you to consider how you can grow in embracing and celebrating differences, rather than using those differences to place people (or things) into categories, separating out from the majority. Without accepting difference, we could easily fall into binary thinking (black/white, either/or) and by default binaries are exclusive, meaning not including of everyone. Also, demonstrating empathy towards others, even those who are different from you, is a skill that usually is not inherent for folks and requires intentionality. Back to Webster with their definition of empathy: “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another; the act of imagining one's ideas, feelings, or attitudes as fully inhabiting something observed.” How does this differ from sympathy? Well sympathy is feeling, or demonstration of, concern for someone in their experience, struggle or pain; while empathy is actively sharing in the painful experience of another, being with them in their struggle, walking with them through their experience, imagining their feelings and reactions from THAT PERSON’S perspective (or lived experience in this world) rather than from your own place of lived experience in this world. This is hard for most people. Emotional intelligence, self-awareness, compassion, and possessing a human-centered heart facilitates one’s ability to be empathetic.

Some final examples of HOW to build trust by looking inward before behaving outward. What happens when you make a mistake that negatively impacts someone else? What do you do when you make a choice or decision that negatively impacts someone else? Do you accept responsibility? Do you communicate this to the other? Do you work to change your behavior to avoid this mistake, and subsequent harm (or negative impact) it has had on someone else? This is accountability. Most of us don’t like it. However, we all need it. Why? Because we WILL make mistakes. All of us. We will cause harm to others. All of us. Learning to accept responsibility for your impact and being accountable to make changes is HUGE in cultivating, and maintaining, trust. If you can’t do this, don’t expect anyone to trust you, and don’t expect to have good relationships with others. Now, you don’t have to be accountable to everyone, but someone. A real, true someone who will lovingly walk with you through acceptance, understanding, and shifts in behaviors to reduce the likelihood you will cause that harm again (even though you may, and then, it’s time to take responsibility again, and maybe adjust your approach to making changes). Taking accountability for our actions and choices, and the impact they have on others, is a mark of being socially responsible, which is to say, a concern with the needs and experiences of all people. If you don’t give a flying flip about other people, then you will not engage in behaviors that are socially responsible. And selfishness will erode trust so fast, believe you me. If you can’t demonstrate a concern for the well-being of other people, I simply can’t see how you would gain the trust of anyone.

Rebuilding Broken Trust

Now, how do we rebuild trust that is broken? Also, not easy.  Rebuilding trust requires many of the same things in creating trust in the first place. Things like taking ownership of the behaviors that broke trust; showcasing awareness about how your behavior negatively impacted someone else; apologizing without criticizing, blaming, or making excuses; engage in honest communication about the situation and what will be done differently moving forward; be intentional with actions; align actions with words spoken and follow through if you say you will. Some ways you can both build, and then rebuild trust, exist within my L.E.A.D.E.R.S.H.I.P. framework. Let’s take a look at each pillar.

L.E.A.D.E.R.S.H.I.P Framework

L (Life-long Learning) A willingness to continue learning about yourself, others, TI skills, and new information/trends

E (Employ Empathy & Equity) These go hand-in-hand. To engage in empathy promotes equity; to employ equity requires empathy

A (Authenticity & Accountability) These also go hand-in-hand. Fear of inadequacy or mistakes often blocks vulnerable authenticity. Yet, recognizing & owning your mistakes normalizes this for others, and shows your authentic human side as well as your ability to be accountable to your choices

D (Do your own work) You must go through your own therapy to 1) heal from your own wounds 2) become self-aware and emotionally intelligent. *This is non-negotiable if you want to be a trauma-informed leader. This is one of the main pillars of developing TI skills.

E (Embrace Difference)  An extension of empathy and equity, but worth its own mention. Find appreciation and strength in diversity, in the differences between us. Look for the value of things being different, people being different.

R (Repair after Ruptures)  Learning how to resolve conflict without causing more harm is a serious skill. Embedded in this one is excellent communication skills. To address hurt/misunderstanding well (especially if caused by you) is next level leadership. *This is also non-negotiable if you want to be a trauma-informed leader

S (Social Responsibility)  Trauma-informed = increased safety for all, naturally including a social responsibility for impact/change as a result of your TI Leadership skills. This has to be in mind when making decisions.

H (Human-centered Heart)  A care/concern/interest in other humans and other humans’ well-being, health, function

I (Inclusive Interpersonal Skills)  This combines language, communication (verbal and non-verbal), and cultivation of trust. Learning how to use non-biased, non-aggressive language allows for more open, transparent, real conversations to take place, when we can do that (comfortably) trust can develop. Without trust there is no safety.

