5 Ways Trust Can Resolve Any Heated Relationship Conflict


Trust is a critical two-way street of any successful relationship. Most people think of trust as the glue that secures the relationship. 

If people trust each other they can work through conflict and more easily reach a satisfactory resolution. If people do not trust each other, managing or resolving differences is more difficult and more destructive.

Bitter conflict generates animosity, pain that is not easily forgotten and the individuals (or groups) no longer believe what the other says, or commitments won't follow through, and proposed actions will be suspect. Non-resolved issues will linger and distrust will increase.

In any situation, if people act consistently and reliably, we are likely to accept them as credible, trustworthy, and predict they will keep their promises. Emotions can also build trust. Happiness and gratitude can build trust while anger decreases it.

My research on conflict and communication and my experience as a coach and mediator has given some insight into trust and resolving difference that I want to share with you. There are ways to build trust and there are ways to re-build trust

Let's define trust: Trust is a person's belief in and willingness to accept and act on the words, actions and decisions of another person.

Ways the world views trusting:

  • People do what they promise because they fear the consequences of not doing what they say. 
  • Ensured agreements by both the rewards of being trusted and the threat of being hurt if someone violates the trust.
  • Each person can understand and appreciate the other's wants, needs and interests.
  • Trust also develops to the point that each person can act as on behalf of the other. Both people are confident that their interests are fully protected.  

Managing Trust

Trust develops as we observe the other person over time. The basis of effective relationships is predictability and the more time you spend together sharing personal values, goals, perceptions, and motives, the more you'll enhance the trust. 

However,  you must set specific time set aside for these activities. In general, if you devote and engage in activities that permit you to share:

  • Common group memberships
  • Common interests
  • Similar reactions to common situations.
  • Situations where you and the other stand for the same values, principles and demonstrating integrity

Obviously trust has a strong emotion base. Despite any attempt to "think analytically" about our relationships, a lot depends on our own psychology, personal reactions to the actions of our significant other, and the situation. We are more likely to build trust only with people who we feel really share our perceptions, values, and interests. 

Repairing Trust

Repairing damaged trust is critical and tremendously practical. If we believe that another's values perceptions and behaviors are damaging we will find it difficult to maintain any semblance of a working relationship. However if we have a long term relationship and expect it to continue there are strategies for managing conflict and trust.

You can:

  • Negotiate expected behaviors
  • Openly acknowledge the areas of mutual distrust and establish safeguards.
  • Design ways that specifics differences and issues will not interfere with your ability to work together.

Emotions can also build trust; happiness and gratitude can build trust while anger decreases it.

If the costs and benefits of consistent action are clear to both of you, then establish the groundwork for trust. This will allow you to work together with some confidence that deep seated differences will not one of you at a disadvantage or harmed.

Do Apologies Work?

Apologies and simple explanations can lead to restored trust. If the offender fully accepts culpability ("Being Forthright and Disclosing" in my POWW model) increase the willingness to reconcile if the apology is sincere and timely.

Apologies must appear as an

  • Expression of regret
  • Explanation of why the violation occurred
  • Intent to repent and not to do it again
  • Offer to repair
  • Ask for forgiveness
  • More complete apologies are more effective than less complete for integrity violations.
  • Voluntary reparation (What will it take? What can I do?)—the actual size of the offer matters less. Over compensation is worse.
  • Change the structure of the relationship; accepting being monitored and agreeing on penalties if they dishonor trust again.
  • The person violated must accept and forgive: "A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on."—Yogi Berra

Trust and Managing Conflict

1. Trust makes it easier to resolve conflict

Of course this is obvious. The level of trust or distrust shapes the conflict dynamics and impacts the effectiveness of our ability to manage conflict.

2. Trust is the first casualty in conflict

As conflict escalates trust decreases and distrust increases. The deeper the distrust, the more defend against the other person. We attempt to win and focus on distrust and decrease actions that will rebuild trust.

3. Creating Trust

Act consistently and reliably, meet deadlines and commitments, over time.

4. Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

If you find that the other person's behavior is unreliable and unpredictable, then the other's intentions might be viewed as malicious. Then you'll create negative expectations and hostile motives: "I expect the worse and his/her behaviors confirm it."

5. Trust And Distrust

Most relationships have elements of both trust and distrust which may produce ambivalence. Depending on the level this internal conflict can undermine clear expectations and force us to scrutinize every action to determine how to count it and into which column to place the action. This will affect each of you handle conflict.

It is easier to write about repairing trust than actually doing the repairing. Effective trust is key to managing conflict effectively. Repairing trust may take a long time because each person must establish reliability and dependability. 

My research and experience clearly show that it takes twice as long to repair trust once violated than it does when the relationship is just being forged.