Trust. It’s a big concept and we notice it most by its absence. But trust makes the world work. Trust means that we can rely on each other. It’s having the confidence to count on others, to believe they are who they say they are, and that they’re telling us the truth. If others know our word is good, both of us can follow-through on our commitments. And there is mutual respect and caring for the well-being of the other, even if we’re not in a close relationship.

If there’s trust in a relationship or group, we can relax. We know that a slip of the tongue or occasional bad moment will be forgiven. And we can more easily forgive those things in others. We give each other the benefit of the doubt. That gives us the confidence in each other to give more of ourselves to the relationship, being more authentic and vulnerable. We share our true thoughts and opinions, deepening the connection between us. At work, trust fosters a valuable increase in innovation:  When we trust that our ideas will be welcomed and evaluated fairly, we’re more likely to share them, even if they might seem strange to others. Mutual trust builds deeper trust.

When trust is lacking, however, every moment is a battle. We’re scrutinizing every word, look, and action for slights and slurs.  Any misstep is noticed and held aloft as evidence of the other’s inadequacy. We assume bad intent. That assumption colors the lens through which we interpret everything they do or say, providing more “proof” that they are bad or incompetent or stupid or worthless or a host of other dehumanizing qualities. When we look for the bad in others, we not only find it, but cultivate it – others know we’re on the lookout for things to support our bad opinion of them, so they get tense and make more blunders. Relationships fall into vicious, downward-spiraling cycles. Mistrust begets mistrust.

But we have the power to change the level of trust in our relationships. This can work at home, at work, or elsewhere. Trust breeds trust, so to increase the number of trustworthy people in our lives, we must become more trustworthy ourselves. Being open about what we’re doing and doing what we say we’ll do increases our credibility. We can choose to overlook the little things that may or may not be slights. And we can give the benefit of the doubt to our co-worker or family member – do we really think they get up in the morning and say to themselves “I wonder how I can best torment my co-worker/spouse/parent/child today”?

Common wisdom has it that trusting is risky – and it can be. Full trust should be earned through experience – there are situations where caution and distance are warranted, and people with whom we should be wary. When we trust, we risk being taken advantage of or finding our trust misplaced. We risk being hurt.

Yet not trusting has perhaps even more risks – by not trusting others we might miss something wonderful and enriching in our interactions and relationships. We risk losing out on the synergy and joy that often happens when we allow ourselves to trust. We also spend a lot of time and energy guarding constantly against hurt.

We tend to fear the effects of too much trust over the risks of not trusting enough, and discount the risk of missed connections and the cost of not deepening relationships. We want to aim for the “sweet” spot of appropriate trust, using both our heads and hearts. Opportunities for trust abound in our daily lives. We can take a little chance on one and see if it helps us get along a little better.