When I say I trust someone, what I mean is…

By Cindy Vallance

While by no means definitive, here are a few possible responses to the question  I asked in my last blog: “When I say I trust someone, what I mean is…”

“I feel that I will not be taken advantage of.”

“I will find in someone’s behaviour what I expect, not what I fear.”

“I believe that the individual I am trusting will consider my interests and my welfare.”

“I know I can rely on their opinions, actions, and integrity.”

How do these answers define the meaning of trust? What they share is the expectation that the other individual’s behaviour, in relation to the respondent, will be positive.

A more formal definition for trust would be be “a willingness to accept vulnerability based on positive expectations of the behaviour or intentions of another individual, irrespective of the ability to monitor or control that other person.”

Coming back to the concept of risk-taking that I mentioned last week, we can see why trust is critical. If we take a risk, we expose our vulnerability because there is always the possibility of failure with risk. Why would we willingly expose our vulnerability to anyone we didn’t consider trust-worthy? When we are dealing with someone we don’t trust, we rightly wonder “If I fail, what will happen to me?”

But when we consider that someone is trust-worthy, what qualities are we looking for? Research* identifies four key characteristics:

ABILITY – competence in meeting our expectations

BENEVOLENCE – positive orientation towards us

INTEGRITY – commitment to commonly accepted principles and  behavioural standards

PREDICTABILITY – consistency of positive behaviours demonstrated over time

It is easy to consider these qualities when we are evaluating others’ behaviour  – and perhaps find them wanting. However, there is much more we can do by starting with ourselves.

Reflect on the four qualities. Ask – Am I demonstrating these qualities so that others will trust me? What evidence do I have that others trust me? What is the basis of that trust?

And what can I do if I believe I could improve in the demonstration of any of these components of trust? I will come back to that next week.

*In addition to research by A.R. Elangovan, also see Hope-Hailey, Veronica, Ros Searle and Graham Dietz. Organisational Effectiveness: How Trust Helps. People Management, March 2012.

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