How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
How People Trust
When we meet and need to interact with someone else, how do we decide whether our requests will be taken seriously? How do we decide whether this person can or cannot be trusted?
A simple fact of interpersonal relationships is that we assume that if people are like us, then they will both think and act in the same way as us. This allows us to predict how they will behave, including how trustworthy they are. Similarity allows us to transfer our beliefs about ourselves to the other person. I’m a nice person and they are like me, then they must be nice too. And as I am trustworthy, so also must they be trustworthy.
We thus seek signs of similarity, both in their internal beliefs, etc. and in the external signs and behaviours through which they demonstrate what they are really like.
The way we think and understand the world determines how we act. If I can ‘get inside your head’, then I can better understand your real intent and whether I can trust you.
We can evaluate how people will treat our vulnerabilities by evaluating the concern they show, both for other people and for ourselves.
Someone who clearly cares for us, taking positive steps to help and offering emotional support as needed, is someone we will quickly conclude that we can trust. Caring is often an emotional attribute, but it can also be logical, such as when I know that to be accepted within a group, I must be civil and civilised in my dealings with the other people.
Where the other person has power to hurt us, but does not, then we may conclude that they are trustworthy. Types of power include positional power (eg management), charisma/social leadership, expertise/knowledge. Thus, for example, if I am buying a car from you and you tell me what the problems are,
We can judge a person’s trustworthiness by how reliable they are, which translates into how easily we can predict what they do. This may also include a person who we disagree and who may harm us: it is often better to trust a person to be unkind or unhelpful than face the uncertainty of whether or not they will be in a good mood today.
We can check their fairness in exchanges by determining the overall value balance. Do they give a little and expect a lot? Are neutral or biased standards used to decide what is fair? Do they conveniently ‘forget’ the help you gave them last month?
A trustworthy person will, over time, give and take on an approximately equal basis. This can be difficult to determine, for example where someone is giving physical help and receiving gratitude (and is quite happy with this. In the end the best way of judging fairness is whether all parties feel good about the exchange.
A person of integrity sticks to their values through thick and thin, even when it is apparent that they could gain at least a short-term advantage from ‘bending the rules’. This makes them very predictable and their words and actions can be trusted, even when we largely disagree with them.
It is worth noting here that in many studies of leaders, a key attribute of leadership is unswerving integrity. Especially when you are leading a company into uncharted waters, you need a high level of trust to be placed in you by your followers.
We also trust others when we have to. There is a practicality of working with people that you do not have time to check up on everyone, so you just have to trust them. The same effect happens in social situations. You cannot function if you assume everyone around you is a threat to you.
Emotional and practical trust
This does not mean that people will be comfortable trusting others, even when they need to do so. This highlights two different types of trust: emotional trust and practical trust. Emotional trust is affected by the factors above, where the sense of trust is deeply felt and is based on an assessment of the trustworthiness of the other person. Practical trust is based on necessity and has limited emotional comfort factor.
When you have to trust people, then experience will have a mitigating effect on how cautious you are in this. If you have been betrayed often and have effectively learned that others are not to be trusted, then you will suffer from significant anxiety when you have to place practical trust in others.