3 Fundamental Rules of Trust

1. Beware the "halo effect."

Posted Aug 28, 2016

Syda Productions/Shutterstock
Source: Syda Productions/Shutterstock

It's a confusing world: Sometimes we encounter the truth, sometimes we don't. Sometimes a picture is real, sometimes it's manipulated. Sometimes a statement or "news" story is factual, sometimes it's exaggerated, fabricated, or plagiarized. In such an environment, trusting can seem naïve, gullible, and foolhardy.

And sometimes it is. Not everyone is trustworthy. From snake-oil salesmen to the seller of the Brooklyn Bridge, there have always been scammers, cheaters, and manipulators. Technology may have changed, but the challenge of knowing how, when, and who to trust hasn't: It's still an essential skill.

In a complex, changing world with constant connectivity, it's easy for anyone—even the most savvy—to make trust-related mistakes. However, some are easier to avoid than others.

Three Essential Trust Don'ts

  1. Don't allow the halo effect to extend your trust perimeter. Be wary of giving trust passes stemming from the halo effect: According to The Oxford English Dictionary, the halo effect is "the tendency of a favorable (or unfavorable) impression created by an individual in one area to influence one's judgment of him or her in another." You wouldn't allow your auto mechanic to do your root canal, so don't apply the equivalent elsewhere. Just because someone is successful or competent in their particular role doesn't mean they're trustworthy in other roles or areas.
  2. Don't "blanket" trust or distrust, or extend or withhold trust, based on title, position, or role. A person's role or status (or, for that matter, their race, gender, religion, or community) doesn't determine their trustworthiness. A person at the top of an organization isn't inherently more or less worthy of trust than someone in an entry-level position. All leaders, salespeople, construction workers, business owners, doctors, police officers, protestors, students, politicians, neighbors, or friends aren't the same (i.e., all trustworthy or all not). Trust is about individuals, not groups. 
  3. Don't judge just what someone says; judge what they do against what they say. Actions, at least consistent ones, do speak louder than words. But they don't speak in a vacuum. Our words provide the backdrop for how our actions are measured. It's that alignment between words and actions that creates behavioral integrity, which is a foundation for trust. Don't give your trust to people whose words and actions are misaligned—people who say one thing and do another. And don't give your trust to those whose actions demonstrate a belief that their words apply only to others, not themselves. Pay attention to mismatched words and actions (including your own).

People mean different things when they use the word trust—a word loaded with emotional impact, past grievances, and potential risks. Still, most of the time, most people are trustworthy. Avoid these mistakes and you'll find that, more often than not, that's your experience, too.

More tips about trust:

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