Let’s talk about interpersonal and relational trust: What happens when we trust someone? Our closest friend, our parent, our sibling, our partner?
Is it the sensation of comfort? Relaxation? Security? Just being who we are? Truthful to our nature? Not pretending? Not wearing the social mask that we put on in relation to others?
Instinctively, a relationship based on trust comes across as healthy, and necessary for our well-being. And yet, when we step outside our trusted inner circle, we are often on our guard, suspicious of other people’s intentions, their imagined ulterior motives. We are afraid of being found out who we are and we hold on nervously to the image we build. Or rather images – various versions of “me” that we play in various contexts.
Often, spontaneity is lost and so is the opportunity to generate genuine, trustful relationships. Not only in relation to others but also to ourselves and to the Universe in general.
It’s at these three levels, that we have to analyze the concept of trust. Do we trust others? Do we trust ourselves? Do we trust the world as we conceive it? Or do we mistrust others, hide from ourselves, and fear that the universe is hostile?
At each of these three dimensions, a trust may be viewed at a more pedestrian level of doing and at a more comprehensive level of being.
Trust at the level of Doing
Relational trust is an inter-personal form of Trust that operates at the level of Doing.
Imagine you are a businessperson who considers entering into a business arrangement with a partner who could offer you access to a new market.
The new partner will be in a good position to co-market your product, in exchange for equity in this new segment. On what basis can you determine if the prospective partner is trustworthy? This type of dilemma raises the question of Relational Trust.
It may be tempting to treat this form of burgeoning trust as a conduit for safe information exchange. But there is more to Relational Trust than just information.
Four Factors of Relational Trust
Relational Trust can be defined by an equation involving four factors: first impression, credibility, dependability, and level of self-orientation.
Some of these elements are not of a purely informative nature, as is evident.
For example, first impressions have a significant impact on our perceptions of others. Indeed, first impressions are not exclusive to interpersonal relations.
We will be drawn by a product’s unique packaging and studies have shown that we persist in the judgments reached spontaneously, using our confirmation bias to argue that “we know what we like”.
By attaching so much importance to first impressions and then defending our judgment on the basis of this initial input, we engage our emotional aspect of being. In other words, we are “attached” to the formulated judgment. It only underlines how vital it is to make a good first impression if our objective is to build Relational Trust.
Credibility, on the other hand, is a rational parameter. Here the calculus can be more explicit. If we have experienced on many occasions that our business partner is not punctual, then there is a credible body of proof that this dimension of the relationship will continue to suffer.
Reliability requires a longer-term interpersonal interaction. It makes Relational Trust positively correlated with the extent of time during which the relationship has taken place. Hence the particularly deep trust we place in our family members – people who we have known for most of our lives.
But while the first impressions, credibility, and reliability all influence the level of Relational Trust positively, our ego tends to move in the opposite direction.
Strong self-orientation reveals how strong this ego focus is. And the stronger it is, the more distrustful we are in relation to our environment.
The stronger this self-orientation, the more difficult it is to weave new trust-based contacts. In the Western culture, where trust deficiency may be partly offset by written contracts, such a strong self-orientation is not necessarily an impediment to successful network building.
But in cultures with concentric circles of trust (e.g. much of East Asia), someone’s strong self-orientation may mean that they have to default to pre-existing networks.
Hence the preponderance of family businesses in the economic fabric of those nations. By contrast, groups well defined within their socio-economic role tend to accelerate the process of developing Relational Trust. This could be observed through the phenomenon of spontaneous sociability when new communities spring up around the symbolic value of their collective roles (e.g. in parishes, factories, and sports clubs).
A common language (a large repository of shared symbols) may be the best-known example of facilitating the emergence of organic sociability and Relational Trust.
To sum it up, the more favorable the immediate impression, the higher the credibility, and the stronger the reliability – the higher the resulting Relational Trust. On the contrary, the higher the orientation towards the Self, the lower the resulting Trust.
Trust at the level of BEING
And yet, our life is not entirely constrained by the confines of Relational Trust. Indeed, some of the great feats of history were accomplished by leaders who, through a leap of faith, overcame the deficiencies of reliability, the misleading frame of the first impression, and the obstacle of their ego focus.
