Why trust in this low trust world?

The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer report confirmed what most of us already know. Trust is in crisis. Is it any wonder with recent political events, threats of globalisation, erosion of values and complete loss of job security! In this low trust world, why on earth would we want to trust?

There are costs to not trusting

Political and economic costs

Distrust of key institutions encourages increased (unnecessary) regulation and lack of investment. Distrust in our political leaders makes us reluctant to accept short-term sacrifices for long-term goals, to tackle climate change or introduce structural reforms of pensions and welfare. 

Financial costs

In the Speed of Trust Stephen M. R. Covey writes “When trust goes down, speed goes down and cost goes up.” It takes longer to get things done and costs more time and money. Three areas are impacted by distrust in organisations: production staff and innovation.

  • Duplication of effort, complex and cumbersome bureaucracy, office politics, high churn of clients, staff disengagement put up production costs.
  • High stress levels, absenteeism, long term sickness, high turnover increase staff costs.
  • Constraints on what staff can and cannot do, lack of collaboration, reluctance to share new ideas and general resistance to change stifle innovation.

Health costs

Last and not least, there are costs to our relationships, our wellbeing and ultimately our health. When we distrust:

  1. We can react rather than respond, potentially making a bad situation worse. This is because our decisions and actions are influenced by fear. If we feel threatened, we trigger a fight, flight or freeze stress response in our bodies. Which can prompt us to be impulsive, creating instability or rigid, holding ourselves back. 
  2. We can miss opportunities as suspicion prevents us from seeing possibilities. We hold an underlying tension and anxiety as we see everything through a filter of distrust. We see threat where there is none. We withhold information and avoid sharing ideas. We blame rather than take responsibility. 
  3. We can feel insecure in our relationships and tend to isolate. We can see others as unreachable or even enemies, creating a ‘them and us’.  Making it difficult for us to feel that we belong. The Psychologist Maslow emphasised that belonging is a primal need, much like shelter or food, and is fundamental to our wellbeing and happiness. 

All three things will create stress in our bodies and prolonged or frequent states of stress take a toll on our health. In the short term we can suffer headaches, dizziness, insomnia, back pain. Longer term this can lead to illnesses such as diabetes, obesity and anxiety.

So what is trust?

Trust is about confidence.  When we trust people, we have confidence in them – in their integrity and in their abilities. We’re saying, “I know I can rely on you to look after my best interests”. We’re creating an environment where connection, collaboration and innovation can thrive. 

The Edelman Trust Barometer report emphasises that we need to do things differently. It encourages a shift of thinking toward an integrated model that puts people - and their fears - at the heart of everything. So our organisations, communities and teams need to work with people not for.  We need to inspire greater connection and collaboration to create solutions to problems that we’ve never experienced before. We need diverse experiences, perspectives, and backgrounds because these are crucial to innovation and the development of new ideas. And we need trust!


Why not try:  Reflection Do you tend to trust or distrust? Do you trust some people and not others? Are you more trusting in some situations than others? What influences your decision? How do you respond?

You might like:  2017 Edelman Trust Barometer Global Report