(Estimated reading time: 7 minutes)
What is the one secret sauce of strong and meaningful relationships? Trust – takes a (really) long time to build, a short moment to break and forever to repair. Actually, most of us already know that trust is the most important thing that holds a relationship together. But it’s hard to gain someone’s trust, isn’t it? Be it in a friendship, love relationship, business relationship, you name it.
How to gain trust? Well, I personally think that to gain trust, we must be authentic about how we feel, all while understanding and sharing the feelings of others. Basically, to gain trust, we must first show empathy and be honest. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how to build strong and meaningful relationships. Trust, honesty and empathy. Allow me to elaborate on that.
Trust is the deepest level of human relationships. In other words, without trust, a relationship will fall apart. To build trust, constant exchanges of honesty and empathy in the relationship are needed. To put this in perspective, empathy doesn’t require us to know the person – we can empathise with anyone. But we are only honest with people who empathise with us, and others will only be honest with us if they can see that we empathise with them. Now, trust is only built in a relationship after many interactions and exchanges of honesty and empathy between the people involved in the relationship.
We can only trust those who are close to us, namely family members, lover and best friends – people who are honest and empathise with us. But we can be also honest with those who show empathy towards us, such as colleagues, friends, people whom we know. How about empathy? We can show empathy to anyone around us, including the strangers whom we meet on the bus and probably would not see him or her again in our lifetime.
To give a real life example, we have a man and a woman but they don’t know each other at the beginning. Let’s name the man Romeo and the woman Juliet. For Romeo and Juliet to become friends, they have to start interacting with each other. So, it doesn’t matter who starts the conversation, the more important thing at hand here is whether both of them are able to empathise with each other. What do I mean by that?
Just think about all our relationships other than those with our family members. For us to become friends with someone, we need to have at least, some sort of liking towards that person’s personality, right? It’s hard for us to become friends with someone who doesn’t “click” with us, but what does “clicking” with one another really mean? Empathy for each other. When we say we “click” well with someone, we’re basically saying we are able to connect and share each other’s feelings. Isn’t that empathy for one another?
Back to the stars – Romeo and Juliet. They chat, realise that they “click” with each other well. Romeo is able to understand Juliet’s feelings and show that he will not judge her for who she is and Juliet reciprocates Romeo’s mindfulness. Depending on how comfortable they are with other and how attracted they are to each other, either or both of them will start opening up and be honest about who they are.
For most of us, being honest is tough. How sure are we that the person we’re being honest with will not judge us? Because we know that not everyone is capable of empathy and we don’t know if those who don’t understand our feelings are ready to know more about us and accept who we really are. They might trample all over our self-worth, our ego and our identity. And to protect ourselves from that, we are either not very honest – which is understandable – or just outright lie about ourselves.
In the case of Romeo and Juliet, if either of them doesn’t show empathy towards the other person, there is almost no way their relationship can move further than just being acquainted with one another. Because without empathy from others, we have everything to lose if we are honest. The reverse is true – without showing our empathy, others will not be honest with us. We can’t be friends with someone, chat and hang out with them if we can’t even share mutual feelings, not without reluctance and doubt. Feelings are fragile and humans are careless. Not if we exercise empathy, though.
For illustrative purposes, let’s say Romeo and Juliet show each other empathy and as a result, reward each other with honesty about who they really are. Over time, as Romeo and Juliet exchange truths about each other and share mutual feelings, trust is built. That’s how friends get closer and form stronger, more meaningful and longer relationships. Well, that’s if Romeo and Juliet can accept the truths of each other. If not, the relationship will not get deeper and might even break apart. It’s probably why some friendships just break after a long time – people can’t accept certain truths about other people and they just leave.
For example, if Romeo opens up to being someone who is very much into arts and culture but Juliet is a practical person who doesn’t “indulge” herself in the likes of arts, both of them will drift apart from each other over time. That’s because Romeo and Juliet do not share the same beliefs and values. Of course, this is not to say practical people and those into art can’t “click” well, but oftentimes beliefs and values differ. There might be something about the arts that Juliet can’t agree with. Cross-cultural and inter-religious marriages have always been a huge challenge for couples and their families. I guess that is a very good evidence in itself about shared beliefs and values being core to relationships.
But we all know that Romeo and Juliet are into arts, right? So, let’s just say that they share the same beliefs and values. Trust between Romeo and Juliet thickens and they eventually fall in love. Or they could just become best friends, whichever way works. More importantly, because of constant exchanges of empathy and honesty, trust is built. Of course, if the trust is broken at any point of time, which would probably only take a moment, such as cheating. Trust, once broken, will either take a hell lot longer than it took to build – or forever – to repair.
Thus, how can we build strong and meaningful relationships? Trust, the product of reciprocated empathy and honesty between people. At any moment, if anyone in the relationship decides to stop empathising, stop being honest, trust will be compromised. And we all should know by now, if Romeo or Juliet or both of them, decides that empathy and honesty are overrated, they will either slow drift apart from each other or trust will separate them there and then. A moment is all it needs. Treat others like how we want to be treated, empathise, be honest and trust if we want others to do the same for us.
Trust is when we’re willing to let all our defences down in front of a person or a group of people. Trust is what makes us sleep at night and not worry about our surroundings. Trust is what allows groups to move in unison to fight external factors. Trust is what holds relationships together when crises arise. Without trust, we won’t know if we would die in our sleep tonight. Without trust, we won’t know if the others in our group would stab us in the back when we’re not looking behind us. Without trust, we won’t stay together during and through hardships.
Whether artificial intelligence will ultimately replace humans in the workforce or some other disruptive technology gets invented, humans will still need to depend on each other. The relationships and bonds we have with one another can only be built and maintained through the three keys discussed – empathy, honesty and trust. We hate to admit it but we need each other. We need the people who matter to us dearly. But do them a favour and do yourself a favour, empathise, be honest with them and trust that they’ll do the same for you. Empathy, honesty and trust are what love thrives on.
It is never too late to start. But the time is now.