What Is Trust?

That Was the Question

Some of you will click away before you read this — for whatever reason — we can’t invest in every message offered us or every person who brings it. For those who stay, thank you.

About a week ago, I spent time with someone I’ve known since I was 7. By the time one day had turned well into the next, we had caught up our lives and were well into our thoughts. Our friendship has lasted a life-time and we share in both silence and conversation. Picture two introverts not concerned with sharing thoughts aloud … a no-filter conversation.

In that amazing context, she looked me in the eyes to ask, “What is trust?”

That question is still with me.

Trust Is the Conversation

About a week before I sat with my life-long friend, I watched world leaders discuss how to get the world turning properly after we’ve undone so many things. Each speaker brought a message and each listener could choose whether to trust what he or she said. Trust, candor, and truth were common themes.

Trust has become the conversation. We talk about it with family, friends, business partners, clients, and journalists … online and offline. Seems reasonable that world leaders might talk about it too.

We’re defining it, outlining it, and promoting it to each other, but the how to seems less than firmly drawn. As I watch and listen I become more aware of what moves me to trust and what undermines that.

What Trust Is Not

I’ve never been one to trust or distrust power — the power of print, the power of a microphone, the power of office, the power of your signature on my paycheck. I am surprised and sometimes frightened by those who are.

Trust is a relationship not an office. It’s not situational.
Power and position get an opportunity, the same opportunity as anyone, not a better one. Politicians might even get less.

Trust is not good deeds, good looks, or the right t-shirt. Context helps, but doesn’t guarantee it. If you come in a context I trust, I listen more easily. If some way you look like me or sound like me, I might offer trust more easily. Still the trappings don’t make the real thing. My decision to trust you does.

And trust isn’t unilateral or blind. One-way trust is a handing over of power. Blind trust goes against self-preservation.

What Is Trust?

Trust is a decision, a commitment, a pact and a bond that builds and connects. Trust is shared values. Trust empowers by the questions it removes.

Trust is brave and vulnerable. Trust is not sparing my feelings. Trust is the hard truth spoken gently.

Trust is knowing and believing, giving and receiving without hesitation. Trust is not wondering whether what I say is true, whether I will follow through, whether my thoughts and feelings will change when I’m talking to someone other. Trust is knowing you are safely invested and protected.

We can lose it before we have it or find where we least expect it. Trust can be given, but not invented, stolen, or demanded.

Trust is a delicate sculpture we build through relationship, communication, thoughts, and behaviors. Once it’s shattered we can’t glue it back together. The only replacement is remaking the sculpture. Like wellness, generosity, or kindness, we’re most reminded of its value when it’s gone.

In the end trust is knowing you are the same when I’m not there … Trust is keeping promises, even the unspoken promises. Not every trust relationship is that of two life-long friends who communicate with or without words. But imagine if that were so.

Trust is a risk, venture capital. It’s a gamble with a friend, a lover, or a business. Trust is us leading and leaning on each other when the outcome isn’t clear.


When I don’t ask, when I’m not present, when I don’t even know that your actions might have been different,

when the reality is consistently …

I bet on you and I won.

trust is.

What is trust … to you?

–ME “Liz” Strauss


  1. says

    “…the hard truth spoken gently.” We all need confirmation, even, and especially when one of the wheels is off track. Trust points us back to the path we thought we had chosen, or to a new path we were too timid to attempt. Thanks Liz!

    • says

      I so like where you took this. :)

      We all need to know the truth. It saves us from fear. How can you hurt me when I already know? It’s how someone says it then that matters. Trust points to the truth.

  2. says

    Wow, Liz. That was awesome!

    I just looked up trust in the dictionary and they had a picture of you there. :)

    I think trust is when I notice over a long time that you really are the person you say you are, and it’s a person I want to be with.

    • says

      Hi Todd,
      That is a great way to put it. When I trust someone completely, the thought of who I am never comes up. I just am who I am. That’s how I recognize a life-long friend.

  3. says


    I have to say that this is one of the best posts I have read in a long time (there must have been something in the water out at BlogWorld!)

    “Trust is a delicate sculpture we build through relationship, communication, thoughts, and behaviors.”

    So many that I work with want it quick – they want it without all of the steps that you outline and believe that it should be automatic if I have a page full of testimonials. As you point out… it’s not that simple.

