To trust or not to trust….

Our whole world is built around trust. The idea that people will do what they say they will do is central to society. Certainly the economy is built around trust – without trust there can be no confidence. A global economy relies on the fact that one party trusts that the wealth they perceive to be valuable is actually worth something to others.

When you paying for an apple, you trust that its price has been fairly calculated based on the costs involved in bringing that apple to market. The vendor places similar trust in you, or rather the metal discs you give them. They trust that these can be exchanged for something of equal value to an apple. The items aren’t directly comparable but, as long as both parties trust that they are making a fair deal, apple sales continue.

Unfortunately, the importance of trust is easiest to understand when trust is misplaced. On a global scale, and in very simplified terms, the 1720 South Seas Bubble and the housing bubble of 2007-8 serve as examples when many placed trust in value that simply wasn’t there.

From buying apples to investing in housing markets, trust is essential in all areas of business and I’ve written previously about how very precious and fragile it can be – especially on a personal level. If you choose to operate without sound ethics or honesty you might succeed for a time, but when that trust in you is broken it is incredibly difficult to build again. If people no longer trust in the value of your product or service, you will experience your own personal crash.

The obvious difficulty is that you can only be totally assured of your own honesty, integrity and trustworthiness. Not everyone applies the same standards as yourself but, as the world is built around interactions, you need to place trust in other people. One of the top ‘wish I’d known’ issues in a survey I recently carried out was people. Respondents wished they had known to be less trusting and more discerning.

We all need to be discerning, but ‘trust no-one’ isn’t a realistic option. As all commercial transactions ultimately involve mutual trust this approach would lead to an alienated, paranoid existence. A study published by Oxford University in 2014 certainly found that people with more generalised trust are healthier and happier.

Generalised trust is an important idea. The belief that, on average, the majority of human beings are decent people keeps you from sinking into paranoia. The words ‘generalised’, ‘average’ and ‘majority’ also serve to remind you that a reasonably large percentage of people may not be deserving of trust. In short, stay positive but stay mindful.

To be mindful and discerning about who you trust, it pays to start from a blank slate each time a key decision needs to be made. The vagueness of the words highlighted above is a reminder that trust is not a binary issue, that there are many grey areas and that the same individual is capable of moving along a sliding scale of trustworthiness. Every situation could be slightly different.

There is a difference between a rugby referee asking his TMO ‘is there any reason not to award the try?’ and ‘try, yes or no?’ The first question is an invitation to challenge a preconception, the second is open. In order to be more discerning, always ensure you are asking yourself the open question and considering all the evidence, rather than working to confirm or challenge a preconceived opinion. Asking yourself ‘is there any reason not to trust this person?’ is less open and less discerning than starting a fresh enquiry with: ‘should I trust this person?’

The world functions on trust. The majority of people in the world realise this and therefore mutually beneficial interactions are possible and common. To weed out the minority who don’t, you need to ask yourself open questions and treat each situation as unique. There is no need for despair, just discernment.

Posted in: Top Tips

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