Who Do You Trust? And Why?

Trust has as much to do with who you are as with who they turn out to be.

Posted Feb 25, 2010

I can’t help myself. I trust Toyota.

 And Bill Clinton.

(And, weirdly,  General Petreus — because I am unduly wowed by the Ph.D. from Princeton he has iced on his cake. In my mind, that kinda makes him a go-to guy.)

Pro-Petreus is socially acceptable, at least amongst the warrior set. But why, why, am I still going to those other guys — the ones whose reputations are, shall we say, up for grabs? Why do I still smile up at Clinton (now that Hilary seems happy) and keep Toyota on my car shopping list —— despite the obvious, compelling evidence against them both.

Be honest. I’m not alone in my Santa Claus faith. Bill’s popularity and Toyota’s sales appear to have some solid core which remains unshaken, perhaps even strengthened, by the number of times each has presented his charm-free apology.

Which raises the interesting question – who do you trust, and why? What fatal flaws would it take to undo that trust? Or are you one of those who squints at life in the first place — the person whose trust must always be earned and at ever higher price?

I trust Pink, but not Al Gore, with no good reason for either. Well, on closer inspection, I mistrust Gore because I’m still (!) mad at him for losing, while Pink appeared at the Grammys dressed only in ribbons and that was reason enough for me.

How about you?

Do you trust your boss to do what he promises? Do you trust your manager to have your back? Do you trust your teammates to tote their share of the load and to resist hogging more than their share of the credit? Do you trust the CEO to live the inspirational messages he has posted on the walls? 

Cursory analysis suggests that we trust according to out experience with those bosses, CEOs and colleagues’ behaviors. But closer scrutiny reveals that identical experiences will yield very different trust reactions.

We trust, basically, because of who we are and how we learned greet the world, an orientation established long before we ever met that forked tongued boss or dodgy teammate. Experiences with betrayal certainly reshape specific expectations, but we are always bent towards trust. Or away from it.

Trust, as Eric Erickson believed, is established in a developmental phase occurring before our second birthday.  According to that line of thinking, my own Mom was just so reliable with a bottle and a loving touch that I cannot bring myself to be suspicious, no matter how badly a relationship or an icon suddenly lets me down.

Hence my happy decades with Camry and Lexus make the current sticky accelerator knife-in-the-back impossible for me to take in. 

On the other hand, if your Mom left you crying in the crib because she preferred your older brother, you will have no trouble believing that Toyota is running a cover up. You always thought their reputation was too good to be true.

OK Ok, a tad oversimplified. But you get the idea. Trust — whether in a person or a product — is more than a compilation of information and experience. It is that data squeezed  through some individual emotional filter, invisible to the eye yet active in every encounter.

When that filter blinds you to danger — when it nudges you again and again to put your faith in the boss who dangles a promotion only to encourage overtime, — your trust filter makes an overworked fool of you.

When that same filters opens you to optimism, offering staff and bosses who have erred a second chance, supporting long time relationships and collegial workplaces — then your trust filter makes a sage.

Plus, it can help you take advantage of a really good deal on a car.  Are you shopping?