Foundation of Trust: The C-IQ Formula Every Effective Leader Needs

In Converation with the Safety Collaborators Podcast

Episode 041

Aug 22, 2023

In this episode...we continue our Conversational Intelligence®, aka C-IQ series, The Foundations of Trust 

To build a foundation of Trust, where do you need to start? 

In a world that seems to be increasingly individualistic, how can we foster deeper connections and build genuine Trust with one another? 

And how does trusting influence our perception of self and others?

We continue our Conversational Intelligence®, aka C-IQ series, in today's episode. And focus on building Trust in the conversational intelligence way. 

First, let's have a reminder about what conversational intelligence is. 

It is the hardwired and learnable ability to connect, navigate and grow with others and the necessity of building healthier and more resilient organisations in the face of change. C-IQ begins with Trust and ends with a high-quality relationship and business success. ~ By the late Judith E. Glaser. 

In E038, we introduced you to Conversational Intelligence and the Learn activity. 

In E039, we gave you the 5 Conversational Intelligence Essentials, one of which priming for Trust is one. 

And E040, you discovered the Three Conversational Levels. Help you move from I to We and deepen your conversational agility. 

  • Level I - Transactional
  • Level II - Positional, and
  • Level III - Transformational. 

We trust you are enjoying the series. 

Establishing a Foundation of Trust

The trust model provides a framework for building Trust in conversations and relationships. As we have said so often, everything starts with a conversation, and Trust underpins all meaningful conversations and connections. 

Recognising that we can nurture Trust through intentional communication is essential. We should be conscious of our mindset and approach as we enter conversations, even before they begin. It allows us to proactively consider how we can establish Trust in the upcoming interaction. 

The C-IQ Trust model

There are many Trust models in the world, and many are excellent. The model we work with is the C-IQ Trust Model.

The acronym TRUST stands for the following.

Transparency - Quelling threats and fears. How can I/we create a safe environment?

Relationship - Listen to connect. How can I/we establish rapport?

Understanding - Listen to understand. How can I/we step into the other person's reality?

Shared Success - Listen to co-create strategies for mutual success. How can I/we paint a picture of shared success?

Testing Assumptions/Truth Telling - Listen to close the reality gap. How can I/we tell the truth with candour and caring?

When discussing cultures of care, we often talk about 'words create worlds', and each Trust element is essential for building a foundation of Trust. 

Trust or not… In the Moment of Contact

Let's imagine you're conversing with someone you've just met. 

How do you build a foundation of Trust from the very first moment?
Where does Trust actually start?
It starts in the moment of contact. 

Think about the simple act of walking past somebody and, in that moment deciding whether you like them, don't like them, or trust them or not. 

It is so quick and fast that our brains are just doing it without us even realising we're processing it. In that moment of contact, we can have uncertainty about where we're going well, what's happening here, and whether we go into defensive patterns. We pivot between distrust and Trust.

Other scenarios start to play out. 

Like groupthink or addicted to being right, the status quo of where we're at, do I want to have power over the person I'm conversing with? 

Do I feel I need to protect my turf? Or am I open to putting all that aside, reducing the defensive pattern, and having a trusting conversation instead? 

We tend to think it is all very cognitive, but the whole body is involved in our decisions on Trust.

Uncertainty at the moment of contact - C-IQ Foundation of Trust Image

This is our brain in uncertainty.

Emotions, hormones and time and how they impact Trust

When considering the above about the moment of contact, it's apparent that individuals often rely on their initial instincts. These instincts can manifest as feelings of uncertainty or scepticism towards the person in question. This response is not solely cognitive but also involves physiological signals from the body, contributing to the overall trustworthiness assessment. 

Our emotions and hormones significantly influence our conversational intelligence and ability to build Trust. 

We are very energetic beings. Our brains are incredible, and we connect through the energy waves we don't see.

Just how fast or slow is all this assessing, judging and determining?

Consider this 

Within .07 seconds, the brain assesses a situation and decides whether it is a "friend or foe."

