Emotionally Intelligent Trusting

By Dr. Jean Greaves and Rob Fullerton, M.S.

Trust may sound like a lofty and universal ideal; in practicality however, choosing to entrust others and earning their trust can rapidly become very personal and emotional.

Imagine yourself at work on a Friday afternoon rushing to finish a proposal for new client due by 5pm. At 3:30pm the phone rings. Thinking that it’s Karen from down the hall, you pick up (Karen has been working on the appendix for the last half hour, and you’re trying not to get frustrated that she needs so much help with the details). The caller isn’t Karen. It’s your son Allan’s coach. Allan was up to bat, got hit by a pitch, and needs an x-ray for a possible broken wrist. You’ve trusted Coach for years, and he and Allan are on their way to urgent care. You tell Coach you’ll meet them there. Now you have to drop everything, and the proposal still has to get to your client by 5 pm.

Do you hand over the proposal to Karen and hope that she can send a polished version to the client? You feel anxious about Allan, nervous about Karen getting the proposal right, and worried about landing this important contract.

Trust requires you to rely on others when there is no guarantee they will follow through. This lack of security alone stirs emotions ranging from uneasiness to incapacitating anxiety. Your son’s mishap forces you to overcome your lack of trust in Karen and leave her in charge.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is a skill set that can help you get through this. Emotional intelligence is your ability to understand and manage your emotions as they surface (self-awareness and self-management), read other people and situations (social awareness), and manage how you interact with others (relationship management).

In a situation like this where you are forced to place your trust in someone like Karen, three main challenges arise. The following strategies demonstrate how to use your EQ skills to address these challenges when your ability to trust is put to the test:

Challenge #1: Trust Creates Risk

Trust involves having confidence that others will pull through for you or refrain from taking advantage of you. The possibility that someone might break this confidence introduces the element of risk; with a dash of fear and anxiety peppered into the mix. The greater the perceived risk, the harder it may be for you to trust. Similarly, if you are the perceived risk, it will be hard for you to gain other’s trust.

1. Notice your anxiety, name it, and put it into perspective (self-awareness).

EQ Advice Put into Action: Think to yourself, “I realize I’m worried about Allan and the time pressure isn’t helping my state of mind. I don’t have any evidence that Karen will blow it. She’s just untested and today will have to be the day she is tested.”

2. Use self-talk to minimize the perceived risk of being betrayed (self- management).

EQ Advice Put into Action: Think to yourself, “Karen does miss details, but she has never owned the final outcome. I’ll explain how to manage it (e.g. ask Jim to proof it before sending), and how important this proposal is to the company.”

Challenge #2: Trust Is a Choice And Takes Time

We make the decision to trust someone based on their personal and professional characteristics such as honesty, consistency, work ethic, technical skills, or fair treatment of others. When evidence of these is lacking, choosing to trust someone becomes particularly difficult. In Karen’s case, you’re unsure about her technical skills (given her repeated requests for assistance) and you are yet to see her take complete ownership of a proposal. However, without testing her, you may never trust her to follow through and she may continue to lack confidence in her skills; you will both miss the opportunity to discover her potential. If she succeeds, you’ll trust her wholeheartedly next time. Remember, it takes repeated situations to cultivate trust with another person.

1. Notice who is earning your trust and why (social awareness). If you’re not sure whom you can truly trust, you need to watch for evidence that the people around you can be trusted.

EQ Advice Put into Action: You’ve seen Allan’s coach in action many times so you knew you could trust him to get Allan to urgent care. This trust bought you time to mobilize Karen before leaving.

Challenge #3: People Trust Differently

Some people will trust you from day one, until you give them a reason not to; their trust is yours to lose. Other people will not trust you until you’ve earned it, little by little. There are even those who find it nearly impossible to trust anyone, either because it is their nature or due to previous experience. It’s important to recognize which of these descriptions fits you and the important people around you.

1. Find out how to earn someone’s trust by asking directly or listening, watching, and remembering how they come to trust others (social awareness).

EQ Advice Put into Action: Friday is Karen’s opportunity to earn your trust. She could ask, “What will make you feel ok about me taking this on?” You could tell her you’d like a quick phone call to brief you on her work before she sends the proposal.

2. Gaining others’ trust requires consideration of what they say is important to them (social awareness) and making sure you provide that (self-management).

EQ Advice Put into Action: Karen finalizes the proposal with Jim’s edits and phones you as requested. Each step is important to you and provides evidence that she is attending to the details.

Meeting these challenges is easier said than done, and some people simply aren’t ready because they trust too little or too easily. For those people, here are a few EQ tips to keep in mind.

If you trust too little, watch yourself like a hawk when you’re faced with the choice to trust. Notice how your decision is influenced by feelings and thoughts related more to how you view people in general than any person in particular. To gain a more objective impression of a person, gather feedback by seeking the opinion of trusted colleagues who know the person in question. Having considered this feedback, it may be easier to recognize whether your reluctance to trust is warranted, or fueled by a personal bias that prevents you from investing trust in general.

If you trust too easily only to regret it later, chances are you either don’t gather enough data about someone before trusting them, or you value the wrong data. Try making a conscious effort to re-evaluate your past decisions, identifying any early warning signs. Moving forward, use your curiosity about others to gather data and get to know them closely before trusting them. By gathering more evidence and remaining careful about committing your trust, you can become a keen judge of who truly deserves it.



Jean Greaves, Ph.D.

Dr. Jean Greaves is the co-author of the bestselling Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and the cofounder and CEO of TalentSmartEQ, the world’s leading provider of emotional intelligence tests, emotional intelligence training, and executive coaching. Her bestselling emotional intelligence books have been translated into 25 languages and are available in more than 150 countries. Dr. Greaves leverages her twenty-five year track record of consulting, speaking and applied research. She has written for, or been covered by, Newsweek, Fortune, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Harvard Business Review.

Rob Fullerton, M.S.

Rob Fullerton is a consultant at TalentSmartEQ with expertise in clinical and organizational psychology. He’s currently conducting research on emotional intelligence and leadership styles.

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