The question of who can I trust does not come up every day, but when it does, it can be an interesting puzzle.
Have you ever had a situation where you are with a bunch of people who are new to you and you are wondering how much you should trust a particular individual?
You do not have enough data to make a firm assessment, so what can you go on? You might say to yourself, “Well, since I don’t know any of these people yet, I’ll start off trusting everybody.” That would be a kind of “blind trust” that would backfire in some cases.
I think a better approach is to use your gut feelings about an individual based on just a few seconds of observation. If a person seems self-absorbed and is looking around the room for who is there, I would be a bit cautious, at least at first.
On the other hand, if an individual steps up and introduces herself to you with a friendly demeanor, then you might have a small bond already. Add in some small talk with good eye contact, and you have found a person that you can relate to and likely trust at least to some extent.
If you are not sure how to read a person, try extending a greeting and see how he or she reacts. Obviously, if there is no reciprocal greeting, then the caution flag should go up immediately. Something is wrong, and you need to reserve judgment until you can gather more data.
Reading people quickly is a challenge because some people are naturally more shy than others. Beware of the extreme case where a person is totally reticent to interact or the other extreme where a person appears overly friendly.
An example of the latter might be a person who uses a two-handed handshake when first meeting you. That is far too presumptuous for a first handshake, almost like putting their hand on your shoulder as they shake your hand. Hang on to your wallet!
Thankfully, the kind of situation I am talking about in this article is not very common. Usually, you have a lot more data to go on as you decide how much trust to extend to another person. Keep track of your emotions when meeting new people and debrief the situation with yourself to ask why you reacted the way you did.
A variant of the face-to-face situation is when the other parties are virtual. Body language is significantly more difficult to read in these cases. For example, in a virtual discussion real eye contact is impossible to achieve. If you look directly into the camera, then you cannot see the eyes of the other person. If you look at the screen, then you are not looking directly at the other person from their perspective. Keep in mind that the position on the screen is different for different people.
You can also have phone conversations where voice inflection is an important ingredient as well. You need to take into account the communication limitations of whatever medium you are using.
Since the virtual arrangement, or at least a hybrid situation, is common these days, you need to go more slowly when trying to assess how much to trust another person. Pay attention to the feelings you have as the other person addresses you and try to send consistent signals yourself. Give it time and try to extend trust as soon as you can.
Recognize that fully mature trust does take time because it requires verification of perspectives based on the early clues. In a virtual world, it does take longer to develop full trust.
Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. Website www.leadergrow.com BLOG www.thetrustambassador.com He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind