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9 Actionable Strategies to Earn Men's Trust

What one psychologist has learned about cultivating male alliances.

Key points

  • Building trust with men requires humility and personalized engagement to overcome mistrust.
  • Effective engagement involves creating a collaborative bond and transparency.
  • Tailoring language and having plans for avoidance are also key to connecting meaningfully.
  • Moving from deficit to strength-based approaches helps men feel fully known and understood.
Simple Line / Shutterstock
Source: Simple Line / Shutterstock

Today’s hot takes about men fade to hollow noise in the emotional trenches—when you’re face-to-face with a demoralized dad or a marine home from deployment but still mentally overseas. In the arena, when talking with men instead of about them, the strawmen of our culture wars transform into three-dimensional individuals.

But as practitioners, parents, spouses, coaches, facilitators, or educators willing to enter the fray, are we truly equipped to talk with men in crisis? Do we have the skillsets to accomplish the foundational duty of earning their trust in our age of mistrust?

Cultivating trust requires humility and is a checkpoint before arrival to the promised land of relationship vulnerability. It’s not just an automatic skill that comes with the capacity for warmth and desire to help, especially not today. We must be more thoughtful about the art and science of trust-building, especially in our contempt-fueled culture that imposes conflicting narratives or impossible standards of what it means to be a man.

Data finds that men’s therapy dropout rates are higher than women’s, in part due to a lack of therapist connection and inadequate therapist engagement. Tragically, men die by suicide at four times the rate of women, and often, those on the emotional brink try to engage with mental health services before they become disillusioned. One study led by Australian psychologist Zac Seidler titled, Once Bitten, Twice Shy: Dissatisfaction With Previous Therapy and Its Implication for Future Help-Seeking Among Men, highlights this crisis of confidence.

Psychotherapy research continually finds that treatment falls apart without a weather-proof therapeutic alliance, a collaborative relationship, an emotional bond, and mutual agreement on therapy goals. When you have a secure alliance, you can suffer a relationship rupture but get the chance to repair it; only with solid rapport will a man share his pain or drop his defenses to see the self-destructive parts of his personality.

One comprehensive review of psychotherapy studies finds that addressing masculine socialization, being transparent, goal-directive and collaborative, and tailoring language can help engage men in psychotherapy. Here are strategies that build on this evidence base, address common pitfalls, and inspire trust:

1. Normalize Not Knowing: When men say, “I don’t know how I feel,” they are not failing. When a continual barrage of messages beginning in boyhood has compelled you to power down or power through pain to perform competently, acknowledging wobbliness is expected. Inspire confidence and let men know their confusion makes sense: It’s the start of breaking the logjam between their messy inner world and its outward expression—a dam accumulated over decades.

2. Expect to Get Blocked. But Have a Plan. When men deflect, go silent, or side-step, ease up and try a different approach. Maybe they don’t believe in your capacity to withstand their seething anger; perhaps they fear their words will be weaponized against them. Travel to their home base of competency and proficiency: learn about golf handicaps, the Chicago Cubs bullpen, debt restructuring, or sci-fi novels, even if it’s alien to you. Why does it capture their imagination? Pivot to provocative questions: If you had no fear, what person would you email?

SFIO CRACHO / Shutterstock
Source: SFIO CRACHO / Shutterstock

3. Show Men You Can Handle Their Intensity: More than warmth or validation, men need to know you’re sturdy enough to “handle their intensity” to use men’s coach and speaker Connor Beaton’s phrasing. This doesn’t mean staying still-faced. It means showing them through body language that you can hold space for their anger, trauma, or disturbing experiences. It also means that if you feel discomfort or sense unhealthy beliefs, ask how they came to that belief. We must first regulate our nervous systems as practitioners.

4. Be Transparent: For many men, navigating vulnerability with others is like being blindfolded in the passenger seat of a careening car. So, narrate your process: if you have a hypothesis, lay it bare and remove the mystery. I’m asking you about your fears because it may lead us to why you’re so stuck at work.

5. Hold Back on "That Happened to Me." Good-faith attempts to connect by teeing up your own similar experiences revert men to pissing matches that have permeated their social worlds since boyhood. So, go all in on active listening if they begin to share.

6. Locate Physical Pain Points: Sometimes, even the quietest have the cruelest, aggressive inner critics. Nudge men out of their minds and into their bodies. When men don’t have words or go numb, they often still sense their physical pain points.

7. Use Conjecture: Make thoughtful inferences, e.g., that sounds terrifying. This is not to presume you can mind-read but as an invitation to clarify your understanding. Sometimes, it’s easier to adjust another’s assumptions than to locate and label feelings from scratch.

8. Think About Pattern Recognition: In therapy, many men are eager to spot patterns that begin in childhood and linger into adulthood. Reframing conversations with pattern recognition in mind—Did you notice that here and there?—transforms avoidance or the shame of being "found out" into codebreaking and greater self-awareness.

9. Use "Experience-Near" Language: The messenger matters as much as the message. Research finds that “coordinating language styles” can be crucial to an alliance. This is one reason we need more male therapists and educators fluent in male dialects that offer that oh-they-really-get-me moment.

From Deficits to Strength

A growing movement in clinical psychology is shifting from identifying male deficits to strength-based approaches. Australian-based initiatives like Men in Mind, founded by Zac Seidler, are dedicated to “upskilling” therapists with more confidence and skills to connect with men. We need more of these efforts in America. Because when boys and men have a chance to be fully known, they will have an open heart to step up for others.

After all, meaningful change is born of meaningful relationships.


Aafjes-van Doorn, K., Porcerelli, J., & Müller-Frommeyer, L. C. (2020). Language style matching in psychotherapy: An implicit aspect of alliance. Journal of counseling psychology, 67(4), 509–522.

Englar‐Carlson, M., & Kiselica, M. S. (2013). Affirming the strengths in men: A positive masculinity approach to assisting male clients. Journal of Counseling & Development, 91(4), 399–409.

Flückiger, C., Del Re, A. C., Wampold, B. E., & Horvath, A. O. (2018). The alliance in adult psychotherapy: A meta-analytic synthesis. Psychotherapy (Chicago, Ill.), 55(4), 316–340.

Seidler, Z. E., Rice, S. M., Kealy, D., Oliffe, J. L., & Ogrodniczuk, J. S. (2020). Once bitten, twice shy: Dissatisfaction with previous therapy and its implication for future help-seeking among men. The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 55(4), 255-263.

Seidler, Z. E., Rice, S. M., Ogrodniczuk, J. S., Oliffe, J. L., & Dhillon, H. M. (2018). Engaging Men in Psychological Treatment: A Scoping Review. American journal of men's health, 12(6), 1882–1900.

Seidler, Z. E., Wilson, M. J., Kealy, D., Oliffe, J. L., Ogrodniczuk, J. S., & Rice, S. M. (2021). Men's Dropout From Mental Health Services: Results From a Survey of Australian Men Across the Life Span. American journal of men's health, 15(3), 15579883211014776.

Stene-Larsen K, Reneflot A. Contact with primary and mental health care prior to suicide: A systematic review of the literature from 2000 to 2017. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health. 2019;47(1):9-17. doi:10.1177/1403494817746274

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