    My challenge – is for someone to take a chunk of your post and put it under their “ABout Me” section with the lead in:

    We at understand that:
    *Trust is a decision, a commitment, a pact and a bond that builds and connects.
    *Trust is shared values.
    *Trust empowers by the questions it removes.
    (etc. Continued)

    Followed up with how they intend to earn it.

    However – they have to mean it. This could be an incredible marketing piece for someone that really doesn’t care and just wants a quick deal. But if they mean it – your post could be just what they need to engage their clients.

    Great post –


    • says

      Hi Matt,
      I am taken by your response. Just the fact that you heard what I was saying tells me that you are someone I’d like to work with and do wish I’d met while we were in Vegas.

      Your head and heart show through in all you’re saying. My hope is that we can show folks how to do this the way we all once knew how.

      PS. I so mean what I wrote. I couldn’t have written it, if I didn’t. Thank you for knowing that.
      I plan to talk with you soon.

  4. says

    Hi Liz. The notion that it’s important to be able to build trust with others is one of the latest “silver bullets” ricocheting off the walls of corporate America. As a result, books on trust, seminars on trust, and consultants that say they can help a company create a high trust culture in ten easy steps are in high demand. This is hogwash! There is no formula or set of skills that you can master to help you build trust with others. Trust building is a raw, organic process that consists of spending whatever time it takes to tell our stories to others and listen to theirs. And,I don’t just mean stories that flesh out our resumes. I mean stories that tell where we came from,and where we dream of ending up; stories that shed light on the paths we’ve traveled – triumphs and tragedies alike; stories that reveal not only what’s on our mind but also what’s in our heart. Then,at the end of the storytelling, or when we’ve gotten to know each other from as many different angles as possible, we get to decide whether we trust each other or not. And, if we’ve been really truthful with each other, a genuine trust relationship is almost always the result.

    • says

      Hi Jim!
      As you point out, trust is not a buzz any more than “joy” on a holiday card really offers delight.

      I love how you say that a high-trust environment is raw and organic and takes whatever time it takes to share our stories, especially to listen. Triumphs and tragedies are what humanity is made of — joy for others and compassion lifts us all. Head without heart is its own kind of thoughtless.

      Truth is what makes trust. You said that so well.

      Thank you.
      You’re not a stranger anymore.

  5. says

    The paradox of Trust – you know instantly when it is lost – but are not always fully conscious of having given it in the first place.

    Great question to ask – thank you for the article

  6. Scott Baxter says

    Well put. Now if “Trust” can remain pure, then we may have something. Maybe trust is best when it is made, left intangible. A quiet truth.

    • says

      Hi Scott,
      Everyone gets to pick… I like your idea.
      Pure trust works for those who recognize it, but I fear that trust is whatever we agree to accept.
      I wriote my definition. I’ve been lucky to have such trust in my life. Now I know you and I feel heighted to realized someone else sees as I do.

      Thank you for that.

  7. Connie Burke says

    Hi Liz
    I like the same quote as Bruce:trust is the hard truth spoken gently.
    For me, this captures what what performance reviews at work should be. Often, they are not, and I think this is what separates true leaders apart.
    I have also tried to use this in raising my kids – it doesn’t do much good to shelter them from harsh realities, yet you don’t have to use harshness in helping them understand something they might otherwise not.
    You have given me much to think about today. Thanks for that.
    Excellent post. Well written, and thoroughly provocative. Even though it’s something we should all be mindful of anyway!

    • says

      I don’t know you well, but I’m fairly certain that you would like Bruce very much.

      I agree with what you’re saying. I hope my son knows me in the same way. I’m sure there are moments he remembers that my truth wasn’t so gentle, still he has my undying trust. Hiding the truth from those we care for disables them — doesn’t protect them in any way. We don’t save them when we hide behind something they can’t trust. We only make ourselves smaller.

      Thank you so much for coming over to read what I had to say.

  8. says

    Hi Liz

    Trust is a leap of faith, based on rational and irrational thoughts/feelings/experiences.
    Trust is accepting without fear.

    Karin H. (Keep It Simple Sweetheart, specially in business)

  9. says

    A light went on. I never thought of trust being the byproduct of truth, that one is born from the other.

    Is truth a noun and trust a resulting state? Ok, this is getting a bit philosophical, but the post warrants such reflection.

  10. Sapan2485 says

    Hi Liz,

    I’ve read this blog of yours…

    I recently had a long think about what I thought trust was.
    Diverting from the textbook definition, most of us have implanted in us, I thought “trust is more about having faith in a person’s likeliness to be a certain way”
    And this leaves alot of room for interpretation, I know… but that’s the point. That trust changes because people change also while, at the same time, the underlying meaning stays the same.

