Lack of trust has been cited yet again as a major impediment to the Brexit negotiations, as Boris Johnson has announced what looks to many like a retreat from the ratified EU Withdrawal Agreement and signalled a willingness, if necessary, to break international law. The French MEP Phillipe Lamberts said on BBC R4’s World at One; ’If you want to strike an agreement with anyone, I don’t think it’s a good idea to hint that you might not abide by past agreements with the same partner.’ 

Everyone knows trust can take years to build and seconds to destroy, and the push and pull of any major negotiation can stretch trust to its limits, but it got me to thinking about the negotiators themselves, as individuals. They do, after all, sit across the negotiating table one minute, and across the dinner table with family and friends the next, and trust – or its absence – plays just as big a role in both settings.

So how, and when, do you start to build trust? Clearly it’s no good waiting for the crisis to happen. That’s way too late. You have to start right now, by practising on the small stuff – the countless routine, apparently unimportant, interactions we all have that make up the bulk of our daily lives, like punctuality, keeping small promises and everyday acts of understanding and consideration. Here are four ways of doing that from The Talking Revolution.

  • Competence – demonstrate that you can do something to a certain level. For example, if you consistently complete work on time and to the required standard – or higher – you’ll be trusted with more of it and/or more responsibility. 
  • Predictability – keep your promises and act reliably. If you arrange to meet someone outside the station at midday on Tuesday, you meet them outside the station at midday on Tuesday. Simple. 
  • Integrity – demonstrate that you share particular values with the other person. They really value honesty and frank speaking, say. You do too. So they trust you to give your honest and frank opinion, even if they might not be thrilled at what they hear. 
  • Benevolence – indicate that you care about the other person. Which means you consider their welfare, feelings and needs when you make decisions that might affect them. And they trust that you’ll look out for them and their interests. 

Taking the opportunity to practise on the small, everyday stuff means that, if and when the big stuff comes up, that foundation of trust will already be in place and could actually prevent a crisis from developing at all. But if a crisis does develop, they’ll certainly make the challenges it brings much easier to handle.