This, a superior form of interpersonal trust, does not operate at the level of doing, but at the level of being. We call it Unconditional Love.
Now, the term may lead to confusion. Importantly, Unconditional Love is not an emotion. Indeed, unlike Relational Trust, which resorts to the cognitive and emotional aspect of being, Unconditional Love can be viewed as a spiritual practice. A practice to expand our capacity to love. And, as such, it is not a project for some ideal “future”.
It can only exist in the NOW
Let’s take an example of a 30-year-old woman living in a large American city. Her career has not evolved successfully and she is still living with her parents, which whom she has had a fraught relationship. She sees her perceived “failures” to maintain an intimate relationship and keep a job through the eyes of her parents, who, as she believes, are deeply disappointed with her.
To overcome the pervasive tension at home, she is constantly trying to please her father in the hope to earn praise. And yet, no praise is forthcoming. Her parents don’t seem to be proud of her and the thought “I have failed them” looms heavily in her consciousness. Whenever her father looks sad, she believes that it is “because of her”. She is convinced that her parents don’t consider her smart and that they fault her for her past failures, be it in her relationships or professionally.
We could ask: “How do you break from this knot of tacit recriminations?” But such a question implicitly assumes negativity that has to be overcome. Instead, we have to open up to the possibility of something paradoxical, something that our rational mind would struggle to understand.
It is possible to view human behavior as originating from one of two places – either from “love” or from “a call for love”. When people act in a way that I find undesirable, I may be tempted to judge them and withdraw my love. But such a reaction betrays a misunderstanding of human nature.
Expand my capacity to Love
When people feel judged, criticized, or despised, they will dig their heels deeper. By withholding love and hoping that the other person suffers, I am denying myself the feeling of love and I am the first one to suffer.
Counterintuitively, I could use any conflict precisely as the moment to expand my Trust and my capacity to love. Intimate relationships and family bonds are the best opportunities to practice Unconditional Love. I no longer approach the relationship by instrumentalizing the other person and asking: “How can this person meet my needs?” but rather from the perspective of “What can I give?”.
When I do this, the real intimacy arises from being open and willing to receive the partner in all four Aspects of Being – physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual. One needs to open the channel not only by sharing thoughts in verbal form, but also at the levels of emotion, the body, and spirituality. I meet the other person exactly as they are, without an urge to change anything immediately.
The Power of Unconditional Lova
Unconditional Love is enabled by a shift from thinking that we are separate entities to the recognition that we are interconnected. This is an effort of spiritual intelligence to unlearn our separate existences. I hold the space for another person to be different, offering safety and a chance to rise up.
If I can hold a higher POSSIBILITY for that person’s FORM to be updated in this particular moment of the NOW, it is more likely that they will step up to a better version of themselves.
I can never “cause” someone to love me. Nor should this young woman expect that by “pleasing her father”, she could elicit a specific behavior. In fact, whenever I please someone, it is because this act is pleasant for me, not because I scheme it with a ploy to “to attract” someone’s love. I am not possessive or servile and nor do I attempt to control the other.
In Unconditional Love, I am empowered because my emotional state is independent of what someone does or does not do. I offer Love therefore I feel more loving. An offering is giving and giving is an empowering decision.
If I perceive the other person with my mind, my emotion, my body, my spirit – true intimacy becomes possible. I’m just there, receiving and reflecting on the other person, instead of trying to manipulate them. It is the single most critical relational skill but also the most neglected, as most of us just want to be loved and heard “the way we are”.
Here’s what you need to remember:
It is perfectly normal that when we open to Unconditional Love, we might sometimes feel fearful or vulnerable. It is here that the role of life coaches is critical. A professional coach helps the client to become comfortable with this feeling of vulnerability.
Sometimes it may be necessary for the client to return to the body through a grounding exercise or breathing. At New York Life Coaching Institute, we teach many of those simple techniques and help future coaches to guide their clients through this process.
Some societies have been characterized as being Low-Trust and others are considered High-Trust. Importantly, while the approach to Relational Trust may indeed differ from culture to culture, Unconditional Love is a capacity that is common to all human beings.
Concepts emphasizing this great potential appeared independently in various cultural contexts, including Thomas Aquinas in Christianity and the Karuna notion in Mahayana Buddhism.
The New York Life Coaching Institute
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