07/02/2013 12:32 pm ET Updated Sep 01, 2013

To Be Trusted Requires a Focus on Others

Many books in recent years have stated that "trust" is the new key to success in business. Customers are looking for companies they can trust and companies that can't be trusted are rapidly losing market share. And obviously it would be hard to get a job if the person interviewing you didn't trust you.

But trust is a key factor in personal relationships also. It would be difficult for someone to form a really close relationship with you if they didn't trust you. And most people would probably agree that one of the most important characteristics of their best friends is a high level of trust.

Apart from obvious things, like not keeping your word or betraying a confidence, what is it that people do (or don't do) that would keep others from trusting them?

The barriers to trust

In their book The Trusted Advisor, Maister, Green, and Galford point out that one of the primary things that inhibits trust is people being too "self-focused." I suggest that there are four specific personal "needs" that result in people being overly self-focused: needing to have the right answers, be liked, appear intelligent, and look good.

I'm not talking about the desire merely to solve problems and be liked. That's fine. I'm talking about when these healthy desires become obsessive needs -- when your life is run by these needs, as they are with so many people.

If you are compulsively focused on these and other similar internal needs, you are not available to other people. You are always obsessively thinking about ways to know the right answer, to impress others, and to look good. Your focus is inward -- on you, not outward -- on others.

As a result, other people probably will experience you as not interested in them, as not fully present, and as focused on and interested only in yourself. As a result, their level of trust in you will be low.

Where do these compulsions come from?

What is the source of these obsessive needs and what can you do about stopping them, so you can really "be with" others and inspire trust?

The answer is simple. Each of the four compulsive needs listed above and other similar ones are the result of several beliefs.

What belief would result in people needing to be liked? They almost certainly would have the survival strategy belief, what makes me good enough and important is having people think well of me.

What belief would result in people needing to have the right answers and to look good? They almost certainly would have the survival strategy belief, what makes me good enough and important is being successful.

What belief would result in people needing to appear intelligent? They almost certainly have the survival strategy belief, what makes me good enough and important is appearing intelligent.

All three of these beliefs imply two other beliefs, I'm not good enough and I'm not important.

Why survival strategy beliefs result in an inward focus

Our survival strategy beliefs have us think that our sense of self -- our self-worth -- is a function of achieving something outside of ourselves. (See an earlier blog post,, for more information about survival strategy beliefs.)

Because we "need" this thing -- whatever it is -- to feel good about ourselves, our lives are devoted to achieving it. As a result, most of our focus is on having others think well of us, success, wanting to look good, and appearing intelligent -- not on really being present with another person. That puts up a barrier between others and us. And that barrier, in turn, reduces the level of trust people would have in us and impairs our ability to have close relationships.

Eliminating these few beliefs will destroy one of the biggest barrier to really being with other people, which is likely to significantly improve people's level of trust in you, which likely will improve your relationships.

Morty Lefkoe is the creator of The Lefkoe Method, a system for permanently eliminating limiting beliefs. For more information go to

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