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?