Trust: what it is, and how to initiate it, by Sharon Drew Morgen

Sharon Drew Morgen has designed a servant leader-based Change Facilitation model, using the process in sales (Buying Facilitation®), coaching and leadership, and communication, all enabling others to congruently change themselves. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and the Amazon bestsellers Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell and What? Did you really say what I think I heard? Sharon Drew helps the health industry achieve buy-in between providers and patients; helps coaches and leaders enable lasting change with clients; helps sales folks facilitate the entire buying decision path from Pre-Sales to close. Her award winning blog has hundreds of articles that support change (

Trust. The big kahuna. The sales industry seeks it; doctors assume it; couples demand it; change can’t occur without it. But what is it? Why isn’t it easier to achieve? And how can we engender it?

I define trust as the awareness of another (or situation) as safe, similar, and sane enough to connect with, and occurs when they

  • have core beliefs that align and seem harmonious,
  • feel heard, accepted, and understood in their own right,
  • feel compatible or safe as a result of interacting,
  • believe their status quo won’t be at risk when connecting.

Unless these criteria are satisfied, trust can’t occur no matter how kind, professional, necessary, or well-intended another person or message is. It’s a Belief issue.


We gravitate to, and trust, folks with similar foundational Beliefs and world-views that match well-enough with our own to proclaim ‘safety’. The problem is that when trying to connect with another, we’re at the effect of their unconscious filters that immediately signal ‘risk’ when there is a perceived misalignment between our Beliefs.

Largely unconscious, illogical to others and hard to change, our Beliefs have been created during the course of our lives; they regulate us, define who we are and are the glue that enables us to show up congruently in the world. They sit at the core of the normalized habits and assumptions that maintain our behaviors, choices, and actions daily, restricting our life choices such as our occupations, politics, values, mates – even our child rearing practices. And our Beliefs are the initiators of our behaviors – behaviors being Beliefs in action.

For me, the most damaging restriction caused by Beliefs is to our listening: we hear only what our Beliefs sanction, regardless of what our Communication Partner (CP) intends. When researching my book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? I was surprised at the extent our Beliefs cause us to bias, misunderstand, assume, and filter in/out what others say. And since our brains do their filtering unconsciously and instinctively, without telling us what they added or subtracted, we can’t even know for sure the meaning that our CP intended. We actually might hear ABL when our CP said ABC – and our brains don’t inform us they omitted D, E, F, G, etc. There is no way to know if what we think was meant is accurate unless we recognize a discrepancy. But by then, the damage has largely been done since we respond based on what we think had been said/meant (and indeed often getting it wrong).


Sadly, because everyone’s Beliefs systems are idiosyncratic, we (and often they, themselves) can’t understand how anyone’s internal system of rules, values, history, habits, experiences etc. is structured or what drives it. This becomes problematic when we need a trusting relationship to accomplish our goals and we’re not clear how to achieve it. Bad news for sellers, coaches, managers, etc. who attempt to promote change or buy-in by pushing ideas and content, unwittingly causing resistance and distrust, especially when the ideas promote our own Beliefs (even in the name of ‘helping’ others) potentially at the expense of triggering our CPs. Here are some of the ways we fail when trying to engage trust.

Relationship Building: We’ve been led to believe that having a relationship encourages buy-in to new ideas. But it’s a conundrum: polite as an interaction appears or how necessary our message, we can’t build a relationship with folks with divergent Beliefs, or fight their automatic filters that react to us immediately, regardless of the efficacy of the information. In other words, ‘pushing in’ doesn’t work, even if our data and intent are accurate. We might have a superficial connection, but not a relationship; ‘making nice’ does not constitute a relationship, or engender change or trust.

Information: Our chosen vehicle to ‘get in’ is often with information that we believe to be rational and appropriate, without accounting for how it will be perceived by the filters our CPs hear it through. Sometimes, with the best will in the world, our brilliant attempt to share the ‘right’ data inadvertently tells our CP that they’re wrong (and we’re right). When we try to motivate, push, share, persuade, etc. we fail to realize that our CPs only understand our intent to the degree it matches their Beliefs, as well as how their listening filters translate it for them, regardless of its efficacy. So with the best will in the world, with folks who might really need what we’ve got to share, we aren’t heeded.

In fact, information is the last thing needed to facilitate change or buy-in, as everyone is pretty protective of their status quo and fears the new information carries the risk of disruption. So save the information sharing for when there’s a clear path to mutual Beliefs and trust has been developed, and then offer the information in a format that matches Beliefs. Think about it: if you’re an environmentalist, offering ‘rational/scientific’ data that ‘prove’ climate change won’t persuade those who disagree; if you’re a proponent of doctors, you won’t use alternate therapies to manage an illness no matter how strong the data for changing your nutrition.

Clear Communication: We all think we communicate clearly, yet we’re not as effective as we think given our CPs filters that end up preventing our ‘risky’ data from being heard accurately. Certainly we believe we’re choosing the ‘right’ words and approach to convey our intent. Yet our message is accepted only by those with similar Beliefs and resisted by the very people who need our information the most.

Since our great ideas and eager strategies don’t engender trust in folks with different Beliefs, and without trust we can’t change minds, what should we do? We can help our CPs redefine and reconfigure their Hierarchy of Beliefs and open up new possibility in ways that don’t feel invasive but actually create trust. But they have to do it themselves.


Every one of us has a Hierarchy of Beliefs that’s unique to us, and comprises our status quo. So ‘Don’t kill others’ may be higher on the scale than ‘Be polite’; need for consistency/honesty/authenticity in a relationship may be a Belief that’s a precursor for trust in all relationships.

