You heard what they said, but can you rely on their promises? Can I trust you?
- Relying on another.
- Confident expectation of future events.
- The expectation of fair exchange.
- Authentic connection.
- Communicating understanding.
Trust is congruence between what is said and what is done.
Trust implies depth and assurance of feeling often based on inconclusive evidence. Confidence frequently implies stronger grounds for assurance. Rely implies complete confidence. Dependence suggests reliance on another having the greater power. Gullibility refers to a blind trust—an unfounded or misplaced trust. Betrayal and cheating describe a broken trust. Suspicion is a lack of trust. Manipulation describes behavior that takes place before establishing trust. Reputation is the history of trust behaviors accessible from past transactions. We use reputation information to help set expectations for future transactions; it eases exchange of valuables and reduces risk.
Trust forms the basis for social interactions, especially reciprocity and the agreements for future actions essential for planning and working together. Trust is one of the strongest predictors of a country's wealth; nations with the lowest levels of trust tend to be poor.
Levels of Trust
As we meet people, spend time with them, and establish a relationship we naturally estimate how much we trust them. We approach each person beginning with our natural inclination toward trust or distrust. In addition as we learn more about each person, primarily from first-hand experience, we have reason to trust or mistrust them. Of course, they are also estimating how much they trust us. It can be revealing to estimate for each of your friends, acquaintances, coworkers, and contacts the level of trust you have in them, and they have in you. Are you trusting? Are you trustworthy? Trust levels fall roughly into one of the following categories:
We have reason to believe they cannot be trusted. We have evidence, or perhaps just a sense, of their unreliability, indirectness, unfairness, unreliability, deceit, or carelessness. Perhaps they have already betrayed us or people we know. Their reputation is not good. We are constantly on guard with strong defenses alert to protect ourselves.
We don't yet have evidence of their trustworthiness, so we are cautious and not willing to extend them the full benefit of the doubt. We also understand the value of extending trust. We are alert and on guard as we gather more information and work together. This is the “Trust but verify” transitional strategy made famous by Ronald Regan.
We don't yet have strong evidence of their trustworthiness, but we are generous and willing to extend them the benefit of the doubt. They have a favorable reputation that we continue to evaluate as we work together. Each kept promise increases the trust. We continue to proceed with caution, we trust and verify. The more difficult it is to keep a promise, the greater the increase in trust. Trust is tested most when you are most vulnerable. Broken promises lead quickly to distrust. The term blind-faith describes an unfounded trust that can leave us vulnerable to exploitation.
Quid Pro Quo
Quid Pro Quo—something for something—is an exchange agreement that focuses narrowly on a transaction, often without regard for the broader trust levels of the parties. It may refer to a narrow agreement to conduct business among parties that distrust each other, sometimes strongly.
We have been interacting with each other for some time and have not yet been let down or disappointed. However, it seems the transactions form the basis of our relationship and I'm not sure we care and connect with each other as concerned humans. The trust is situational and depends on continued benefits of the transactions. If the transactions disappear or become less favorable, this ephemeral trust will disappear with them. The relationship is instrumental and temporary; the relationship ends when the deal ends.
We have established a human bond and truly care about each other. Even if our tangible or material interchanges end, or become burdensome, we continue to care about each other, and can rely on each other. We have gone beyond reciprocity and attained grace where good will and even unmerited favors characterize the relationship. The trust has been tested and withstood our vulnerability, disputes, hardships, and other difficulties. The trust is unconditional and based on empathy and a lasting human bond. The relationship is genuine, deep, committed, and permanent.
Intent and Ability
Consider the photograph at the top of this page. Does the father intend to catch the child? Is the father able to catch the child? Trust requires both.
Trust depends on two independent components; intent and ability. Unless you intend to fulfill your agreements and keep your word, there is no trust. But intent is not enough, you have to deliver on your promises, and that requires the ability to do what you promise. Since none of us can be expert and capable in all areas, we are all specialists. Therefore, our trust in someone's abilities is limited to their areas of expertise. We trust our dentist with our teeth, but not with car repair. Do not promise more than you can deliver. Do not tempt others to promise more than they can deliver. Do not confuse intent with ability, address each independently.
Choosing these behaviors can help earn the trust of others.
- Express yourself authentically, speak carefully, accurately, clearly, and honestly to gain and sustain a full and accurate common understanding.
- Understand what is being proposed, described, and discussed; the expectations of others, problems you might encounter, the risks involved, changes that may occur, what you are agreeing to, others you may need to rely on, and your preparation and ability to meet commitments. Establish and maintain clear expectations.
- Don't promise more than you can deliver. Describe your doubts, uncertainties, risks, and events beyond your control. Don't over commit.
- Make and keep promises, do what you say. Deliver results. Hold yourself and others you depend on accountable. Go beyond what you promised when you can.
- Behave consistently and predictably, avoid unpleasant surprises and erratic behavior. Don't manipulate others, be entirely clear about your full intentions.
- Provide early notice of problems, obstacles, and choices. Share your thoughts, concerns, and proposed solutions. Face issues and obstacles directly, fully, and promptly. Don't make assumptions.
- Manage risk. Foresee risks early and take steps to reduce the uncertainty and impact. Always keep “Plan B” up to date.
- Work transparently, keep others up-to-date on progress and problems, allow others to observe the progress of your work, involve others in key decisions. Expose any hidden agendas, sources of influence, or vested interest.
- Use dialogue to reveal, describe, and solve unanticipated problems.
