We build trust in relationships in at least two ways. I am most comfortable with “doing what I say I will do.” However, it’s the second that is a growing edge in my life: building trust by building connections. A connection occurs when another person knows we understand their heart.
Henry Cloud writes about building trust through connection in his book Integrity.
“Fundamentally, what undergirds this component [building trust through connection] is involvement in the “other.” Connection is the opposite of “detachment,” whereby a person is a kind of island unto him– or herself. Now, don’t confuse that with being introverted or extroverted. Those are styles that can be used in the service of either connectedness or detachment. You can be very extroverted, and even nice to people, and never establish a deep bond. In fact, an extrovert’s wordiness can even serve to keep people at bay and never allow them in.
Detachment is about not crossing the space to actually enter into another person’s world through curiosity and desire to know them, to understand them, to be “with” them, to be present with them, and ultimately to care for them. Sadly, a lot of loving and nice people are detached in this way, and their relationships suffer for it.
People feel cared about, and trust is built, when they know that we have a genuine interest in knowing them, knowing about them, and having what we know matter.” Dr. Henry Cloud, Integrity, p. 56.
Because I am an optimist I often fall into the trap of dismissing how my wife, children, or friends feel by saying something like, “Oh that’s not too bad.” or “Oh that will surely work out.” or the real connection killer, “You don’t really feel that way.” Each of these statements dismiss or minimize not just the feelings of the other, but the connection opportunity that we had before us.
The Gospel presents us with Jesus who “sympathizes” with us through His incarnation and therefore is able to connect. Most often my unwillingness to enter into the emotion of another is really a reflection of my own discomfort with emotionally realities in my own life. The grace of God expressed through Jesus presents me with a saviour who gives me a new heart for Him and for people. Now as a responder to grace I am looking to give this grace to others around me.
There is nothing like “being understood.” It can be both a freeing and scary experience. Understanding is one of the best gifts you can give to your spouse, children, friends, or coworkers. Francis of Assisi asked God to help him so that he “would seek not so much to be understood as to understand.” The writer of Proverbs identifies both elements of trust essential for healthy growing relationships.
The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters,
but a man of understanding draws them out.
Many a man claims to have unfailing love,
but a faithful man who can find? Proverbs 20:5-6 NIV
Drawing out what is in the heart of another person requires that we have an internal attitude like Christ, of having an interest in the other. (Philippians 2:3-5) But it is also a skill. When we hear the emotive language of another acknowledging that we have heard and understood the feeling this person has is part of building trust. For the “older brothers” among us saying, “Wow, you must feel really angry about that,” or “I can see how you might be very worried about this situation,” sends fear down to our toenails, because we are afraid that acknowledging a feeling means that it is “right.” Not so, acknowledging the emotion of another’s heart gives the gift of understanding and reduces anxiety so that you and the person across from you can grow.
Try it out with those close to you: seek to connect to their hearts by hearing the emotion conveyed in their verbal and non-verbal cues.