During these chaotic times I find myself going back to and looking for the people, organizations, and spiritual guidance that I trust.
I also think of adrienne maree brown’s reminder to “move at the speed of trust”, and know that trust is one of our most precious resources in organizing. “Trust” is also a word we imbue with much weight and meaning but means very different things to different people. As we navigate power and systems of oppression both within organizations and movements for justice and externally in the world, building and maintaining trust feels more important than ever.
And yet I’ve found myself in tense conversations about broken trust without shared language or understanding of what that means. That’s why I found it so helpful when at a recent staff retreat our facilitator, Krystal Portalatin, shared the following tool around the 4 Distinctions of Trust:
SINCERITY – is the assessment that you are honest, that you say what you mean and mean what you say; you can be believed and taken seriously. It also means when you express an opinion it is valid, useful, and is backed up by sound thinking and evidence. Finally, it means that your actions will align with your words.
RELIABILITY – is the assessment that you meet the commitments you make, that you keep your promises.
COMPETENCE – is the assessment that you have the ability to do what you are doing or propose to do. In the workplace this usually means the other person believes you have the requisite capacity, skill, knowledge, and resources to do a particular task or job.
CARE – is the assessment that you have the other person’s interests in mind as well as your own when you make decisions and take actions. Of the four assessments of trustworthiness, care is in some ways the most important for building lasting trust. When people believe you are only concerned with your self-interest and don’t consider their interests as well, they may trust your sincerity, reliability and competence, but they will tend to limit their trust of you to specific situations or transactions. On the other hand, when people believe you hold their interest in mind, they will extend their trust more broadly to you.
I found this tool helpful for explaining why there have been times when I thought I was building trust with someone but they didn’t experience me as trustworthy, and it’s often because we were speaking different “trust languages”. For example, my partner Megan highly values reliability and follow through, and early in our relationship even though I showed her lots of care and sincerity (my trust languages), I was flaky in some of my commitments (not calling when I said I would, being late for date night), and needed to up my reliability to fully gain her trust.
Because much of my perceived trustworthiness is informed by my class privilege I can have a degree of entitlement around trust, and expect to be treated with care and as a competent person right off the bat. I have also found myself expecting to be trusted without earning trust first, especially when it comes to being reliable, and I see this particular dynamic come up a lot in my cross-class relationships. I’ve also been in cross-class relationships where I unknowingly demanded a disproportionate amount of care and emotional labor from the other person.
By applying an anti-classism lens to these trust distinctions I can be mindful of and accountable for my class privilege patterns and actively practice ways to earn trust across class. What’s your “trust language”? How has it been informed by your class background? How can you use this framework to strengthen and build trust in cross-class relationships? Let us know in the comments!