- Take responsibility for solving problems and delivering results. Don't blame others for problems you can anticipate, avoid, or solve yourself. Do your best, especially when it matters most.
- Acknowledge your humanity, anticipate your limitations and inevitable mistakes. Quickly identify, acknowledge, repair, and apologize for errors. Learn from your mistakes. Remain humble.
- Ensure both truth and grace. Provide authentic, proportional, and timely feedback expressing your careful and thoughtful assessment, both positive and negative, of the issues and relationship. Accomplish the task as you strengthen the relationship. Demonstrate and express your appreciation of others as you reaffirm your commitment to strengthening a meaningful relationship. Confront and resolve conflict so obstacles can be identified, resolved, and overcome. When being critical, talk to people rather than about them. Never make, overlook, or tolerate an ad hominem attack.
- Proceed in stages, commit only as far in advance as you can clearly foresee and plan. Proceed with step-wise refinement of complex problems or extensive plans. Reassess and re-plan as information unfolds and becomes more clear.
- Stay firmly grounded in the full reality of the situation. Accept, evaluate, and assimilate new information as it emerges. Facts are our friends. Confront reality; the good, the bad, and the ugly.
- Continue to build your reputation for trustworthiness by keeping your promises.
- Don't gossip and don't make assumptions. Innuendo—an indirect attack—and rumors—unverified information from unreliable sources—can quickly destroy trust. Rather than spread rumors or be influenced by innuendo it is best to challenge the source and get all the facts and the full story.
Power and Vulnerability
We trust people most who are similar to us and who genuinely care about us. We trust people with substantial but not invulnerable power. Exposing vulnerabilities increases trust because it demonstrates human qualities. In addition exercising restraint by showing compassion rather than taking advantage of exposed vulnerabilities demonstrates trust.
The Costs of Mistrust
In addition to the trillion dollars spent each year on national defense budgets, mistrust has many other costs:
- Missed opportunities. We are often wary when we meet a stranger for the first time. We are often approach people we first meet with caution, and sometimes even alarm, fearing they may be untrustworthy. We miss many opportunities to meet new people, explore interesting topics, innovate, create, collaborate, and discover new friends because of this caution.
- Defensive actions. Complex contracts, legal fees; review time, effort, and expense; investigation time and expense, litigation time and expenses, rework, inflated cost or time estimates,
- Suspicion. Doubts, anguish, anxiety, uncertainty, reservations, contingencies, conflict, lack of commitment, disengagement, apathy, uncertainty, micromanagement, calculating, hesitation.
- Security Systems. Guards, metal detectors, surveillance systems, safes, locks, encryption, security software, spam.
- Swindles—trusting someone who is not trustworthy—are the basis for con jobs, rip-offs, swindles, scams, and ploys of all description. Getting taken by these schemes is financially costly and emotionally humiliating.
- Complexity and delay. Reviews, approvals, investigations, double checks, audits, surveillance, duplication, bureaucracy, . . .
- Manipulation—attempting to control people without letting them know your intentions—deceit, blather, obfuscation, bogus issues, swashbuckling, intimidation, busy work, infighting, cross purposes, playing games, back stabbing, getting even, entrapment, gotcha, hidden agendas, speculation, covert operations.
- CYA—Recording evidence of your trustworthy behavior. Effort devoted to looking good. Choosing image over substance.
- Disrespect. Sniping, ignoring, humiliation, discounting, retaliating, disloyalty,
- Theft, fraud, deceit, cheating, slacking off, distortion, waste.
- Deniability—Avoiding creating records that could provide evidence of bad decisions or unwise actions. Withholding information.
- Dissatisfaction and disengagement. Participating is no longer fun, people look forward to leaving the relationship or organization. Enthusiasm decays into complacency and malaise. People leave mentally at first, and then physically.
- Obstruction—Failing to help others. Dragging your feet when you could be helping others succeed. Engaging in mischief.
When do you extend trust to others and when do you withhold it? Do you approach new relationships from a stance of suspicion or one of trust? How extensively do you have to observe their behavior before you have reason to trust or distrust another? How strongly do they reciprocate and reflect your trust or distrust of them?
Consider both your wanting to trust and your reasons to trust.
Use good judgment to find the balance between gullibility and suspicion. Trust breeds trust. Approach new relationships assuming good-will and trust until careful analysis proves this is unwarranted. However, respectfully require due diligence and don't be gullible whenever the risks are truly unacceptable. Manage risk, fairly balancing the certain costs of distrust with the possible cost of gullibility.
In his book The SPEED of Trust, Stephen M. R. Covey presents these choices in the “Smart Trust™” matrix. He uses the phrase “propensity to trust” to describe wanting to trust, and “analysis” to describe reasons to trust.
- Do what you say.
- “I've learned that it takes years to build up trust, and it only takes suspicion, not proof, to destroy it.” ~ Anonymous
- “Trust is established through action.” ~ Hank Paulson
- “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” ~ Louis Brandeis
- “Hire adults, expect results.” ~ Leland R. Beaumont
- “Organizations are no longer built on force, but on trust.” ~ Peter Drucker
- “No trust given, not trust received.” ~ Lao Tzu
- “I have never seen a situation in which dishonesty—no mater how well intentioned—was a long-term solution.” ~ Robert A. Burton
- “I'm not upset that you lied to me. I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you.” ~ Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz
Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage, Paul Ekman
Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality, by Henry Cloud
The SPEED of Trust, by Stephen M.R. Covey
On Bullshit, by Harry G. Frankfurt
The Neurobiology of Trust, Paul J. Zak, Scientific American, June, 2008.