    If you trust a person (one whom you know well enough) to be a certain way, you in part will know to what extent your relationship can form with that said person.

    We as humans can befriend a whole manner of people. From rude, obnoxious, caring… the list can go on.

    If we understand someone’s demeanor we can then in part know what we can trust them to provide for us in our relationships.

    e.g. I know a person who often lies about his wealth, though he shows genuine care for our relationship i.e. he cherishes our friendship.
    I enjoy his company but know that he lies… he also divulges secrets which he tells me he promised another, he would not. I trust him to be a vein person and untrustworthy of confidant-ship.

    So if ever I need someone to talk to about things I would normally keep to myself he loses candidacy.

    This is just a small example of a larger picture, but I hope you can understand my viewpoint.

    I would love to hear someone else’ opinion on what I have written… am I a one of a kind thinker or does somebody share a similar view?

    • says

      Hi Sapan,
      i do believe in levels of trust and situations in which we feel safe to place our trust. That sounds like what you describe. If you know how and when you can trust this friend to keep you safe and what his weaknesses are where you won’t be. Then yes, I would call that trust when you do and distrust when you don’t.

  11. says

    Liz – this said it all from your post..
    “Trust is knowing and believing, giving and receiving without hesitation.”
    It’s that inherent visceral feeling. I felt that when I met you in a simple phone call – and it blossomed into a world I couldn’t have imagined.

    Trust can be risky too. I always want to see the best in people. We are not perfect beings. We’ve all been burned but taking that chance is sometimes crucial to growth for both parties. Thoughtful post.

    • says

      Hi Judy,
      Just like any other person, I get fall down sometimes too, but I trust that folks know that my intentions are good. What I find is that my trust helps me quickly sort who I want in my life. If I can’t trust someone with the truth of what I’m saying, even the hard words spoken gently, then I know that person probably isn’t ever going to see me for who I am.

  12. says

    boy, do I think that this statement is one of the better definitions of trust I’ve ever heard – “knowing that your the same when I’m not there”. Faith is the big thing for me – and love of course – but faith is part of love – and being the same when people can’t see as when people can see – THAT’S BIG. I hearted this whole thing – from what it isn’t – to what the conversation is – to what it is. Thank you for this Liz – and thank you for tweeting the link to me so I could read it. God bless and keep you.

  13. says

    I have young children and we talk about trust all the time. Having to explaining complex ideas to kids is a great exercise by the way. I tell them when you say you’ll do something and then you don’t do that thing, or you say something that isn’t true, it will be a very long time before I believe you the next time you tell me something. If you do this enough, I may never believe you again. They get that. Honesty is a biggie in our house.

    Trust is something I don’t give easily but once earned, it is almost absolute. Once lost, it is gone forever.

  14. Albert says

    Trust is a virtue that like so many, I can’t fully experience the benefits until I allow it to come full circle. Rudyard Kipling said “If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you”. Trusting yourself is a learned process that involves a demonstration of integrity and honesty and it is not until this process takes shape within myself that I can fairly make that decision to trust others. Understanding mistakes in my own actions will allow me to evaluate the actions of others with an open mind. It starts with honesty as an honest mistake is just that, a mistake and should not destroy trust. I liked what you said about honesty/truth in one of your responses … how it disables the ones we care for. Interesting in that if I am not being truthful to that person I care for; how much trust have I really offered them? Trust is a decision that is rewarding to both parties and it is maintained with honesty.

  15. says


    I can see why it’s one of your favorite blog posts.

    As I think about the relationships (not the causal ones but the deep ones) that I have in my life and then I think about those were there is real trust based upon the experiences of relationship and the conversation…there I see ease.

    The other ones…where there is a lack of trust. Those are difficult relationships to hold together. Some are family and well, we must hold those together if that is part of or ideal systems. Others, you have me asking if it’s really worth it.

    Thanks for pointing me to the post. Truly appreciate it.


  16. says

    Ah, I’m reminded of why Liz Strauss is on my reading list–though missed this in ’09. Thanks for today’s tweet, Liz!

    Thanks @Bruce Canon for:
    “…the hard truth spoken gently.” We all need confirmation, even, and especially when one of the wheels is off track. Trust points us back to the path we thought we had chosen, or to a new path we were too timid to attempt.

    Yes, here’s for new paths we were to timid to attempt…before!


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