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
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
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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Use dialogue to reveal, describe, and solve
- 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
for errors. Learn from your mistakes. Remain
- 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
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
- 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
- Continue to build your reputation for trustworthiness by keeping your
- 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
- 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,
- Deniability—Avoiding creating records that could provide
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
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.” ~
- “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” ~
- “Hire adults, expect results.” ~ Leland R. Beaumont
- “Organizations are no longer built on force, but on trust.” ~
- “No trust given, not trust received.” ~
- “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
by Harry G. Frankfurt
The Neurobiology of Trust, Paul J. Zak, Scientific American,