SLOW -TIME-FAST (at the moment of contact)


  • .10 seconds we make judgments
  • 1.0 seconds we make conclusions
  • 10.0 seconds we make decisions
  • 12-18 seconds, our listening goes inwards - we start listening to ourselves

At the moment of contact, we make judgments in 0.1 of a second about the person we have just interacted with. In 10 seconds, we have made decisions. And in 12 to 18 seconds, our listening goes inward; we start listening to our thoughts and what's going on in our head, and we stop listening to the person in front of us. We forget about that listening to connect because we've already judged, we've already concluded, and we've already made a decision. 

Even slow time is pretty fast. What happens in fast time?


  • .07 seconds first impressions are made
  • .07 seconds trust is lost
  • .07 seconds voice is lost

At .07 seconds, we make first impressions; at that exact .07 second, we lose Trust and voice. That is when we go inwards, and all those slow elements take over. 

So that's how fast this all happens on the point of contact, and we haven't even got to 30 seconds conversation. These seconds are not linear. It is all happening concurrently. 

So if we can change our conversations, they can change our life. 

Why Trust is foundational to healthy conversations.

But to change conversations, we need to go deeper and understand what conversation is. And Trust is foundational to having healthy conversations. 

That does not mean all conversations are pleasant and feel good. Not at all. No, it's actually about healthy conversations that can be about dissent. They can challenge the system or include disagreement and are also the positive, feel-good conversations that build people up for co-creation. 

Understanding and recognising that what happens in first contact with others is normal and part of being human. But just because it's normal doesn't mean we must accept it. We don't have to buy into it and go, oh, well, that's how it is. We can challenge ourselves and learn how to be more trusting. 

There are different ways to handle this situation. When we can stop and think about why we feel a certain way, we can change how we talk to people and, in turn, our lives. We should question if our first feelings are just our basic reactions, like when animals react or if we're thinking about it. We need to think about it to get to know someone better. As Abraham Lincoln said: "I don't like that man. I must get to know him better.."

Being unsure about something during our first interaction can lead to problems. For instance, imagine someone in a meeting who looks uninterested and sits with their arms crossed, showing they might not trust or feel engaged. 

There could be issues or disagreements in situations like this that we don't know how to handle. Sometimes we have to have tough conversations and worry about how to approach them. But maybe we struggle because Trust is lacking from the beginning. 

The importance of psychological safety comes to mind, expressing oneself without fear. If we don't address these differences, building trust becomes very hard.

How distrust creates uncertainty and stress.

Uncertainty can arise in situations where we lack Trust. For example, imagine if I'm unsure whether you'll accept my admission that I don't know the best way to move forward. I might react by withdrawing or becoming defensive. I might show confidence and insist on being right to regain a sense of control.

This behaviour can have broader consequences, like hindering learning and innovation. When Trust is missing, we hesitate to express uncomfortable truths. At such times, conversations might focus more on safeguarding our interests, often in a group setting. This is linked to protecting our "turf," which can lead to defensive behaviour.

Needless to say, if we're living in this space of distrust, then we will be in a reasonably stressful place. Our vulnerability may be punished when in an environment or within a team where there is uncertainty. 

When people are in a state of distrust and stress, it decreases their ability to be open to options and other opportunities. It stops healthier and or transformational conversations. We're not suggesting that every conversation has to be transformational, not at all. Sometimes transactional and positional are essential. 

When we're under stress, we fall into protective mode. The stress and distrust shut down the ability to innovate and limit the range of vision. The prefrontal cortex (executive brain) stops thinking because the fast brain (emotional brain) kicks in.  

And this is different to time. So our fast brain tends to be our emotional brain, the limbic region, and therefore, it stops our newer brain, which is our prefrontal cortex, or executive brain, the one at the front of our head, to work correctly. And this is quite important when we have these conversations around conversational intelligence. 

Distrust and the negative impact on people and productivity.

Nuala's Story 

This situation takes me back to a period when I lived through a highly stressful and distrustful work environment. It was truly overwhelming and had a profound impact on me. I lacked support and the freedom to voice my concerns or uncertainties. I experienced a deep sense of isolation in this distrustful atmosphere. The impact went beyond emotional strain – I struggled to function at my usual level. It felt like my cognitive abilities had been significantly impaired, and I was operating at half my normal capacity. 

The dynamics with a specific colleague turned our working environment toxic. It became challenging to engage in higher-level thinking or creative endeavours. My focus was on mere survival, which was far from ideal. When you're keen on contributing positively and adding value to your environment, it's incredibly tough to do so in an environment marked by such challenges. Even though I recognised issues that needed correction, I often lacked the physical and mental energy to address them.

