Collaborative business relations are in general built for the long term. Long-term relationships require a high level of trust among the partners to flourish. Short-term relationships on the other hand do not need that level of trust. In a transaction where I buy a bottle of water from a vendor, I only need just that amount of trust for the vendor to hand me the bottle at the moment I hand him the money. That is the end of transaction, and thus the end of the requirement for continued trust. In collaborative relations we need continuity in trust among the partners. After all, we are pursuing a goal that we cannot easily achieve alone.

“Trust comes on foot, but leaves on horseback”

Johan Thorbecke

But how do we build and maintain trust? As the quote by Johan Thorbecke suggests, trust is difficult and vulnerable, it is hard to build and easy to loose. In the article “Leadership and the structure of trust” Paul Lawrence and Robert Porter Lynch discuss the 4 innate drives that every individual is influenced by:

  • The drive to acquire: this drive comes from the basic needs to own at least a minimum of essential resources
  • The drive to defend, with its focus on defending yourself and your loved ones
  • The drive to bond, to create long-term relationships
  • The drive to create, to learn and create

According to Lawrence and Porter Lynch every individual has all four drives, but in a different balance. They position these drives on the ladder of trust, which has a neutral level, often characterized as a belt. The drives to acquire and defend are the basic levels that need to be fulfilled for every individual. However, if an individual has a very strong drive on acquiring and defending, he/she might have a focus that is too much on the negative side and showing trustbusting behavior. On the other side of the belt are the drives to bond and create and individuals with strong development on this side are showing trust building behaviors.

When looking at the figure as included in the article, containing the four drive compass, you will recognize behavior of trust building and trust busting activities. Hidden agendas are a recognizable behavior we all have seen before and that is harming the level of trust we create. Openness in our relationship and sharing information will help build trust.

The article is worth the read and the ladder of trust is a useful tool to help recognize people’s behaviors and the ladder of trust tries to counter people’s behaviors with your behavior in order to build and maintain trust.

Bret Simmons has an article and a lecture on YouTube where he says that we have no control over whether or not people will trust us. However, we do control how trustworthy we are. At first, people will not look at the question if they trust other people, but they will judge based on the trustworthiness we show. This is a behavior we can fully influence ourselves and when combining this with the drives of Porter Lynch and Lawrence we see that working on the drives to bond and create will increase our trustworthiness.

View the video lecture by Bret Simmons here on his website.

One of the statements Bret makes is: “If there is no risk, there is no need for trust”. Strategic alliances and partnerships are full of risks (and a lot of rewards if done well) and we need to trust our partner to build healthy partnerships. Trust in a relationship needs to be two sided: it is impossible for you to trust your partner while your partner does not trust you. Without this mutual trust it is impossible to build a successful strategic partnership. Like the article by Bret Simmons suggests: we can control how trustworthy we are. As written before on my blog starting with these three essential elements can be helpful:

  • Pay attention and be an active listener
  • Suspend judgement
  • Deliver on the promise

These elements show how we should behave: when consistently paying attention while suspending judgment and delivering on the promise (better even over-deliver), we can show our trustworthiness and start to build trust for a healthy partnership.


This article is part of a series of articles extending upon the 25 tips for successful partnerships & alliances article.  These 25 tips have been rewritten and published in the eBook “25 tips for successful partnerships & alliances“. See this page to purchase your own copy of the ebook in Kindle, PDF and ePub format. 

One Response to “Tip 10: Build and maintain trust”