Common Sense Trust Thinking

Five questions to consider before giving trust

Posted Jul 29, 2016

Craigslist transactions. Uber rides. Airbnb accommodations. We regularly trust strangers. But do we trust them more than people we know, or think we know, such as neighbors, politicians, coworkers or bosses? In some ways we do.

Why the difference? Why are we willing to sleep in a stranger's house, get in their car in an unfamiliar city, or go to their house to consider an item for purchase? Why do we casually trust those we don't know while not trusting many we regularly interact with?

The answer may surprise you. Common sense would suggest it should be the other way around. So would rational behavior theories, according to University of Michigan Psychology Professor David Dunning. Yet his research found trust for strangers is related to social norms and psychological factors. "People feel a social duty to respect the other person," says Dunning.

In discussing Professor Dunning's research, Alice Park noted in a Time article, "There's a reason why those bank scams on the internet continue to flourish. Because we feel guilty if we don't trust people."

We feel guilty if we don't trust people we don't know. It turns out, we trust strangers because we don't want to seem rude or imply to them we think they're dishonest or untrustworthy. We associate not-trusting them with our own character and how we view ourselves. Yet, that's not what happens when we know someone, or think we do. In that case, it's not our character we consider, but theirs.

Does it surprise you that 82 percent of us don't trust our organizational leaders to tell the truth? That nearly 75 percent think politicians "put their own interests above the country's" And when it comes to neighbors, less than half trust theirs. Generally, we trust friends and family, but when it comes to coworkers, "it depends."

Most of us scrutinize people differently when a longer interaction or relationship is involved. Are they worthy of our trust? Do they have behavioral integrity, i.e. alignment of their actions and words? Trust giving becomes a more serious endeavor.

There are many kinds of trust. The kind of politeness-trust given strangers comes with risk, so does the relationship-trust given bosses, neighbors, or coworkers. But common sense trust thinking should still prevail in all situations.

BingImage - free to use and share
Source: BingImage - free to use and share

The plaque on my wall reminds, "Common Sense is not so common." How do you decide when to trust? Whom to trust? How much to trust?

Here are five common sense questions to consider:

  1. Is there even a need for trust in this situation or with this person?
  2. What's at stake in the arrangement or relationship? For me; for the other person?
  3. What risk is involved if I give trust? If I don't?
  4. What can I do to limit risk? Are there any checks and balances in place?
  5. What will be impacted if I do trust? If I don't?

There are reasons why we should trust people and reasons why we shouldn't. That will always be the case. But, those who understand the importance of trust also understand its challenges and risks. And because they do, they use common sense trust thinking. They know that trust is a choice that requires thoughtful risk assessment, sound judgment, and lots of common sense.

More tips about workplace trust:

You'll find more tips and how-tos in my book: Trust, Inc.: How to Create a Business Culture That Will Ignite Passion, Engagement, and Innovation