How to Know Who You Can Trust

What is the motivation behind trust?

Posted Feb 12, 2019

Wikimedia Commons
Trust is finding a caring person on whom you can rely.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”

Ernest Hemingway

In my last column, I wrote about loyalty, which got me thinking about trust. I wondered who is in my life that I trust and who that I don’t trust. It didn’t take me long to realize that I trust everyone in my life because I shed those whom I don’t trust.

As I pondered trust, I recalled a woman I once dated who told me she was a widow. Later on, I learned from an independent source that she was divorced and not widowed. When I inquired about this discrepancy, she admitted that she was divorced, but that her ex-husband died a year or so after their divorce, so she figured that qualified her as a widow. If she wanted to consider herself a widow, that was fine with me, but the problem was that my trust was broken, and I started questioning the veracity of all her stories. As Friedrich Nietzsche observed, “I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you.” Unsurprisingly, a month later, we were no longer dating.

When I was in college, I was riding in the car with one of my closest friends when he was pulled over by the police and arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. I had to call my parents from jail to come pick me up. A few months later, I was riding with him again when he was pulled over for speeding. The policeman searched his car and found some marijuana in the console and arrested him. I felt lucky that I wasn’t arrested too. Nevertheless, I had still had the embarrassment of having to call my parents to come to pick me up at the jail. After that incident, my trust was broken, and I quit riding with him. Whenever we went somewhere, I always insisted that we go in separate cars. A few years later, on an occasion when we had agreed to go out for lunch, he showed up at my house and offered to drive. I said, “You know I won’t ride with you.” He then replied, “It’s not a problem anymore; with my new car, I never get pulled over.” Curious, I asked, “How can that be?” So he explained that he had purchased a used police car, had it painted and outfitted to look like an unmarked patrol car, and ever since he hadn’t been pulled over even when speeding past a radar-trap. It was not enough to restore my trust, and we continued onto lunch in separate vehicles as usual.

Before our trust can be lost, we first have to give it out. For some people, we make them earn our trust, but for others, we freely give it away. According to ChangingMinds.org: “Trust is both an emotional and logical act.” On one hand, it is a feeling. If we have some familiarity with a person, that is if they share something meaningful with us such as culture, values, or even community, we are more likely to give them our trust without expecting them to earn it first. According to author Simon Sinek, “When we’re surrounded by people who believe what we believe, something remarkable happens, trust emerges.” On the other hand, before we are willing to do business with a stranger, we want some assurance that they will provide what is expected.

The motivation behind trust is to find someone who cares enough about us that we can rely on them. But, that desire involves risk. When we trust someone, we make ourselves vulnerable to that person. We give that person the power to hurt us. Do you know if the person you want to trust cares about you? If not, then you might want to make them prove their trustworthiness first.

Trust, like loyalty and respect, is a two-way street. If you want other people to trust you, you must give them reasons. The Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," is a great place to start if you want to create trust.

We foster trust within another person by being reliable or predictable - especially if we are seeking to do business with them. You earn trust by delivering what you promised when you promised it. Trust may also require a certain level of expertise, ability, or competence. For example, few people will want to hire you as a doctor if you haven’t been to medical school. Education, however, is seldom enough, it also takes having confidence in yourself and your abilities to build trust from others. And, if the person considering you for a job doesn’t know you, then they will want to know someone who does know you. That’s why referrals, recommendations, and testimonials are so important.

Trust is vital to the success of every relationship whether it is personal or professional. In brief, being trustworthy means you keep your word, maintain your responsibilities, prove your competence, and...  you never lie, cheat, or gossip!