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Posted on February 10, 2020
Updated on October 9, 2020


Trust is: “reliance on and confidence in the truth, worth and reliability etc. of a person or thing: faith” (Collins English Dictionary)

“Confidence” on its own is not the same as “trust”.  Trust has a different quality.

Erikson talked about Trust versus Mistrust.  This attitude was one of many that Erikson (1950) believed were formed at different stages of development.  Erikson states that if a child is adequately stroked and cared for they are likely to develop an underlying tendency to trust.  Mary Ainsworth (Ainsworth, et al 1978) would consider this in terms of the development of different attachment patterns.

In TA terms we think about this in terms of the development of script, the messages a child would receive or the decisions they would make.  For example, a child may experience a situation with someone and decide that they will never trust a man/woman again, or someone in authority etc.  When situations occur that fit our frame of reference we can then say “There I knew this would happen.  I should never have trusted X with that information” thus reinforcing our beliefs and thus our script.

Underneath the Don’t Trust decision, or introjected belief about trust, there is often a Don’t Be , existential position.

Blakeney discusses trust in relation to communication and his views are synonymous with safety within the model Concepts for Thriving (Mountain, 2004).  Managers spend 50-80% of their time at work communicating with others, though an increasing percentage of this time may be via emails rather than face to face.  When we receive information, we interpret, filter, evaluate, and condense it.  This is particularly so in organisations when the flow of information is upward and those in senior positions do not want to be overloaded with information.  The way in which we interpret, evaluate, filter and condense information on an individual basis is usually outside of our awareness. At an organisational level, however, deciding what information we pass on to others occurs at the awareness level.  The difficulty comes when our own propensity to filter etc. has already taken place and we then need to pass something on – we may have overlooked something another person needs to know.  When this sifting occurs and enables the organisation, and individuals, to be more effective then it is likely that the person passing on information develops a higher degree of trust.

Effective contracting 

Effective contracting develops trust.  Contracts enable all parties to deal with expectations, ensure that there are no assumptions and clarify aims and outcomes.  The psychological contract also needs to be taken into account when considering trust.  What is the culture of the organisation, is it a trusting one or one of suspicion and mistrust?  Do people feel exploited or appreciated?

Building trust in organisations involves:

    • Employee participation
    • A level of autonomy for employees and leaders
    • Effective feedback
    • Supportive supervision
    • Open communication

There needs to be a commitment by everyone in the organisation to achieve quality through continuous improvement.  In addition there needs to be respect for each other and the desire to meet customer needs.  In such cultures the frame of reference for leadership is likely to be that co-creative thinking leads to more creative outcomes, and that leaders serve the organisation through serving the employees.

This implies coming from an OK/OK position.  However, where the culture has been, or is still, a “tough” or bullying one, it is difficult for people to experience the bully, or the culture, as OK.  Here we have to differentiate between the individual’s right to be in the world (I+U+) and what they do with that right, and a culture that has developed in a repressive way.  If we consider the concept of trust for those who have been, or are being repressed,  it might also be useful to consider the stages of independence, interdependence, dependence and counter-dependence.

The bullied person tends to experience themselves as not OK and is submissive.  They may not believe that they can be independent and so progress may actually be for them to move into the Independence phase or I am OK and You are not OK.  This is a more powerful position and enables the individual to move on, rather than be submissive and passive.

When a person has been dependent on another person it may be that they need to move to the Counter-dependent (revolution) position of I-U-.  Those who are Persecutors are dependent on finding Victims to persecute.  In organisations where there is a clear analysis about the shortages or injustices that result from inadequate structures and systems, revolution can be healthy. (Symor,1977).  The revolution position could be seen as I am OK and You are not OK.  However, Symor believes that this is not the case as the person’s energy is expended on critiquing the ills of a system in which they live or work.

The exploration of values and alternatives is the start of belief in one’s own culture and uniqueness.  Symor differentiates between healthy and unhealthy positions.  For example, the unhealthy independence stage occurs when people Rescue others and their frame of reference is “holier than thou”.  The healthy independence occurs when an individual withdraws, stops expressing resentments and decides what they want.

Interdependence is characterised by autonomous behaviour based on choice.  We may be able to relate with those on whom we were previously dependent and be able to explore options, have opinions and be co-operative rather than compliant or resistant in the Behavioural modes (developed from Temple’s Functional Modes).

These stages are healthy.  When a person does not shift immediately from their existential position to the ++ position, but instead shifts to different one, we need to see this as progress.  In these circumstances we may need to trust the process of development.

When we get to the interdependence stage, trust will be present, and there is more likely to be creative problem solving.  The culture will be conflict resolving as people will trust each other and trust the establishment, including the leadership.

Ernst vs. Symor Table


Ainsworth, M.D.S., Blehar, M.C., Waters, C. and Wall, S. (1978) Patterns of Attachment New Jersey, Erlbaum

Blakeney R. (1986), A Transactional View of the Role of Trust in Organizational Communication, TAJ 16:2

Erikson E. (1950), Childhood and Society,

English F. (1976), Shame and Social Control, TAJ 5:1

Mountain A. (2004), The Space Between, bridging the gap between workers and young people, Russell House Publishing

Symor N.K. (1977), The Dependency Cycle: Implications for Theory, Therapy, and Social Action, TAJ, 7:1