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Trust: An Essential Emotion in Interpersonal Relations and Cooperation
Apr 1, 2005

George Eastman, the founder of the Kodak Company, took close-up photographs of wild animals in Africa with a simple camera in 1935, which he then showed to his friends. Surprised at seeing how close he had been able to take them, one of his friends asked “How did you manage this?” Eastman replied: “I had a hunter whom I trusted with me. I drew an imaginary line, roughly ten meters away from me. Then I told the hunter to shoot immediately any animal that attempted to cross that line while I was taking photographs.” They were all surprised and asked at the same time: “How did you dare take such a risk! What if the hunter had missed?” He replied “My friends, if you want to be successful in life, you should learn to trust the people with whom you work.”

In our daily lives, we come into contact with several different people. We trade or work together with some of these people, while with others we just exchange greetings or a few words. There are also some people with whom we share our troubles, worries, or joys. Life becomes sweeter and more meaningful with these people. People to whom we can open up our inner worlds tell us their sincere opinions about our good or bad sides. We realize our dreams and wishes; namely, we realize ourselves through them. And we can really be ourselves when we are with them. We experience friendship, brotherhood (or sisterhood), and we share our secrets with them. Real friendships are built over years as people get to know and try out one another, building up mutual trust. It is very difficult to maintain such good relationships through a lifetime without shaking the trust of the other person. When trust is shaken, the relationship collapses and shatters like glass, since the feeling of security is like a glue that adheres people together and improves relationships. Nothing can go right when there is no trust between spouses, children and parents, an employer and employees, directors and those who are directed, the state and its citizens, or between institutions. In such cases, people cannot fulfill their potential, they cannot present their positive feelings, cannot work efficiently, cannot try new things; relations become mechanical and life becomes robotic, blocking the ways that lead to both material and spiritual gain. Imagine a family with no feeling of trust between its members. Which member of that family can share their thoughts, joys, grief, or troubles with the rest? Such a family can only produce children deprived of love, and spouses weary of defending their interests.

On the other hand, a family which is made up of members who trust the others in opening up their ideals, ambitions, and their strong and weak sides will be the complete opposite, for the members of that family will feel confident that they will not be let down in return. Love, tolerance, and compassion prevail there. Sorrows, joys, and worries are all shared; everyone tries to realize their dreams and hopes.

How is a feeling of security maintained? Who do people trust? To whom can people entrust their property or life peacefully? Why isn’t everybody trustworthy? Are they not aware of the significance of trust in the family, in society, and in the business world; or do they choose not to be trustworthy? Or, perhaps, they don’t know how to be trustworthy.

Many things have been said about the importance of feelings of trust. Prophet Muhammad also stressed this fact, saying “The real believer is the person whom people are secure concerning their property and lives.” Then he underlined the six virtues of a trustworthy person as follows: “if you can make me promises concerning six things, I can assure Paradise to you. When you speak, speak the truth, fulfill what you have promised, be trustworthy with what has been entrusted to you, be chaste, protect your eyes from the unlawful, and keep your hands from harming others.” When we think about this on the whole, we are able to see that the people who have these qualities are trustworthy people. If a person has noble qualities, such as modesty, loyalty, tolerance, righteousness, courage, patience, vigor, and frankness, that person inspires trust in those around them. However, it is not enough to have such a character if a person is to establish a good dialogue with others. If we are to express ourselves confidently and overcome the difficulties we face in life, we need to have the ability to develop dialogue and good relations with other people.

Open Communication Leads to Trust

People need to feel secure in opening up their feelings and thoughts to others, so that they are able to establish a good relationship. Expressing ourselves freely, opening up to somebody else, is in direct proportion with the degree of sincerity and trust between that person and ourselves. Undoubtedly, we cannot simply open up to everyone we meet. Opening up means finding somebody we can trust. It takes time for one person to trust another. The person who is able to open up inspires trust in the other and receives the message “I trust you” in return. The trusted person opens up further and this leads to a deeper and closer relationship. When a person is reserved, on the other hand, then they initiate a vicious circle which makes the other party suppress their feelings. Surely, open communication is not possible at all times. There are also risks in open communication, but it is not healthy to be totally introverted all the time. If a person becomes too introverted, then they will suffer terrible loneliness. Open communication should not be expected from the other person at all times, and it should not be dependent on the initiation of open communication by the other party. One must take a risk in order to be open; almost all achievements in life are based on taking risks, to a lesser or greater degree. If we are open with the person with whom we are communicating, if we can trust and appreciate them, then they will also respond in the same manner, be open to us, and appreciate us. The steps we take in order to learn the truth, to improve ourselves, and to realize our thoughts are dependent on accepting the risk of being open.

