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What Can An Octogenarian Teach You About Trust?

Harvard released the most comprehensive study in history on adult development, which tells us that good relationships keep us happier and healthier. The 80-year study began during the Great Depression and followed its subjects until recently to determine what contributed to their well-being and longevity.

When the study director, Robert Waldinger, and his team synthesized an abundance of data about their subjects, they learned “it wasn’t their middle-age cholesterol levels that predicted how they were going to grow old, it was how satisfied they were in their relationships. The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.”

Waldinger explains, good relationships help us protect our bodies and our brains. Naturally, your next question might be: So what is the stuff of good relationships? Justin Bariso, the author of EQ Applied, explored the same thought and diligently studied the answer for the basis of his book. I was encouraged to discover his findings were consistent with what I’ve observed not only in life but in the office: Great relationships are built on trust.

Bariso presents eight “emotionally intelligent actions” that are the foundation of trust-filled relationships, both at home and in the workplace. Let’s dig deeper into each of these tenets by starting with two examples:


Communicating actively with one another is the bedrock of any relationship that forms trust. Boards, in particular, provide a great opportunity to observe this phenomenon. I recently wrote about the importance of candor in building a cohesive board. If you’ve ever served on a corporate board, you know it’s a lot like a family. You inherit a team composed of leaders who sometimes share values and common goals but more often bring differing opinions and varying agendas. It’s up to you to pull them together. A spirit of openness not only cultivates productive debate, encourages teamwork, and strips away the we-versus-you mentality, but it also builds—you guessed it—trust.

Be Authentic

The second emotionally adept behavior consistent with trust builders is authenticity. Being authentic is the ability to connect with others meaningfully and in a way that reflects your true self. Authenticity doesn’t mean over-sharing, but rather, genuine sharing. And, connecting with others in the workplace like you would in your personal life is a great place to start building trust. I have found myself asking why we often still hear about leaders wringing their cultures dry of meaningful connections—especially when we spend so much of our lives at the office. Let authentic one-on-one connections override your desire to move the bottom line and you’ll find one takes care of the other.

Octogenarians in the Harvard study have taught us that communication and authenticity are a great beginning for relationships characterized by trust. But let’s challenge ourselves in the next installment of this series to review three more emotionally perceptive behaviors that move your connections from superficial to super-charged. I’ll be talking about a Marine, an impromptu sign-maker and a new entrepreneur. Stay tuned to learn more.

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