As you just read Nuala's story, you can see that if we don't feel we have enough Trust in the environment and the people around us to speak up, we won't. Suppose you want to talk about those concerns but don't, which will impact the bottom line, safety statistics etc. The lack of Trust affects friendships, working relationships, innovation, etc. 

As leaders, Give Trust to Get Trust as a starting position.

Trust is vital, and it is a crucial leadership skill. 

How different would our world be? If Trust was the default first position. Trust does change reality. 

How many times have you heard or thought - they have to gain my Trust before I'll do anything? 

What would happen if you started from a position of Trust? 

As leaders, we need to give Trust to get Trust. It's not the other way around. It isn't your right to be trusted. 

So how do leaders feel safe enough within themselves? So how do we help people to feel safe enough within themselves? And to give Trust first. 

At this point, it will be helpful to understand what happens in our brains when we are in distrust versus in Trust.

Trust Changes Reality Image for C-IQ Foundations of Trust

From protective to collaborative, the role of cortisol and oxytocin.

Taking a neuroscientific perspective, we can examine the influence of two hormones: cortisol and oxytocin. Cortisol, often linked to stress, comes into play when operating from a place of distrust. It triggers the fight-flight response in the back part of our brain, limiting our perspective to a narrow focus on threats and fears. It's essential to down-regulate cortisol to find balance, preventing an excessive amygdala response. 

The other essential hormone  Oxytocin helps us see reality more clearly and broadens our outlook from nearsightedness to a more inclusive view. To achieve this balance, we up-regulate oxytocin through kind gestures, physical touch, spending time in nature, or even taking deep breaths.

This interplay between cortisol and oxytocin influences our conversational and Trust mindsets, guiding us from a protective stance to an open and collaborative one. Active listening is pivotal in this transition, a topic we'll explore in future discussions.

Can Trust be measured?

Interestingly, the levels of Trust within an organisation can be measured. Catalyst tools are available to assess Trust within teams, divisions, or the entire organisation.

If you're intrigued by this aspect, feel free to reach out for more information at 

Recognising the significance of measuring Trust within organisations underscores its critical role in fostering positive environments.

Ensuring Trust stays the course of time.

Reflective Questions 

  • What does Trust mean to you?
  • What does Trust mean to your team?
  • What does Trust mean to your company?
  • Why is it essential to develop inside of a company? 
  • How important is it to you?

Remember the Dutch saying…

Trust arrives on foot and leaves on horseback.

The significance of Trust extends beyond mere moments of contact. While those initial interactions are crucial, our reactions during these moments allow us to harness them as emotional signals, guiding us in making deliberate choices. Yet, Trust also faces the test of time within long-term relationships. 

When Trust is fractured, the challenge is not to see Trust leave abruptly but ensure it stays the course. Having ongoing, meaningful conversations become paramount in steering relationships towards a healthier and innovative future. In this journey of Trust, our ability to recognise pivotal moments and cultivate lasting connections can shape the path to more conversational intelligence built on Trust.


C-IQ Podcast Series

  • E040  The Three Conversational Levels
  • E039  The 5 Conversational Intelligence Essentials
  • E038  Conversational Intelligence and the Learn activity

C-IQ Catalyst Measuring Tools


An excellent tool for measuring individual conversational patterns. We often use it in our leadership 1:1 coaching sessions.


Another excellent tool for measuring levels of Trust within a team, department or whole organisation.

About the Show

Our purpose in sharing this podcast is to have a chinwag (conversation) to help people change how they think and behave about safety. 

We do this by engaging in dialogue and testing the levels of trust and psychological safety, which are core to organisational culture. Making safety part of your DNA so that your people speak up, show up, do right, and become safer every day for yourself, your team, and your business.

We will explore topics related to organisational and safety culture, leadership, the language of risk, emotional literacy, psychological safety, conversational agility, intercultural intelligence, and whatever else pops up during our conversations—sharing our experiences and learnings. 

We intend to share nuggets of wisdom that will challenge your perspectives, potentially solve a nagging problem, share actions you can implement, and give you at least one aha moment.

And, if you enjoyed the show and gained value, please share with just one other person to help spread the word.

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