Open communication is not only important in family relationships or friendships; it has a fundamental role in working relationships in both the private and public sectors in order to build up trust. A good leader knows that a small group cannot find the right solution to everything. They keep in mind that not only the executive board, but other employees may also have valuable knowledge, and that these “lesser beings” are no less intelligent than their “superiors.” Therefore, a good leader tries to keep in contact with the information potential at the ground level. The aim of a good leader is not only to teach others what to do, but also to ask how they can be of help and to comprehend what happens in practice. A leader does not decide everything behind closed doors. Instead, they clearly express their targets, anxieties, and needs, maintaining the flow of information from the bottom through to the top by establishing healthy communication. In this way people can see that their efforts are appreciated and they feel better. Who doesn’t want to be appreciated? Who doesn’t want to be listened to, cared about, and valued? How can a leader who does not maintain open communication with those at the ground level, who does not make people feel that they are important and that their ideas are valued gain their full support? People trust and do not want to disappoint leaders and managers who value them.

In Turkey, in the city of Diyarbakir, when the city’s Chief Commissioner of Police died, the funeral was held at the Governors Mansion. Tens of thousands of people from all over the city filled the street early in the morning. They were truly mourning the late Commissioner; it was as if they had lost a close relative. But what had made them love him so much? How had he managed to conquer the people’s hearts? In one of his interviews, he essentially answered this question: “We have established individual contact with our citizens; we have actively participated in their social activities and even their sports.” He continued as follows “I listen to everybody, I talk to everybody. I visit any grocer; if he’s busy I go on to the next. The sincere hospitality shown by an ordinary shop owner is one of the best feelings. In short, I am together with my people. When I was given this duty, they told me to protect the lives and properties of the people; this is my responsibility. Being the Chief Commissioner does not make me different, all of us are humans. We cannot act as we choose. People need to be loved, people need to be respected. If people respect me and I respect them, there isn’t much more to do. This is what people look for in this city.”

Here is the secret of maintaining trust: being close to people, making individual contact, not seeing one’s rank as a privilege, and not looking down on anybody. The Chief Commissioner saw himself as an ordinary man in society, and approached everybody with the same love, respect, affection, and sincerity, no matter what their age, sex, or ethnic background. One cannot help but remember the wise words of Ali ibn Abi Talib “Be a(n ordinary) person among people.” It makes no difference if one is a state official, or a company executive, or just a volunteer who wants to win people’s hearts; you will fail if you do not follow this principle. An absence of trust prevents us from realizing our goals effectively. When we manage to maintain trust however, people just flow toward the common goal spontaneously, like a river which has found its bed. This will be the time when you have attained real success.

Sharing Your Thoughts and Work Increases Trust

Keeping close contact with people is the type of behavior that builds up trust. Some administrators even adopt the principle of not making friends with the staff. They just get entangled with the pomp and prestige of their position, overlooking their own mistakes. Those who are open and realistic on the other hand, receive the same attitude from the people who work under their command.

Listen to Yourself and to Others

A person who knows how to listen can solve most matters easily. Someone who has the patience to listen to people can initiate a better dialogue with people through this ability. While listening, they can learn more, understand new points, and attain a deeper comprehension by seeing different aspects of issues; they can then put forward new solutions.

Listening to oneself leads a person to a deeper comprehension of themselves. If we learn to listen to our different moods and feelings, then we can get to know ourselves better. We realize our strong and weak sides. Someone who knows who they are and what one is experiencing is able to understand others more easily, and is able to look at things from their point of view, thanks to the broader perspective they have attained by listening to themselves. Listening makes people feel that they have been given importance. Not only does it show that you are interested in the person in front of you, but listening to someone helps you to predict that person’s disappointments before it is too late and helps you to prevent them.

Try to sense what people feel. Try to understand how fragile relationships are and the importance they bear for people. Know how difficult it is to establish these relationships and how easily they are damaged. Listen to both yourself, and those around you.

Be Predictable

Being consistent and predictable in a complex world helps the people around you to feel secure. Those who feel that the ground under their feet is firm can be open to new ideas and are not discouraged from taking risks. If they know that you do not change your attitude every day, they will feel that they can trust you. Predictability means being the same person all the time, so that people can predict how you will respond. Do not be afraid of telling the truth. Always give the same message; make yourself clear about what you expect from people. The trust you are to inspire will be the best help you can offer them.