1. Confirm Your Core Question

To overcome flight or fight reflexes stimulated by taking interpersonal risks, reframe the challenge as a question you can get genuinely curious about. As you creatively form this question here at Step 1, you can immediately begin to advance out of the ruts of the past and release new potentials -- both for yourself and an important relationship.

The core question creates a firm foundation for reaching out to build trust . The next few steps (Steps 2-5) will flesh out what this question is all about and help you refine it into a compelling personal inquiry. The remaining steps help you answer your question in a powerful, practical way, take action based on your answers, and reflect on what you've learned.

So what's your core question?

Think of the person with whom you want to build trust. Beginning on this webpage and in your worksheets this person is referred to as _____________. Whenever you see this blank line, in your mind fill in ____________'s name.

Good core questions are:
  • open ended (they can't be answered yes or no)
  • primarily about yourself, not the other person
  • positively stated to include achieving a powerful possibility
Consider, for instance, a question such as:
Will I ever be able to trust ____________, given his insecurities and what he's done to me? This is an example of an ineffective question for three reasons. It's closed -- the only answers are yes or no; it's about the other person and his problems; it's heavily and negatively focused on the obstacles.

Here's a different question: How do I reach out to build trust with _____________ given how little I know about her? That's better because it is open-ended and more positively stated, but it could still be enhanced by restating it as: How do I reach out to build trust with______________in a way that is genuinely based on what we can learn from each other? In this version, the obstacle of not knowing the person is transformed into a positive possibility.

Here's another example, maybe a little tougher: How do I begin to rebuild trust in my relationship with _____________ in the wake of our differences, fights with each other, and sense of betrayal. How might you reframe this one? Perhaps as: How do I begin to rebuild trust with ____________ in a way that's truly focused on recovery and reconciliation?

Last example: How do I create an open, trust-based conversation with _____________ even though I feel awkward and he has a lot more organizational power? Perhaps an alternative is: How do I create an open, trust-based conversation with _____________ as more comfortable partners and collaborators?
Many questions as they are first formed come out sounding essentially like this: How do I reach out to build trust with ___________ in spite of this one big obstacle?

The fundamental shift is to re-ask the question as "
How do I reach out to build trust with ____________ with this possibility?"

Sometimes in forming a good core question, you might inadvertently frame it to sound like it is actually forcing something on the other person or making a judgment. For example, a question such as How do I build trust with ____________ in a way that fosters accountability? can look good on the surface but actually covers up a "should" on the inside, such as ____________ needs to be more accountable (though I do not).

That actually makes the question a subtle form of forcing or cajoling, but only you can know the difference between a truly open question focused on possibilities and a "shadow" question that is really about your own judgments and need for control. The key thing to keep in mind is that trust can never be forced -- it's always a choice, and it comes about through an invitation and by you showing up genuinely, not by pressure. And it can never be guaranteed. You can do "everything right," and trust may not be reciprocated. The best we can do is give it our best -- as an offer.

There is an element of visionary thinking in developing your core question. The trick is to honor the nature of your own obstacle by emphasizing its transformation into what you believe is on the other side. Your language replaces the negative force of a major sand dune you can't quite climb over into the more positive energy gained from a beautiful view of the ocean waiting just beyond.

This is not about a pollyanna approach or "rose-covered glasses." The sand dune is still there (and we'll take a much closer look at it in later steps). But the language of this initial question represents a long-term focus. Will you focus on how hard the obstacle is to overcome, painfully attending to how far you slip back each time you attempt to move forward, or will you -- fully aware -- choose to keep your eye on the prize?

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Spend as much time as you need to reflect on the question that you want to answer, one that genuinely unlocks your own true potentials -- then write it down.