Building Trust:  The Linchpin of Influence


A few years ago, I lost the trust of my students.  IMG_6954

I had made a few bad decisions, and about two-thirds through the program the situation reached a crisis point.  I had to make great efforts (and to humble myself) in order to sufficiently regain their trust so that I could coach them through their final projects.

When I lost their trust, their success was jeopardized.

Trust is the linchpin of relationships and the one element that makes lasting connected influence possible.  Professor Stuart Diamond, in his book Getting More, says, “Trust is something that develops slowly, over time.  It is an emotional commitment to one another based on mutual respect, ethics, and good feeling.”  Trust is a characteristic of relationships that are in it for the long haul, whether they are interpersonal, professional, or communal relationships.

Starting from Scratch

How can you build trust to begin with? First, understand that building trust will not happen quickly.  While some people are naturally trusting, most people living in the modern world are a bit skeptical of anyone they’ve not known very long.

IMG_6956Next, I think the focus should be to establish a personal connection to the person or group you are wanting to build trust with.  In so doing, you have the opportunity to build a track record of keeping the other person’s interests in mind when interacting.

In describing the Law of Connection from The 21 Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell says that “the heart comes before the head.” You must first show that you are truly interested in the person and what is important to that person.  This can best be accomplished through connected listening.

Establishing a connection will get you an opportunity; character will take you the rest of the way.

In addition to building connections with people, you must also demonstrate a strong moral character in order to gain and maintain trust with people.  John Maxwell sees character as the foundation for trust; he says that “character makes trust possible” by demonstrating consistency of results, releasing the potential of others, and earning the respect of others.

The importance of character is so great that I will have to address it more fully in a later post.

Repairing the Breach

How can you recover once trust has been lost?  This is much more difficult, but it is possible.  The first step is to admit your mistakes.  Everyone knows you made a mistake, so you lose nothing from owning it, and you gain credibility when you do.  It does require a bit of humility, but if you can get past your pride, you may find yourself with a second chance.

John Maxwell compares trust to change in your pocket – good decisions increase the change in your pocket, while bad decisions decrease the change in your pocket.  As long as you have some change (i.e. trust) remaining, you can likely recover.  The consistency, potential, and respect that are reflected in your character must shine through if you are to regain lost trust.


I learned a hard lesson a few years ago when I lost and later regained the trust of my students.  As a result, in the past few years I have been more intentional about connecting with my students and guarding the trust I have with them in order to more effectively guide them into becoming better communicators themselves.  My efforts have been rewarded by seeing them exceed my expectations and achieve both personal and professional success.


Links and Resources:

An article from Success Magazine on building trust


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