“I can trust my friends; these people force me to examine myself and encourage me to grow.” —Cher

Trust is the foundation of all relationships and of good leadership. This applies to both our personal and professional lives. When we trust, we feel that it is reasonable to expect kindness and concern from others and that they will look out for our best interest. When we distrust, we expect that they will act with cruel intentions and in their own best interest. When we trust, we feel safe. When we distrust, we feel the need to protect ourselves. So, what it the ultimate determination of trust? One simple question: are they friend or foe?

 Inclusion or exclusion?

It’s human nature to fear being excluded. We have succeeded as a civilization by banding together. In the times of our ancient ancestors, individuals who were shunned and left on their own would have been unable to thrive. Things have not changed as much as we sometimes think they have. We still rely on teaming together with other individuals with a common purpose. With friends, we always have a sense of inclusion and working together toward shared goals. With a foe, we often feel we are being excluded and left on our own. When we feel included, we start developing trust.

Safe or fearful?

We all want to feel safe. Immediately upon meeting someone we unconsciously start to make judgments about if we feel safe, or if we feel threatened. Friends make us feel safe. We know we can be ourselves; we can share our thoughts and ideas. Foes make us feel fearful. We feel the need to protect ourselves; we keep our thoughts and ideas to ourselves out of fear of judgment and ridicule. When we feel safe, we start to trust.

Honest or deceitful?

Friends are transparent. They are open and honest. You know what to expect from a friend and are never blindsided by dishonest motives. Friends share your goals and vision of success and the future. Friends handle disagreements fairly. Foes are deceitful. They twist the facts to meet the needs of their own agenda; an agenda that is self-serving. They are manipulative and resort to trickery and bullying when conflict arises. When others are honest, we feel we can trust them.

Authentic or fake?

Friends are authentic. The friend you got yesterday is the same friend you get today and, the same friend you will get tomorrow. Friends respect you, they are always there for you, they are good listeners, and genuinely care about your well-being. You can count on friends to do what they say they are going to do. With a foe, you never know what to expect; they are fake and disrespectful. You can’t count on them, they listen only to respond, and they are only concerned with how they can benefit from the situation. When people are authentic, we feel good about trusting them.

Friend or Foe?

When we believe that others will look out for our best interest, when we know they have our back, and we feel that we can depend on them; we trust. Trust makes us feel safe and allows us to see the other as our friend. Friends offer mutual support and they can collaborate and negotiate with a win-win mindset. And, at the end of the day, whether personal or professional, friends will always be there for us.

When we see that the intentions of others are malicious and their only concern is what is best for them; we distrust. Distrust causes us to feel unsafe. Our focus turns to protecting ourselves. If we cannot trust another, they are seen as our foe. We cannot count on our foes to be there for us, they will happily step on our backs as they climb over us. At the end of the day, you can never trust a foe.

Subconsciously we are always evaluating the behaviors of others to determine if they are friend or foe. If the answer is friend, we trust. If the answer is foe, we distrust. In turn, others are looking at our behavior to signal whether we are friend or foe. Learn to embrace the behaviors and develop the friendships that allow for trusting personal and professional relationships.

Liz Stincelli is passionate about recognizing and inspiring the leader in each of us. She is the Founder of Stincelli Advisors where she focuses on helping organizations engage employees and improve organizational culture. Liz holds a Doctor of Management ... (Read More)

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