Here’s the problem: as outsiders we can’t use our data to cause our CPs to change because anything outside their norm causes resistance; yet it’s quite difficult for our CPs to reprioritize their Hierarchy on their own as it has become incorporated into their status quo, and their reactions follow habitual neural pathways. Right or wrong, everyone’s Beliefs are normalized.

We can facilitate them from outside, but without bias or intent, i.e. no information, opinions, scientific data, etc. Everyone’s Hierarchy is unique, certainly unknowable to an outsider; so we must carefully initiate new thinking by facilitating them through to their own brand of congruent change.

Let’s say I have a very strong Belief that no one should ever be allowed to kill anyone else. But I learn that someone will be coming to my home to kill all my family members. Will I be willing to kill the intruder and save my family? Maybe, or maybe not. But I certainly will make sure ‘Keep Family Safe’ is ranked higher than ‘Never Kill Another’ and make my decision from there.

In order for our CPs to shift their Hierarchy of Beliefs to expand congruent choice and engender trust we must enable our CP to fit anything new into their current structure so the ‘new’ matches the values, traditions, rules, and system of the status quo.

  1. Enter each conversation with the goal of assisting your CPs in discovering the elements of their own unconscious status quo that maintain their Beliefs and behaviors. Entering with the goal to promote change, offer information, or extract condemning admissions will automatically cause all of the CPs alarms to go off and engender distrust and resistance.
  2. Ask the type of questions that facilitate and enable internal discovery: conventional questions are biased by both the Asker and the Responder. I designed Facilitative Questions (see below) that enable congruent change without bias. Questions that begin with:  How would you know that… or What would you need to know or believe differently…
  3. There is a specific series of steps that change entails. I’ve spent decades coding the steps of change, that enable change facilitators to promote congruent change in others by leading them down their own choice points. Learn the steps, and help your CP down the steps to acceptance prior to mentioning your idea.
  4. Trust that your CP has her own answers and that she’ll shift toward excellence as appropriate for her. It won’t show up exactly as you’d hoped; but there will be a new opening for collaboration without resistance.
  5. Understand that until or unless your CP can recognize his own incongruences, there is no way he’ll welcome comments from you that sound to him like you’re challenging his status quo and ultimately sound like you’re saying he’s wrong or insufficient.

In other words, information ‘in’ before the person has figured out they’re willing or able to change will shut your CP down.


I’ve developed a new form of question (Facilitative Questions) that teaches others to scan their internal state to consider if it’s important to potentially reprioritize their hierarchy. These questions are unbiased, systemic, formulated with specific wording, in a specific order, down the steps of change. They also take our CPs from defending their status quo into a Witness state to take a neutral, unbiased look at the status quo to notice if it’s still operating excellently, and consider change if there might be a more congruent path.

Here’s a story. During a training program, a student showed everyone pictures of his 2-year-old twin daughters (adorable) and his beautiful wife. Once outside during the first break, he lit up a cigarette. It was hard to believe that he hadn’t heard that smoking wasn’t a healthy choice, but there was some Belief that kept him smoking and information hadn’t enabled him to quit. My job became helping him reprioritize his Hierarchy.

I went over and posed a Facilitative Question: ‘What would you need to know or believe differently to be willing to be alive and healthy by the time your daughters graduate university?’ He threw his cigarette, and the entire pack, away; he called me 6 years later to tell me he still wasn’t smoking. That one Facilitative Question brought him to his Witness place and enabled him to use his own criteria for discovery and change. I helped him shift his Hhierarchy to and move ‘Be healthy for kids’ up on the scale. By enabling him to find his own unconscious drivers, I helped him make his own change. If I told him cigarettes were unhealthy, I’d be challenging his Identity about his choices and trying to shove information into an unknown Hierarchy, certainly to meet with resistance. Note: this process is obviously far more substantial in a client/team/implementation process.

Sometimes ineffective behaviors become normalized to match a different criteria, and new criteria is necessary for change to occur. [Again, as outsiders, we can never understand how another’s Hierarchy maintains itself.] Once people discover their own incongruence, and can incorporate the change to maintain Systems Congruence, they’re happy to change. But offering data doesn’t get to this. Take a look at a conventional question vs a Facilitative Question:

Conventional: Do you think it’s time for a haircut? or Why do you wear your hair that way?

Telling someone they need a haircut, or asking them if they noticed they need a haircut, or giving them an article on new types of hair styles – all based on your own need to convice your CP to change – will cause defensiveness and distrust.

A Facilitative Question might be

How would you know if it were time to reconsider your hairstyle?

This brings your CP to

  • their Witness state, beyond their resistance and reaction,
  • outside of their normal unconscious reactions,
  • notice the exact criteria they need to match to consider congruency for change (Systems Congruence) and
  • open the possibility for new choices that match their own beliefs

By using this type of question down the steps of internal change, we offer a route for the CP to discover their own best answer that aligns with their Beliefs and engenders trust. No push, no need for a specific response. Serving another to discover their own Excellence.

I designed these questions as part of my Buying Facilitation® model, a generic change facilitation model (often used in sales) that enables others to reconfigure their Hierarchy of Beliefs, and enable congruent change. Sounds a bit wonky, I know, and it’s certainly not conventional. When we facilitate our CPs down their path to conscious choice, we

  • help them discover where their incongruencies,
  • help them understand the areas at risk,
  • help them develop their own route to managing risk (i.e. change),
  • enable buy-in from the elements that will be effected.

Until your audience is able to accomplish this, they will hear you through biased ears, maintain their barriers, and engender trust only with those who they feel aligned with – omitting a large audience of those who may need you. Stop using your own biases to engender trust: facilitate your CPs in changing themselves. Then the choice of the best solution becomes a consequence of a system that is ready, willing, and able to adopt Excellence. And they’ll trust you because you helped them help themselves.


Sharon-Drew Morgen can be reached at See hundreds of articles on sales, change, and skills on