Earning Trust: The 4 Cs of Trust and How to Make Them More Visible

Want to increase your level of trust with someone? The first step is to make sure that you are fully trustworthy – and also perceived that way.

By Joshua Freedman – January 18th, 2015, revised in October, 2019


Trust is invaluable, and ideally we’d be able to turn up the trust dial on an instant. You can increase trust from others, but first you need to be sure you’re doing everything possible to be fully trustworthy. Practicing the 4 Trust Cs will make it happen.

Why Trust Matters

One of the most important Vital Signs of a healthy climate is TRUST. When your people trust you, they dig deeper, listen better, and forgive more readily. When trust is low, there is more resistance, more fear, and communication doesn’t work as well (because people don’t believe each other). Trust is measurable, and at the center of leadership, team, and organizational performance.

In the last trust post, I talked about paying attention to trust as a two-way street, and using your feelings of distrust as a “barometer” to measure how others trust you. If you practiced the “trust test” you probably found some people and situations where your trust level is not high. Do you believe those people have less trust in you too?

How To Earn Trust: The 4 Ingredients of Trust

Trust is built from the Trust Cs:

  • Commitment = Following through consistently
  • Caring = Showing the other person matters
  • Consistency = Reacting in a somewhat predictable way
  • Competence = Demonstrating ability to meet commitment

How To Show You Are Trustworthy

You are probably reasonably competent, caring, and committed. And, if you are bluntly honest with yourself, you can probably see that there is more you can do to actively show one or more of these Trust Cs.

So try this:

Think of a situation where trust is diminished but not totally broken — and where you want to improve. Take a moment to review the last few interactions you’ve had with this person.

Now, think about the interactions from the other person’s point of view — do they SEE and FEEL your Trust Cs?

Over the next weeks, practice making your Trust Cs more visible:

Commitment = This C usually is broken because of very small compromises. You promise to call someone tomorrow, but it takes three days. You agree to fight for new desk chairs, but the opportunity doesn’t seem to come up. People who have trouble with this C may feel like their in crisis a lot so they’re reacting instead of leading. Practice making very small commitments (such as, “I’ll email you today”) and doing it.

Caring = It’s easy to let caring slip amidst the daily demands of work — your work is important but it feels mundane. People perceive this and make assumptions about your trustworthiness. You can show more caring by giving appreciations to people and activities. “I appreciate that you’re working so hard.” “I appreciate that we’re doing this work together.”

Consistency = People can trust a grouchy tyrant who is, at least, consistent. While everybody can have better and worse days, they get “thrown” if you’re sometimes an angel and sometimes a monster. Maintaining your own balance is challenging, and self-care is a critical component. If you do “fly off” sometimes, circle back and take ownership of the inconsistency.

Competence = People may question your competence if they don’t get to see you in action. Don’t just walk the floor, work on the floor! Let your staff see you skillfully doing great work.

Vital Signs Trust series:

Assessing Trust: How do you diagnose a relationship by checking your current level of trust?

Earning Trust: If you want to increase trust, what do you focus on?

Requesting Trust: When you want to take trust to the next level, how do you talk about it?

Why Six Seconds?

Why do leaders from places like the UN, FedEx, Amazon, Qatar Airways choose Six Seconds’ tools and methods?

  • Global: Used in 157 countries & territories — this approach works everywhere.
  • Scientific: The latest research creates a robust approach by the pioneers in EQ — these tools are reliable.
  • Practical: It’s not enough to talk about emotional intelligence — Six Seconds helps you put it into action.
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