Understand Other People

Better communication through a better understanding of behavior

Where Has All the Trust Gone?

And how do we get it back?

Do you trust your fellow Americans? Is the gas station attendant, the clerk at the supermarket or the boss where you work a trustworthy person? USA Today published an article recently (November 30, 2013) quoting survey data which showed that two-thirds of Americans do not trust their fellow men and women.

The article states that “an AP-GfK poll conducted last month found that Americans are suspicious of each other in everyday encounters. Less than one-third expressed a lot of trust in clerks who swipe their credit cards, drivers on the road, or people they meet when traveling.” What happened to trust? Shouldn’t we assume that the person we are dealing with is innocent until proven guilty?

I believe there are many reasons why trust is waning in our country. I’ll outline a few here and then talk about ways you can build trust in people that you deal with every day.

  1. Technology is so anonymous that it’s hard to know who is really talking and whether they are telling the truth! In today’s age of online communication, is the 30-year-old single white female really a 30-year-old single white female or is it a 56-year-old married white male who is trolling for companionship? We don’t know who is “real” online and who is faking it. There was a time we could look in someone’s eyes and know whether we could trust them or not—electronic communication eliminates this ability.
  2. Scammers are everywhere. I can’t remember a time in recent history that I have opened my email without finding at least one pleading note, ostensibly  from someone I know, telling me they lost their wallet in a foreign country and needed my help! The emails come in from people I know and their real addresses, but the notes are fake. We get desensitized to the pleas and do not trust the source.
  3. Government and businesses let us down. Think the debacle of the healthcare rollout, the reports on crumbling infrastructure in our bridges and roads, the AIG and Lehman Brothers meltdowns—and add in Bernie Madoff and Enron from years past, and we are incredulous about what our leaders are doing! If we can’t trust the government to get a website up and running, who can we trust?

These are just some of the reasons we lack trust, and we extend that suspicion to the people we meet every day. It’s hard to tell the scammers from the genuine people. A young friend, 30 years old, told me recently how proud he was that he had become “a good liar” because he can get people to trust him and believe in him. It’s powerful to some people to be in control of others’ emotions.

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But lack of trust isn’t a good thing. If you want to negotiate, ask for a raise, be a friend or have your spouse believe in you, you have to be a trustworthy person. It’s not enough to talk “trust me,” you have to live “trust me because I am trustworthy.”

So, how do we do this in the age of suspicion? There are a few steps you can take to be a person who warrants trust. Please remember as you put these things in place that you must BE trustworthy, and not let other people down.

  1. Seek to understand. It’s not enough to be a good listener, or to be someone who “knows” what someone else is thinking and feeling. You must really work to understand who they are and what they care about. This means asking “why?” and putting your attention on the other person. What do they care about? Why does it matter to them? What’s behind their comments or feelings? Be truly interested in others and don’t give them short shrift.
  2. Watch your self-talk. If you tell yourself the world isn’t a safe place, people can’t be trusted and they are generally out to get you, you will find that it isn’t, they can’t be, and they are! It’s important to stop negative self-talk about others in its tracks. Most people are probably doing their best—give them credit for it.
  3. Be a strong communicator. Take responsibility for saying what you think and being clear with others. Don’t be a “maybe” person—be a “yes” or “no” person. Be clear and specific and let people know where they stand with you, and you with them.
  4. Practice honesty. Yes, you can become a good liar and get away with putting one over on another person, but things do come around! If you want others to trust you, be an honest person who commands the trust and respect of others because of your actions. Take the higher ground whenever possible and be above reproach.

Can you fix the trend of distrust in our country? Probably not single-handedly, but you can fix the trend of distrust in your own universe if you put a focus on it, and care about it. Let’s all start to care and practice being more trustworthy people.

Beverly D. Flaxington teaches at Suffolk University.

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