Building Trust in Friendship

Most people will agree that trust is an important element in their friendships. What does “trust” mean? And why is it important in friendship?

Trust can mean something slightly, or dramatically, different to each of us. Being clear with your friends about what trusts does mean to you can be the first step in building trust in those friendships. Think about the words you associate with trust — dependability, responsibility, integrity, honesty, and commitment are some words that might help to understand and clarify the meaning of trust for each of us.

In friendships, as in all relationships, trust is one of the foundational building blocks. We need trust to establish and deepen our friendships. Trust allows us to feel safe with friends: safe to make plans and safe to share ourselves and our lives. Trust requires that we keep our promises and show demonstrations of dependability, respect, and honour.

In friendships, as in all relationships, the betrayal of trust can be devastating. Betraying a friend’s confidence, that is, sharing something that a friend confided in us, can dent the trust in a friendship. This is only one example of how trust can be betrayed in a friendship and we will be exploring this topic further in a future blog including how to recover from the betrayal of trust in friendship.

So how do we build a trustworthy friendship?

It is important to explore and understand what trust means to us and what it means to our friends. It is also important to show that we are trustworthy to each other. We have to demonstrate to each other that we are trustworthy. For example, matching our actions to our words.

Trust can be built and maintained in many different ways in a friendship.

In the beginning, when we are first creating a friendship, some ways to demonstrate trust are to:

Be dependable: return calls and messages, be there, show up (more or less on time).

Be kind: if one person changes or cancels plans, we will contact each other to find out if everything is alright.

Be fully present: Trust that we will listen with our full attention, put down the devices, resist advice giving, and offer our presence. This can be more challenging today with technology accompanying us when we spend time with friends. “Designing” the environment so that we can listen to each other might be a helpful strategy. For example, designing how you will deal with your devices, or talking about whether you want to be listened to or receive advice.

Be thoughtful: communicate and respond with respect, empathy, and kindness. Sharing too much intimate information about ourselves in the early phase of a friendship can be overwhelming, for both people. This can be a good opportunity to talk about what we can do to build trust in the relationship.

Be reciprocative: give and take, mutually and with reciprocity. For example, invite our friend to do things and trust that our friend will invite us too.

As we move further into a friendship, some ways to demonstrate trust to maintain or deepen the friendship are to:

Demonstrate integrity: show that we can be trusted with intimate, private information that our friend shares with us. Show that we trust our friend with intimate, private information that we share, trusting that our friend will not gossip about it with others. Discussing and being clear about our boundaries, what is and is not to be shared, is one way to take care of ourselves as well as take care of and strengthen the friendship.

Demonstrate inter-dependence: show that we will ask each other for help. Trust that we will each ask for help when we feel scared, panicked, or desperate. The act of asking for help and the type of help we can offer a friend are great conversation topics to have with friends and can also strengthen friendship.

Demonstrate commitment: reach out and stay connected with each other through distance, space and gaps.

“I don’t feel very much like Pooh today,” said Pooh.
“There there,” said Piglet. “I’ll bring you tea and honey until you do.”
~ A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

It takes effort, patience, and time to build trust in a friendship. Talking about what we can do to build or deepen trust in the friendship is a great way to secure the foundation of trust.

Questions to ponder:
How can you build trust in your friendship(s)?
What does trust mean to you? What does it mean to your friends?
When do you talk about what a friend has shared with you? When does it become gossip? When does it become harmful to a friendship?

On the Importance of Conflict in Friendship

Do you find yourself in the midst of a stormy conflict with a friend? Are you worried that your friendship cannot withstand the stress of a conflict? What if you don’t bring up your concerns, then what?

It can be hard to suddenly realize you have entered into conflict with a friend. You might have been peacefully sailing along for years in your friendship and suddenly find yourselves in this uncharted water. Now what? Well, short of abandoning ship, you have many options. And you will learn a lot about yourself, your friend and your friendship as you navigate this new and unfamiliar territory.

Generally, conflict is unsettling. It can feel confusing, sad, and scary. Growing up, we all learn different ways to view and deal with conflict. We learn how to handle conflict from our parents, our family, our teachers and schools.

Conflict does not necessarily mean your friendship is over. On the contrary, conflict can be an opportunity for change and growth in relationships, every relationship, rather than being a bad thing or the end of a friendship. In fact, resolving a conflict effectively usually brings people closer.

For some of us, avoidance of conflict in friendships is our approach of choice. We might fear the outcome. We might be uncomfortable with what we believe will happen. We might prefer having a tooth pulled to the discomfort conjured by conflict! Whatever the reason, many people avoid conflict.

The thing is, avoiding it does not make the conflict go away. It does make the issue go unaddressed which can lead to simmering resentment and an erosion of trust in the friendship. Yet we have to pick our battles, so to speak. It might not serve your friendship to get into a conflict over every difference of opinion.

Treat your friends like you do your best pictures; place them in the best light.” ~ Jennie Jerome Churchill

Some strategies and tips for managing conflict with a friend:

An important mindset that can be a helpful approach to conflict with a friend is to be respectful — of your friend, yourself and your relationship. Create the intention that you will be respectful in your conversation about the conflict.

Listen fully and quietly to your friend’s opinions, thoughts and concerns — without thinking of what you will say in response. Simply listen.

Prepare what you want to say or share – use I statements and address the behaviour or action that is causing the conflict for you.

Try to see your friend’s perspective. This can be very challenging. Particularly if your friend’s perspective is one you have difficulty imagining. Sometimes these differences are deal-breakers. Sometimes not. Is there a difference in values or beliefs that you can respect in each other while still staying connected?

Share your feelings while keeping your emotions regulated. If you find yourself heating up, can you ask for a break and return to the conversation once you have cooled off?

Talk about your deal-breakers – identify the issues and values that are important to each of you. Knowing them, sharing them, talking about them and communicating when there has been a trespass can mean the difference between a positive and negative ending in a friendship.

It is through resolving conflict that understanding and trust in a friendship build and deepen.

Have you been putting off facing an issue in a friendship?
How will you approach conflict in a friendship?
If you know your friend has an issue with you, how will you raise it?