The two primary dimensions of trust

May 26, 2021
Jeff Couillard

Trust. It’s easily the most important ingredient in high-functioning and performing relationships of all kinds, and likely the hardest one to find.

It’s the fabric that holds us together as people, and something that we’ve wrestled with for all of human history - who do we trust, why do we trust them, and what do we trust them with?

Some definitions of trust

Here at The Ally Co., we believe there are two primary dimensions of trust, each deserving its own definition, and consideration.

Performance trust

‘Performance trust’ is essentially a task-based form of trust, and requires little or no ‘Relational trust’ (we’ll talk about that type of trust in a minute).

The belief that an individual or team will perform the task at hand to a mutual standard of excellence or expectation.
The Ally Co.

If you’re interested, here’s a quick story and example from our Co.CEO Jeff Couillard of performance trust:

“In my younger years (prior to starting a family), I did a lot of rock climbing - from the climbing gym, to the local crag, and to longer multi-day mountaineering trips. Of course, climbing requires a partner; someone to ‘belay’ you (hold the rope) and take turns 'leading’ (climbing first). Trusting someone with your life, in a technical environment like rock climbing, requires a very high level of performance trust. Can this person tie the right knot? Do they know how to properly catch me in the event of a fall? Can they perform the right tasks, in the right order, with no loss of focus and performance?

In this type of activity, performance trust is often the primary consideration - I can think of many instances where I tied into a rope with someone whom I had seen demonstrate competence in the tasks of climbing, without any knowledge or consideration for who they were as a person, or whether I could trust them with my innermost hopes and fears. And while a great climbing partnership would obviously include high levels of both types of trust, there were many times, particularly in the relative safety of the climbing gym, when performance trust was more than adequate.”

‘Performance trust’ is comprised of two primary factors: Credibility and Reliability.

Credibility: Having the necessary skills, experience, or education to perform the task.

Reliability: Demonstrating consistency over time, producing similar (or continuously improving) outcomes.

Relational trust

‘Relational trust’ is the type of trust that exists between people in a relationship - a trust that allows for shared vulnerability and meaningful connection.

A continuation of the previous story and example from our Co.CEO Jeff Couillard of relational trust in action:

“Around the same time that I was doing a lot of rock climbing, I began working in the addiction and mental health sector with youth and families at a wilderness-based treatment centre. As a youth worker, the primary focus was to build trusting relationships with the participants of the program - relationships built sitting around a campfire and taking walks in the forest.

In this type of trust-building, there was very little need for, or reliance on, ‘performance trust’. Any ability to connect meaningfully with the youth was built on an ability to be fully present, non-judgmental, empathetic, and focused on their needs and goals.

The ability to build the fire (task) was secondary to the ability to sit quietly beside it, creating space for deeper connection and relationship.

‘Relational trust’ is built on a few primary factors: Empathy, Curiosity, Discretion, and Ego.

Empathy: The ability to hold a non-judgmental, compassionate, and psychologically safe space.

Curiosity: A genuine interest in the perspective of the other person, and what they find most meaningful.

Discretion: The ability to hold information in confidence and with clear boundaries.

Ego: The ability to set aside your own ego and be attuned to the needs and values of the other person.

Trust meaningfully

As we can see, “trust” is much more nuanced and multi-faceted than we often assume it is. With this perspective, it’s possible to have high ‘performance' trust’ and low ‘relational trust’ (and vice versa). And when leaders focus solely on the development of one type of trust over the other, we often end up with predictable results - either disconnection in the relationship or an environment of low or mediocre performance.

The ultimate type of trust (and one that we strive for with all of our relationships here at The Ally Co.), is the combination of performance and relationship - trust that is rooted in shared excellence and the high-performance of tasks, as well as high levels of empathy and low levels of personal self-interest (ego). And a meaningful and impactful journey of continuous skill and wisdom-building ;).

We hope you’re striving for the same in all of your relationships - at work and at home - and we’re here to for anyone who is looking to learn more. Take care.

Questions? Thoughts? Feedback? Whatever it is, we would love to hear from you!