Building Trust in Online Spaces

‘The best way to find out if you can trust somebody, is to trust them.”

-Ernest Hemingway

As a parent, I am part of the process where my daughters are learning all about secrets, the ups and downs of friendships, and all-things-girly in every relationship. They are on the brink of crossing over into the realm of the opposite sex, and they are learning that through chatter (mostly with their friends), there is a magical line of confiding and gossip. I am privy to some of this, but am counted on to be there always.

As a spouse, I am in a partnership where we face a wall of daily decisions… some miniscule, some colossal, (and it is often impossible to determine which is which). We carve out time each day to share our daily chat and recount the day’s events, each bringing our own daily baggage to the table while finding strength to not only set aside the “I” for the greater “we”, but also the courage to let go and lean when necessary.

As a professional, each day provides an opportunity to expose just the right amount of myself to my students to show them that I have human qualities such as humour, wisdom, compassion and empathy… in hopes that they too will allow me the honour of seeing the same in them. Respectful interactions extend to colleagues as well, in hopes that the team approach to education and leadership will allow our individual strengths to build a greater good.

And as a friend, I am deeply entrenched in listening as those closest to me talk through changes of every kind. I am the sounding board for great decisions, and I, too, have received the pillars of support from dear companions over a lifetime of commons experiences, both positive and challenging. We rely on the likes of one other in a plethora of ways, and know at the end of the day judgment will take a backseat to empathy, compassion and a hope to see joy in the lives of one another.

What do all of these relationships have in common? TRUST. In our Connected Coaching discussions, we have been exploring ways of building trust in an online community. We have the advantage of knowing what trust feels like in our personal schema, but have at times struggled to put into words the exact tricks to building it. I think that’s the key word here- building. Trust does not spontaneously exist… it must be created. How then, does this happen in an environment such as an online course, or as a coach or colleague online, or from a distance? Certainly, time and distance are huge barriers, no?

In each of these face-to-face relationships, there are some common factors. COMMON INTERESTS. COMMON GOALS. COMMON DEMOGRAPHICS. COMMON CHALLENGES.

While the common goal may sometimes be to get through the day, it is still something in common. In fact, it seems to me, that it is through times of crisis that the greatest trust is built.

Sharing part of one’s self is also great strategy. Volunteering vulnerability is not always an easy sell, but for most of us, it is this very human trait that draws us in.




Modeling and expecting empathy.

These are important markers in creating an atmosphere in which people can grow. The discussion continues here, on this Google Document . Please feel free to add to it and share your insights. As for me, as I move on with the day and the summer ahead, I will continue to reflect on this key to relationships.

This week marked the passing of a great leader in relationship building, Mr. Stephen Covey (1932-2012). On his blog , he talks about emotional bank accounts and offered this challenge:

“Reach out to someone today with whom you have a strained relationship or someone whose relationship needs strengthening. Make a deposit in their Emotional Bank Account…and commit to continuing the deposits. And don’t forget making deposits in your strong, high-trust relationships—it’s what keeps them strong! Enjoy the adventure!”


2 thoughts on “Building Trust in Online Spaces

  1. The comment you found by Earnest Hemingway is simple, but powerful. You did a really nice job of weaving your personal trusting relationships into what you expect in professional ones. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Lindy,
    So much goodness here–
    When you said:
    “Trust does not spontaneously exist… it must be created.”
    I was nodding my head in agreement.

    And yet, I’m wondering if time and distance are the great barriers you’ve mentioned? Building or growing trust online may need to be more intentional, may take a bit longer yet my sense is it encompasses all you’ve mentioned– vulnerability, empathy, respect, co creating.

    Sheryl and I see ourselves as the poster child for trust building online. We’ve worked together for about 6 years. We’ve written a book together, we know each other’s families and share joys and sorrows. We’ve been in the same room face to face for about 2 hours total and that occurred 4 years into our work together.

    Surely common interests help in building trust more quickly and face to face trustbuilding grows in more informal settings. Yet my personal experiences suggest that perhaps the barriers you suggest may fall more easily than you are thinking?

    I’ve truly enjoyed reading and thinking as a result of your writing,

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