P (Practice, practice, practice!)  Actual, real life, real time, real people practice is required. You cannot get good at any of these skills without continual practice. This links us all the way back to skill no. 1: life-long learning. Willingness to practice, gain new knowledge, practice, knowledge, etc. *This is another non-negotiable if you want to be a trauma-informed leader.

Some of the most profound ways to rebuild trust after a relational rupture involve all the pieces of self-work mentioned above. If you can’t own your (accidental) wrong doing; if you won’t be held accountable to make changes; if you refuse to be open and honest in communication; if you reject new learning; if you don’t embody your own authenticity; and if you aren’t willing to practice new skills, then I truly cannot see a pathway towards rebuilding trust and repairing that relational rupture, whether that relational rupture is between friends, peers, leader/follower, provider/patient, partners, or colleagues. It’s impossible. You can’t extend trust if you’re blind to yourself and the ways you potentially cause harm. People cannot trust you if you’re not open and transparent, if you make excuses for your negative impact, and if you refuse to learn and practice new interpersonal skills. You can’t say you’re about trauma informed anything if you can’t live it out, in real time, with real people. Yes, real people at work. Yes, that person you always have conflict with when working on a collaborative project. Yes, real people in your life. Yes, your sibling who says its hurtful when you continue to treat them like a child. Yes, your partner who uncovered a lie you told. These are real people examples of how harm is caused, negative impact occurs, and trust is broken. It’s not always (and maybe mostly not) intentional, yet it happens…ALL OF THE TIME. People are imperfect and messy. We all make mistakes and unintentionally cause harm to someone else. This can be more easily accepted if we employ Trauma Informed Leadership Skills.  This can be more easily repaired if we employ Trauma Informed Leadership Skills. This can more likely be avoided if we employ Trauma Informed Leadership Skills. And not just applying these skills in the places we lead. And not just for leaders to employ anyway. We all can benefit from more people learning these skills and engaging in these practices on a regular basis. They are simply the best of the best in terms of skills for human-to-human interactions.


After all of this, can you find a GOOD reason not to invest in learning these skills? In practicing these skills? In embodying these skills? Do you have ANY relationships with other people that are of value to you? If even one human being is important to you in this world, then learning, practicing, applying knowledge of trauma informed skills is beneficial…for you, and for them.

What Next?

So, what are you waiting for? Do you need guidance? Do you need information? Do you need encouragement? Do you need a space to practice?

  • Reach out to me and I’m happy to be your personal Coach, or Leadership Consultant. Schedule your free discovery call here: Let’s Chat

  • Read more on Trauma Informed Principles and Practices. Here are 2 other articles to get you started: Read Me 1 and Read Me 2

  • Listen to Trauma Informed based media, like podcasts. I suggest “A Trauma Informed Future” with Katie Kurtz. You can find it here: Listen to Me

  • Follow some Trauma Informed Gurus and Pioneers in the field. A few LinkedIn suggestions include: Nicole-Lewis Keeber. Shulamit Ber Levtov. Amy Camie. Julie Johnson.

  • Take action. Learn more about Trauma Informed Communication with this free course offered through Integrate Trauma Informed Network. You can access it here: Free Learning

  • Subscribe to my monthly newsletter. Includes link to latest blog + other yummy MH & TI information directly to your inbox. Fill in information on my website: Subscribe Here

  • Connect with others. I offer a Trauma Informed Support Group for Mental Health Providers. It's hard for us to extend self-compassion, yet we need it. Come get filled up!

Self-Guided Kits

Some other ways to jumpstart your trauma informed journey include looking inward. Consider finding a therapist to get started on doing your own self-work. If that seems daunting, start smaller with purchasing some workbooks for self-reflection and growth. I offer several products that are self-guided as a way of getting your feet wet with self-work (because I know it’s hard!). Therapist developed at low cost. Check these out:

Mental Health Triage Guide

If you’re already knee deep in trauma informed care and practices for yourself, but you’re ready to get your workplace involved, consider how people-crisis is addressed. Does anyone know what to do if someone appears to be experiencing some kind of mental or emotional emergency? Just like CPR first aid is meant to keep the person safe until more qualified help arrives, T.I. Crisis Response (an expansion of mental health first aid) is meant to keep the person safe until more qualified help arrives—except the thing we’re triaging here is mental/emotional/psychological wellbeing rather than physical wellbeing. The Trauma Informed Crisis Response Guide is a tool to walk any person (not only clinical or medical personnel) through steps and questions to determine the aid a person needs and then helping that person in crisis access that aid, before things get worse. Clinical MH Crisis Responder developed, and peer reviewed for trauma informed accuracy.

Find more information here: Crisis Response Guide

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No direct references (besides Webster's Dictionary) were used in the content development of this blog article. Information provided here is from Sarah O'Brien's intellectual property and lived experiences, both personal and professional.



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