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“[Trust is]The one thing that changes everything.”—Steven M.R. Covey

“The moment there is suspicion about a person’s motives, everything he does becomes tainted.”—Mahatma Gandhi

“   …ultimately all things are rooted in trust.”—Steven K. Covey

In the last 24 hours, I’ve had three incidents of attempted scamming. The first was a man calling saying that his company found out Russia was hacking my Apple account and I shouldn’t make any financial transactions. He wanted me to go to my computer so he could check how much of my security had been compromised. He volunteered he wouldn’t take any of my credit card numbers or social security number. Suspicious, yet curious about how far he would take this, I asked if he was planning to access my computer. He said yes. I hung up. The next incident was an email saying that a large sum of money was ready for me, I just had to send $94.50 to get a document proving I was not a terrorist. And then in another phone call, a stern voice announced that the IRS had filed a suit against me. I don’t owe any taxes; I make it a point to be rigorously on time. So with all these incidents, I felt completely safe. I thought they were laughably ridiculous. I’m pleased and grateful to recognize these kinds of scams. My distrust of invisible, unknown people offering money or deals or dire warnings of computer crashes unless I pay for technical support has protected me.

I also noticed that I felt a bit of superiority: a just-under-the-radar inner dialogue that ran, I’m just too sophisticated to believe those cons. I outfoxed them. Ha! I’m better than they are. Discovering my burst of superiority embarrassed me. I began thinking about the functions of my distrust and wanting to know more. I’ve been thinking and studying the varieties of trust, gullibility or blind trust, low trust, distrustful suspicions, and the absence of trust.  

I’ve been horrified to realize how rampant our distrust is currently. Stephen M.K. Covey reports that a Harris poll ten years ago showed that 22 percent trust the media. Cu, rently media bias is such an issue the news updates us every few days. A Halpern poll shows only 34 percent of Americans believe that people can be trusted. Only 51 percent of employees trust senior management, and 36 percent believe their leaders act with honesty and integrity. And people leave employment because of a bad relationship with their boss. Distrust shows up in intimate relationships too. There are several differing statistics, however, most agree that that nearly half of marriages end in divorce.

While these statistics reflect a sad tale of alienation, I know it is possible to take responsibility for the trust around us and actively establish and expand our circles of trust. I see people doing it every day.

Let's Look at what Trust is. It’s difficult to define, though we depend upon it to function all throughout our day. 

  • Is it a belief? One dictionary states that it is “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.” 
  • Another dictionary defines it as a feeling-a feeling of confidence. Simon Sinek, in a TEDxMaastricht talk says, “Make no mistake of it, trust is a feeling... It occurs when we surround ourselves with people who share our beliefs.”
  • James Davis, a TED talker on trust, calls it a mental action—choice.
  • Charles Feltman in his Thin Book of Trust: An Essential Primer for Building Trust at Work writes that trust is specifically, “a choice to risk something you value to another person’s actions.” That something you make vulnerable could be something concrete such as money, a job, a promotion, or non-material such as a relished routine, a belief, an important value, your good name, or your self-esteem.
  • Brene Brown sees trust as an ongoing experiential process. That process is informed over time, and trust happens when there is an accumulation of good experiences that we can put in a metaphoric “marble jar.” She says in her Courage Works on-line course, “Trust is a product of vulnerability that grows over time and requires work, attention, and full engagement. Trust isn’t the grand gesture that we think it is—it’s a growing collection of small choices that we make every day.” 
  • Researcher Rachel Botsman, in a TED talk says, “I define trust as a confident relationship to the unknown.” She continues, “There exists a gap between you and something unknown. That unknown can be someone you've just met. It can be a place you've never been to. It can be something you've never tried before. . .For you to leap from a place of certainty, to take a chance on that someone or something unknown, you need a force to pull you over the gap, and that remarkable force is trust.” 

It turns out that there are actually hundreds of definitions of trust. So, not only are we unclear about exactly what it is, whether trust is present is not an all or nothing, yes or no distinction to make. Trust forms a continuum through 1) Gullibility, believing everything, regardless of information to the contrary, 2) Absence of either trust or distrust—leading to indecision, 3)Trust in some areas, 4) Full Trust, 5) Suspicion, uneasiness without conviction of untrustworthiness, which can harden into, 6) Distrust, absolutely no trust. No wonder it’s hard to pin down what we’re talking about!

But we sure feel the pains of low-trust interactions and environments—except when we have gotten so used to them, that they just become like the water is to fish that swim in it. We may not experience it consciously, but the costs are still there. Low-trust brings with it tension, feelings of aloneness, manipulations to hide facts, withholding, covering up mistakes, disengagement, gossiping, mutual blaming, violation of expectations, pretense that bad things aren’t happening, low energy, fighting to belong or distance, trying to get brownie points, fear, hypervigilance, micro-management, new ideas, or solutions not thought of or resisted.

And we know it when we feel high-trust interactions and environments. The qualities that show up in a high-trust environment include vitality, play, humor, a feeling of “we-ness,” fessing up to mistakes which are tolerated, free flow of feelings and information, creativity, sharing credit, transparency is a conscious and practiced value, intimacy in communication and collaboration, loyalty to absent people, straight talk and facing realities. There’s low anxiety, and high joy, gratitude and appreciation.

We can do this. So we can see that high-trust environments are at the heart of our well-being. While popular myth says that you either have trust or you don’t, that’s just not so. High-trust can be authentically and consciously established. First, we need to be trustworthy. But that alone is not enough, we need to show that we are trustworthy with specific behaviors.

I plan to write several articles about trust including specific things we can do to establish trust, and how to mend trust once it is torn. It takes our effort—new thinking, possible emotional risks, and sometimes scary new behavior. And it gives us increased self-esteem, deeper connections, and a synergy with all that we do. It’s worth it!

References

Covey, M.K., & Merrill, R. R. (2006). The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything. New York, NY: Free Press.

Feltman, C., (2009). The Thin Book of Trust: An Essential Primer for Building Trust at Work. Bend, OR:Thin Book Publishing Company

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