What's the secret to trusting others?

Trust is fundamental to life

Without trust there can be no intimacy. Relationships literally struggle to exist. Marriages breakdown. Partnerships are tainted with the fear of betrayal. Backstabbing, suspicion and competition prevail in the workplace. Managers spend their time looking for mistakes and oversights and colleagues are covering their backs rather than doing the work. Organisations and communities suffocate under onerous administration. And countries teeter on the brink of war.

No one would consciously choose this misery over the joyful connection that comes from trusted relationships! So what does it take to be able to trust others?

Trust needs intention and willingness

For me to trust you, I need to believe that you are trustworthy and I need to be willing to allow something that is important to me, be vulnerable to you. This might be anything, friendship, health, pet, money, job or home.

My intention to trust you will be based on how sincere, reliable, competent and caring I think you are:

  • Do you mean what you say, say what you mean, and act accordingly?
  • Can I count on you to deliver on your promises!
  • Are you able to do what you propose to do? Do you know what you are unable to do?
  • Are we in this together? Do you have my interests in mind as well as your own?

These trustworthy behaviours are skills that can be learned and are essential for building trust.

Willingness is the ‘wildcard’ of trust

My willingness to trust you will be based on my 'trust propensity'. This is my general willingness to trust others in a variety of situations. Trust propensity is unique to each of us. It is defined by our culture, our past experiences and our beliefs. I call it the ‘wild card’ of trust because it can have such an arbitrary and profound impact on whether or not we choose to trust.

Our trust propensity creates a filter through which we interpret others. Particularly at the beginning, when we don't know someone very well and don't have enough information to determine how trustworthy they are.  It's there to protect us; keeping us safe rather than sorry! Unfortunately, this 'wildcard' can continue to have an impact even after trustworthiness is proven.  In other words, we might think someone is trustworthy but it doesn’t automatically follow that we will trust them. Having a low trust propensity can make it hard for us to trust anyone!

Trustworthiness opens the door to trust but it is our trust propensity that determines whether or not we take a leap and trust.

I've worked in many challenging and complex environments. And there's a few meetings I've rocked up to, enthusiastic about the work ahead, only to be met with disparaging gazes and heavily folded arms. It didn't matter how sincere, open, competent and caring I was, they weren't going to trust me easily. Their past experiences having taught them to be suspicious of management.


How willing are you to trust?

Some people have a tendency to trust others, even if they never met them before, whereas others take a long time to develop a comfortable level of trust. Try using Steven McShane's trust scale below to estimate your general willingness to trust other people. How much do you agree or disagree with each of the statements?

Propensity to trust scale

  1. Most people can be counted on to do what they say they will do.
  2. I tend to trust people, even those whom I have just met for the first time.
  3. Unless you remain alert, someone will soon take advantage of you.
  4. Most people would tell a lie if they could gain by it.
  5. My typical approach is to be cautious with people until they have demonstrated their trustworthiness.
  6. I usually give acquaintances the benefit of the doubt if they do something that seems selfish.
  7. Most people pretend to be more honest than they really are.
  8. I believe that most people are generally trustworthy.

Why not try: Steven McShane's* online Propensity to Trust Scale tool (*University of Western Australia and University of Victoria, Canada)

You might like:  The Courage to Trust by Cynthia L. Wall


Source: /blog-posts/secret-to-trust