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The Trust Equation: The Secret Formula for Influence & Collaboration

Imagine this…

You’ve just started a new executive role and have been introduced to your team.

You spend some time meeting with them, sharing ideas, and having constructive conversations. You’ve well demonstrated your credentials and relevant experience, you’ve done your research, and have some ideas to implement over the long term.

But, when you walk away from these conversations, you worry you’re not having much impact and are lacking connection with this team. They nod their head in meetings, but you’re not sure if the buy-in is real. You know it will take time but there seems to be a big gap between you and them.

Here’s the thing, I can guarantee you that the gap is trust.


Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships

Stephen Cover, Author ” The Speed of Trust”


It may seem obvious that trust is the x-factor to being impactful as a leader. When trust is HIGH, everyone is at ease, communication flows, and you feel bonded with others. When trust is LOW, it can feel as if there is an invisible barrier of tension and unspoken words.

What’s not so obvious is exactly why there is or is not trust, and it’s even harder to communicate it. But did you know we can actually dissect trust, measure it, and learn how to manipulate it for the better?

The Psychology of Trust

We are evolutionarily bent towards trust. It’s at the core of our survival instincts because if we can establish trust, we can consistently have safe and beneficial interactions. Plus, it reduces the fatigue that can come from constantly assessing people’s motivations and trustworthiness, allowing us to focus our energy on more productive activities.

Your Trust Bank Account

In his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey, tell us to always assume that you have a Trust Account with everyone. And like any account, you have deposits & withdrawals. We deposit into the account when we are considerate of others, communicate clearly, or are genuinely kind. We withdraw when we break promises, overcommit, or get defensive in conversation.

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Source: Steven Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Source: Steven Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

This is obviously not an exhaustive list and some terms that are up for interpretation, it illustrates the concept.

If you withdraw too much, you bankrupt your level of trust and you have to make more deposits in order to re-fortify the strength of that relationship.

But what actually goes into withdrawals and deposits?

Here is another thing we need to understand- there are many dimensions to trust, and not all trust is equal. It’s about the right type(s) of trust, especially when it comes to trust in teams.

Predictive Trust vs Vulnerability-Based Trust

In the literature surrounding trust, we’ll commonly talk about predictive trust and vulnerability-based trust

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Predictive Trust means that I can predict what you would do based on what I know about you or your previous behaviour; your track record. We look at your character, your motives, your intent, and how competent you are in your own realm. There is no interpersonal risk-taking here.

Vulnerability-based Trust considers how ‘safe’ I feel around you and whether I can take personal risks with you and say:

“I’m sorry”

“I don’t know”

“I made a mistake”

“I need help”

When coaching teams, I focus specifically on vulnerability-based trust because you can’t have a high-functioning team that relies on each other, is interconnected, and is accountable for collective goals without some level of vulnerability-based trust.

And finally… The Trust Formula

I am a data nerd; a math geek at heart, and it makes my heart sing when something complex can be broken down into a simple formula.

What I love about the trust equation, as a coach, is that when we view trust through this lens, it allows us to translate this broad idea or feeling of trust, into tangible components and specific behaviours. As you will see, the formula captures all we talked about above and in other posts- psychology and types of trust along with the latest research on behaviours contributing to trust.

However, there is one important thing we need to remember…

You can’t control how others feel about you

Yes, I know this is disappointing, especially for some of us who strive on feeling of control and achievement. You might do all the right things, and still fee distrusted by some people.

But here is the gold- you are doing the right things. Period. Concentrate on that- doing right things that are in your control. And beleive that in some ways it will have positive impacts even if you don’t see them right away.

You can:

  • Assess your strengths and opportunities
  • Apply to specific relationships
  • Give constructive and helpful feedback

Now, let’s get to this (almost magic!) Trust Formula [4]: (should be actually called Trustworthiness)

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Source: The Trusted Advisor

Credibility & Reliability

Credibility and reliability are based on your skills, abilities and behaviours – are you competent and capable. They really boil down to your predictability and how you communicate. Can you do what you say you can do? Will you do what you say you’re going to do? And if you don’t, will you make the necessary adjustments or accommodations.

These are mainly rational criteria and we want to work to increase these to build trust.


This is a word people get a little uncomfortable with. In relation to trust it means emotional security. How do you make people feel? In what ways are you vulnerable, empathetic, and emotionally available to help people feel safe with you.

This is mainly emotional criteria and we want to make sure we increase it as it has a huge impact on trust.


Self-orientation means that you’re here for you and there is little to no interest in the collective good. This is the biggest withdrawal from your trust account and it obliterates your best-intentioned deposits. It may look like defensiveness, or like you’re only there for your own good, with your own agenda and goals.

Self-orientation destroys trust, hence why it is the denominator (and this is where I love formulas…) so we must work hard to decrease it.

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To increase credibility you need to regularly assess yourself for competence in your role. Note that, most people overly focus on credibility, but it’s only part of the equation. It’s also greatly undercut by self-orientation.

To increase reliability you need to evaluate your behaviours and build your personal integrity. Make sure you do not overcommit to things in attempts to satisfy others, as falling short on promises breaks trust.

To increase intimacy you need to create space for others to be vulnerable. Lead by example by being transparent and creating psychological safety for those around you.

To decrease self-orientation you need to stay curious about others and orient yourself towards collective goal. Get to know their personal and professional goals and be their ally in achieving them. Then, set a common scorecard and consciously collaborate to succeed at the speed of trust.

It’s your turn now!

You can now hit 5 minute pause in your day, pick one relationship at work and apply this formula. I guarantee you will arrive to valuable insights and action items to improve your communication, working relationship and ultimately achieve greater success in your job.

Want an example? I am exploring how to apply the formula to different relationships when you are a product leader in the next post here.

Hi, I’m Nataliya Becker

I’m an Executive Coach & Team Facilitator. I work with tech-powered organizations in the throws of change to help them become more resilient. Using my “nerdy mind with a hippy heart,” I bring a diverse range of analytical and intuitive approaches to 1:1 coaching, team facilitation, bespoke retreats, and leadership programming.

Ready to put this into practice? Check out my recorded LinkedIn Live here.

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