Everything in our lives revolves around trust. We trust the police to protect and serve us. We trust teachers to educate our children, doctors, and medical practitioners to give us the right diagnosis and take care of us when we are ill and banks and investment instruments to keep our money safe. We trust stoplights to prevent chaos at intersections and other drivers to comply with the rules of the road. We trust pilots and airplanes, GPS, Alexa and Google to provide us with accurate information. And for those of us who are believers, we trust God or whatever name you call that higher power.
Truth is, the quality of our interactions and relationships are based on the degree to which we feel we can place our confidence in others. Supervisors who do not trust their teams are more likely to micromanage. People who do not trust their partners are more likely to be insecure, question their every move or sneak around trying to get information. If you do not trust a product or service, you are unlikely to buy it. And business that operate in low trust environments, spend way more money on security to protect their assets and customers. Fact is- trust affects everything -who we chose to be in relationship with, where we look for for help, who we confide in, who we do business with, where we spend/save our money, the products we consume and even the jobs we leave or take.
Since trust is such a complex and heavy topic to navigate, I wanted to break it down and explore it in two parts. Part 1 will focus on understanding the concept of trust and why trust matters, while Part 2 will dive into what happens when trust is broken and how to fix or rebuild it.
Dictionary.com defines trust as the “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.” Trust involves two components: competence and character. Character speaks to the traits or qualities that describe a person such as whether they are kind, honest, reliable, or loyal. Whereas competence describes one’s ability, knowledge, or skill in a particular area. So, if someone is highly skilled and talented but has a reputation for being late and unprepared would you hire them? If you had a friend that was kind and generous but was inconsistent and never kept their word, how would you feel about that relationship? Or what about the person who does not hold him/herself accountable for completing his/her work on time and is always making excuses or pointing fingers? And what about the supervisor or team member who isn’t open or honest? Would you trust them? You can like or admire people for their personality or talent and not trust them. Keep in mind that people will not trust you if you have competence but no character or character and no competence. Trust requires both.
Can I Trust You, Can You Trust Me?
Every day we make decisions on who and what to trust. Our choices are not entirely random because we trust some brands, products, people, and companies more than others. When we trust a person or company, our interactions tend to be more positive, relaxed, quicker and without hassle. The same is true at work. When we work with people we trust, morale is high, productivity increases, turnover is low and team members are more open to sharing information and creative ideas as they collaborate to get the work done. However, things get trickier when we do not trust the persons, businesses, or products that we are dealing with. Where there is little or no trust, people doubt each other and interactions prove to be more difficult, time consuming and stressful. Conversations are strained and are more likely to be plagued by mistakes, communication breakdowns thereby becoming a kind of self- fulfilling prophecy.
Trusting someone can be risky because people are unpredictable, and you cannot guarantee anyone’s behavior. When we put our hope or confidence in someone else, we are hoping for the best outcome. Besides, trust is situational. You can trust someone in one situation and not trust them in another. There are situations and people that I do not trust myself with and there are people I trust to do some things and not others. Afterall, I would not trust my electrician to do a root canal.
Another important thing to remember is that trust is fragile. Trust takes time to build and is meaningful and rewarding by the comfort and security it brings to the different types of relationships. However, this trust can be easily shattered by unfulfilled promises, unmet expectations and when people fail to do what they said they would do. Additionally, trust is not a one-way street, and requires reciprocity since it takes two to tango. And even though you might consider yourself a trustworthy person, from time to time you might find yourself interacting with people who do not trust you because of who you are or what you represent. In those situations, it is important to be patient and try to not take it personally.
Making the Case for Trust
My earliest and most significant understanding and lessons on trust started at about 10 years old. My guardian or Mama was the owner and operator of a small business which was the main Shop & Bar in our small rural community. Mama was a shrewd and respected businesswoman, well known for not tolerating foolishness. The shop was open as early as 6.00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. on weekdays and from 6:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. on weekends. Mama believed in customer service and rarely ever departed from these hours as she strongly believed that the shop should always be open and ready to serve the community. The challenge with this situation was that Mama could not do it alone but she did not trust most of her close family members to help her. Her open distrust of these close relatives was a result of numerous bad experiences where money had been stolen, and goods had often gone missing after certain persons had helped her out in the shop.
As a the informally adopted member of the family, I was loyal to mama and became her de facto shopkeeper assistant. When Mama need to get some rest or to take a break, I was called away from play to operate the shop. When I got home from school in the evenings, I would have to change my clothes, eat dinner and report to the shop with my homework and on weekends when business was booming, I also had to perform my shopkeeper assistant duties to help out. By the age 12, I could run the entire operations by myself and was often required to cover for Mama when she needed to be away. At first, I was resentful of my role since it meant that I could not play all the time with my friends. But as I matured, I began to understand that Mama had chosen me to be her helper because she trusted me and my abilities and that I would do her no harm.
Over the years that followed, I too learned who to trust and who not to trust. In that, I knew who our loyal customers were, the ones who did not like to pay and would require me to painstakingly go over every detail on an invoice and others who only came to us when they wanted to credit goods. Overtime, our customers realized that though I was young, I was well trained and knew how to handle myself. As my confidence and their confidence in me as a shopkeeper grew, I would have customers approach me to credit them goods to be settled on their paydays. I used my own judgement to decide who I would extend this courtesy to since Mama did not know about these arrangements. Fortunately, I proved to be a good judge of character and did not have any problems securing payments for these accounts when they became due. Our business flourished and so did my relationships with Mama and the people in our community.
Now, when I look back to that experience, I value those early lessons on trust and now appreciate the importance of both character and competence as the foundations of building and maintaining trust and positive relationships . So here are my key takeaways on trust that I hope might be useful to you:
- Trust involves risk and is built over time.
- Relationships are powered by trust and will not grow or thrive without trust.
- Trust is fragile and when broken it can be difficult if not impossible to restore.
- Trust requires both character and competence. People will assess your trustworthiness based on your ability and your integrity. Do you do what you say you will do?
- Life is harder when we are surrounded by people we don’t or cant trust and the cost of doing business is higher when trust is low or lacking.
So, think about someone in your own circle that you trust or don’t trust. How well do you communicate with each other? How do you get things done? How would you describe that relationships? Stay tuned for next week post- I Don’t Trust You: Fixing Trust (Part 2)where I’ll explore what happens when trust is broken.
Until next time, Remember, It’s A Learning Life!