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You’re a leader. Have you ever realized that you are in the business of dealing trust? 

Well, you are.

 Trust is the invisible power that leads to visible results. How so? It is the path to communication, collaboration, and influence. 

Your team. Your boss. Stakeholders or customers. Every single interaction that you have either contributes or detracts from the trust. 

How is trust really created? Why do we trust some people, but not others? To that end, why does it seem like some people are more trustworthy than others? 

In your own role as a leader, you need to know how to build – and rebuild –  trust on a team.

To answer these questions, we need to explore the 6 Key Psychological Principles of Trust. 

Ready? Let’s go!

Principle 1:  Emotions Drive Our Actions (and the majority of decisions) 

While we may believe we’re logical creatures, the reality is that 90% of our decisions are driven by emotions, and only later justified by logic. 

Think of trust as the very undercurrent of emotions – never underestimate the importance that it has on impacting the emotions of every human being on this planet. 

The ability to establish, grow, extend, and restore trust is the key professional and personal competency of our time.” – Stephen Covey 

The critical role that trust plays in leadership and in life cannot be overstated. And vice versa: our emotional states can influence it. For instance, researchers have found that happiness and gratitude tend to increase trust. In contrast, anger decreases it.  

Principle 2: People Are Motivated by Safety & Predictability (our survival instincts) 

Perception of trust underlies perception of safety. People will often create a diagnostic situation. 

Trusting someone puts you in a vulnerable position. By definition, the decision of trusting someone implies assuming a risk. Hence, it is natural to ask whether attitudes toward risk influence the willingness to trust. 

Principle 3: People Vary in Their Natural Propensity to Trust Others 

We all know people who take more or less risk, and we generally accept that is ok. Now knowing that trust is related to risk taking, it’s not that surprising that people vary greatly on whether they assume it. 

For yourself, assume that there’s a need to manage trust. Envision that there is a trust account between you and other people – and always work on making deposits into that account with your behavior (more about this in my next post, where I’ll explain the types of trust – and the formula to manage it). 

Principle 4: People are Biased to Feel More Comfortable With People Like Them (from living in tribes) 

Yes, this is hurtful, I know. But it needs to be said. We subconsciously like people who are like us. Have you ever noticed how many spouses look alike? It’s creepy, isn’t it? The great news is that we don’t need to marry our co-workers, and we definitely don’t need to be liked by our co-workers in that way. 

The takeaways here are:

  • Be aware of your biases if you “feel like this person isn’t trustworthy.”
  • Know that people might have this bias towards you, especially if you are part of visible minority groups. Of course, this is unfair. But now you know. And the truth is, as we already established, always assume you need to earn trust. 

The great thing is that in the future, being in a high trust bucket, you can pay this forward and share this it to pave the way for others impacted by the same biases. 

Principle 5: Trust is Extendable and Contagious 

When it comes to this Principle, there are 3 key points to know: 

  1. You can simply choose trusting someone to initiate the positive cycle. People who feel trusted will rise to the occasion (isn’t it nice to feel trusted?). The opposite is true too: people can sense distrust. It makes them nervous and they will likely be on guard with you. 
  2. Extensive game theory research from “trust games” shows that trust begets itself. When people feel trusted, they are more likely to feel trusting. This means that if you choose to trust someone, not only do they perform better, they rely on you more, leading to you doing better in your interactions as well.
  3.  Trust is extended from one person to another. What does this mean?
    • If you have high trust, the people you endorse will be more trusted.
    • If you associate yourself, show yourself with a person who is highly trusted, theirs in turn will be extended to you.

There are some cool applications here:

1)    When you’re onboarding someone and you want to set them up for success, pair them up with a person of high trust in the organization. It can be a stakeholder, someone on a team, or a mentor. Now, they can be visible and introduced by that person.
2)    Apply this to your own career, too: Identify if there are high trust people whose relationship you can leverage to get introductions and endorsements. And of course, do good work and always build relationships to be able to leverage this effectively.

My (strong) opinion is that trust needs to be managed. Note that I said “you choose to trust”, which is contrary to the popular belief that it needs to be earned, not given.

3 Reasons Why I Don’t Like “Trust Needs to be Earned, Not Given

1) It takes away responsibility for you. I hear you saying, “It’s not up to me, if I trust them, they need to earn it.” Yes, but this attitude makes it hard to earn trust. The opposite attitude sets in motion the upward spiral.
2) It is disempowering. “I can’t control if they trust me or not.” I am sure you have been in situations, where no matter what you do, the other person, for whatever reason, distrusts you. Doesn’t that feel awful?! Yet, you always have a choice to assume the best and keep depositing into your trust account.
3) It breeds the kind of world I don’t want for my kids. I encourage you to be smartly naïve at times. Choosing trust is a courageous thing to do. “But I will get hurt”…so, in maybe 1 out of 10 chances you will get hurt. And you will also recover just fine – this is part of life.

Consider the opposite: in 9 out of 10 cases, you never allowed the miracles of trust to create a great cooperative relationship. 

Principle 6: Their Perception is Their Reality, Not Yours. 

Have you ever heard of the “perception=reality” expression?! This is simply NOT true.

Reality is one, but your perception of it is your perceived “reality” – and my perception is my perceived “reality.” 

In other words, it’s not what happened; it’s about the story one tells themselves about what happened. 

Typically, no two people have exactly the same understanding of what actually happened until they talk to each other, explore assumptions and make space to paint a more complete picture (and to be wrong!). The author of “Crucial Conversations” calls this creating a deep “shared pool of meaning.” 

Often, if a police officer interviews witnesses to a car accident, up to 50% of them can’t even agree on the color of the car (and believe me, they are very convinced that they got the color of the car 100% right -they are NOT blind after all!!!) 

The danger is that when we get so bogged down in our own understanding of reality, and aren’t confident enough in others to question ourselves, we start suspecting and often labeling others. Do any of these statements sound familiar?  

  •   “He does not have his facts straight; I can’t trust him!”
  •   “He is a liar.”
  •   “He is manipulating the facts!”

Are you sure? Is it possible that you just have different information and see the world differently? 

The bottom line: if you want to cultivate a great working relationship and a constructive dialogue, your only bet is to extend trust, hear them out and create a deep shared pool of meaning. 

I’ll leave you with the words of Albert Einstein: “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.” 

I choose “friendly.” How about you? 

Ready to put this into practice? Check out my recorded LinkedIn Live, If TRUST is the new currency of leadership, how do I get some?

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