"The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them."
- Ernest Hemingway
Are you like Hemingway and take that leap of faith? Whether you realize it or not, there are four factors that help us assess trustworthiness - in others and in ourselves.
D: Hi, I’m Dan Oldfield
B: And I’m Barbara Saxberg
D: And this is the Occasional Podcast from Syzygy Learning & Facilitation.
B: This episode is all about trust... an exercise of both the mind and the heart. Trust is often intuitive. Either you feel it. Or you don’t. Without always being able to put your finger on why.
D: So why do we trust some and not others? Why do some people trust us while others may have doubts? Trust us when we say, some answers lie ahead.
D: Never trust a used car salesman!
B: Ah, don’t trust her, she’s a lawyer!
D: Ah, politicians... You can’t trust any of them!
B: You’ve probably heard some if not all of these before. A recent poll put Canadian political leaders at the top of the list of people least trusted while actor Michael J. Fox, home improvement host Mike Holmes, and Olympic athlete Clara Hughes scored as highly trustworthy.
D: Trust is also one of those things that most of us believe we understand well. Yet when we explore it in our workshops, it quickly becomes clear it means different things to different people. And our attitudes and beliefs about trust can vary significantly.
B: Academics and self-help gurus alike have written volumes about trust. There is still no single dominant theory. But there are some commonalities which have led us to develop our approach. What we do know is that trust is a key ingredient in successful relationships. How much we trust may depend on the nature of the relationship. We need high degrees of trust in a spouse for example - while our work relationships might not need quite the same levels. But there must be some trust for people to work productively together.
D: So here’s an example. At a recent workshop, we asked for two volunteers, well actually we volunteered them. (B: No, you volunteered them, Dan. D: Well, I did.) The first was a man about six-foot three and weighing at least a couple of hundred pounds. The second was a small woman, barely five feet tall.
We told the group we were going to demonstrate an element of trust with the two volunteers. A demonstration we were pretty sure they’d seen before.
We had the man stand with his back to the woman and her directly behind him. On the count of three, he would close his eyes and fall backwards, trusting her to catch him. To their credit they aligned themselves as requested and we began the count down.
An uneasy hush fell over the room. We stopped the countdown at two. Of course we had no intention of allowing the demo to be completed. We really aren’t interested in squashing our participants.
B: So why did they agree to take part? Did they trust us that much as facilitators? Did they think the task might actually be possible despite the physical obstacles? We never doubted their concern for each other. And perhaps if we’d continued to three, they might not have gone through with it.
Fundamentally, trust is about safety. Do I feel safe with you? Do you have my back? My best interests at heart?
Trust also has multiple facets. In the example of the man and woman, they trusted that they cared about each other. They’d already spent time together in class and were getting along well. There did seem to be some doubt though, from the woman particularly, about her ability to do the exercise. Was she able to perform the task without injury to herself or her partner? In other words, was she competent?
That’s not a condemnation but rather, a realistic response to a given situation.
D: But competence alone is not the only measure of trust.
Last summer, we had some work done on our bathroom. The fellow we hired was very personable, had his own tools, and had demonstrated competence in other projects. The trouble was, he’d say he’d show up on a specific day and time, then consistently turn up days later without explanation or warning. A project he assured us would take a few days wound up taking weeks. He always had a reason but he was unreliable. (Barb: It drove me crazy!)
So reliability is another factor of trust and if we were to use him again it would have to be addressed. “Will you do what you say you will do, when you say you will do it?”
B: Frankly, I’m not sure I would hire him again. I’m no longer convinced he’s sincere when he makes a commitment. He’s shown he’s not reliable. And because he did so repeatedly, it’s hard to believe he really means it, that it’s not his fault, things just seem to get in the way.
Sincerity is the third factor in why we trust someone. Sincerity in the context of trust is the alignment between words and actions. It’s similar to reliability but distinct in regard to the level of commitment.
D: Had we told our renovation guy we needed the bathroom done before an anniversary or a family reunion and he simply ignored the important element of a deadline, we’d have even more reason to question his sincerity and we’d have even greater difficulty employing him in the future.
B: The fourth factor - care - is about the confidence you have in someone that they have your best interests at heart.
A few years ago, I shared a concern confidentially with a person in a position to do something about it. I’ll call him Joe. Joe promised to look into my concern and to be discreet. I didn’t have enough information, I wasn’t ready to make waves. A few days later, a friend came to me and said, “Joe is not your friend.” Turns out, he’d seen Joe talking to the person at the heart of my concern, with lots of eye rolling and buddy-buddy laughter. While I continued to work with Joe, any trust I had in him was irrevocably damaged.
D: Yes, you weren’t very happy. I remember it pretty well.
There’s something called the paradox of trust which suggests that trust takes a life time to earn and a minute to lose.
That doesn’t mean though that it’s an undeniable truth. This view that once trust is broken, it can never be regained. For the most part absolute trust is not necessary. Even in a marriage, you may trust absolutely your spouse loves you and would do whatever he could to make you happy. But you might not trust, through experience, that he will always remember to take out the garbage. (B: Uh huh.) Trust depends on the importance of the relationship and the importance of the issue.
B: Trust can also be developed and then nurtured. And with hard work, it can be repaired.
Let’s face it, if you have kids, sooner or later you will experience a breach of trust. Yet you give them another chance. Mostly because you believe they do genuinely care about you, they do have your back. And so they are allowed to earn it back with opportunities to demonstrate their trustworthiness. Do it enough and you’re on the way back to a trusting relationship.
D: Trust of course works both ways. It’s a reciprocal agreement. And it’s not uncommon to break trust unknowingly or inadvertently.
There is no such thing as blind trust - trust must be seen, felt and believed.
B: So.... If you are reliable, do what you say you will do, live up to your commitments and obligations...
If you are honest about your competence to do something, either you are confident in that ability or you acknowledge it may be beyond you...
If you are sincere by being consistent in your behaviour...
And if you let people know you genuinely care about them, about their feelings, their well-being through your words and your actions...
There’s every chance you too will show up on someone’s list of people to trust.
D: Let us know what you think - About trust, about this podcast or any other aspect of our work. Use the comment section of this page. We like being challenged.
B: You can also reach us through the contact information on the website. We’d love to hear from you.
D: This has been the Occasional Podcast, from Syzygy Learning & Facilitation.
Theme music licensed from beatsuite.com.