Trust is a no-brainer when there’s nothing to lose. Many of us live by the creed that we’ll trust people until they give us a reason to do otherwise. The problem is that the reasons creep up without us realizing them. Trust becomes a problem when competing needs are at stake. Think about two employees vying for the same promotion, or one person in a relationship feeling unappreciated by her partner. Real trust is the foundation for any healthy relationship, and it comes only from putting competing needs to the test.

Let’s take the two employees competing for the same job. These two people may have a great, trusting relationship. The minute they find out that they are in competition the dynamic between them will change. They can choose to talk about it openly and support each other, or they can talk behind each other’s backs, try to glean confidential information about each other or make each other look bad in front of others. The same is true for a romantic relationship. The couple can either openly discuss their needs or harbor resentment and start hurting each other in small ways that worsen over time.

Trust requires that you keep your promises and act consistently with people. In the good times, that may be enough. But when your trust is put to task, here are a few things you can remember to make the relationship stronger.

1) Be open about what you want. Unspoken needs are a sure death to any relationship. Address conflicting interests candidly. You may still have to compete for your needs but you lessen the risk of clandestine attacks against you.

Employees competing for the same job could meet alone to talk about the situation. The process and outcome could be much more pleasant if there were goodwill between them. The same is true for personal relationships. Small attacks, secrets and unspoken resentment are a recipe for disaster. Talking openly won’t necessarily solve the problem, but it will lead a couple down a more productive path.

2) Take a risk. Studies on trust show that allowing ourselves to be vulnerable increases the amount of trust others have in us. If you are willing to confide in people, they will do the same for you. One of the best ways to demonstrate trust is to ask for advice or help. It shows that you value this person’s knowledge and that you are willing to admit you are less than perfect.

3) Be willing to give up something. Compromise means giving up some of what you want in order to satisfy the needs of the other person. The sacrifice doesn’t have to be huge, but it should be enough to make the other person feel that you are not concerned solely with No. 1. In the case of the two employees, the only thing they can give each other is mutual support. However, if there is trust between them, the one who gets the job may be able to help the other in the long run.

One final note of advice: Don’t retaliate. Getting trust means giving it first. If someone breaches your trust by talking behind your back or by being dishonest, you don’t get any further by doing the same to him. Fighting fire with fire leaves only ashes. Confront the person about his behavior, and when necessary, report the behavior to the chain of command. To build trust you may have to compromise your needs, but not your integrity.

Elisa Levy conducts seminars on conflict resolution and anger management. For information, call 305-296-5437 or visit