Trust is Multi-faceted

September 5, 2016

I have been studying trust for several decades, teach it in corporate and academic settings, and have written four books on it.

Trust such a common word that it is used numerous times a day without thinking. Just listen to the advertisements on TV and you will hear the word trust in the majority of them.

Many people have a misconception about the concept of trust. They think of trust as a singular concept when the word is used in daily conversation. They picture it as a kind of bond between them and another person.

It takes on a singular connotation: either they trust another person or do not trust them at some level right now.

The way I get groups to think about trust at a deeper level is by asking them point blank what the word means. There is always a kind of pause and awkward silence for a few seconds as people try to define it.

Then, someone will offer that trust is the confidence that another person will perform in a certain way. Someone else will chime in that trust is taking a risk that they could be disappointed. A third person will add that trust is about having shared values. Then someone will add that trust is having their back or sticking up for them. Once the ball gets rolling, a group can come up with a couple dozen unique definitions of trust in about 15 minutes.

Now the group is ready to entertain the idea that trust is a multi-faceted concept that exists not only between people but with organizations, products, services, and all kinds of systems.

People get the idea that trust is ubiquitous and is all around them in every waking moment of their day. They recognize that before they get to work in the morning, they have experienced trust (usually unconsciously) several hundred times.

They walk into the bathroom and turn on the lights. They trust the whole system to provide light without thinking about where the electricity is coming from unless there is some kind of rare electrical failure.

They turn on the water and just expect potable water to come out without any problem. If it is the left faucet, they trust that the water will become warm, then hot with time.

From the time they first open their eyes until they reach the breakfast table, trust is experienced dozens of times; then things get really complicated.

At breakfast they are confident that the vitamin pill they are taking is safe even though they have no idea who made the pill and what ingredients went into it. They just swallow the pill and expect it to help.

They get into their car and turn the ignition key. Now, inside the engine, there are thousands of explosions each minute that allow the car to move while they peacefully enjoy the classical music on their favorite station and crank up the air conditioning if it is a hot day.

They have no worry when they press down on the brakes that the car will stop before hitting the truck that is stopped in front of them. They drive over numerous bridges and overpasses without blinking an eye and do not think of the consequences if the structure would become unsafe.

On and on it goes all day every day that they simply take for granted things will work as designed even though they recognize on occasion things might fail for some obscure reason.

The failures are so remote that they put them out of their mind unless something unusual is going on. Now let’s focus on how trust between people is built and lost for all of us.

In general, we all focus our conscious energy about trust on the relationships we have with other people. Often we forget about the transactional nature of trust. It is impacted by everything (seen and unseen) that happens between people.

Trust is bilateral. I trust you and you trust me at some level, and the levels are not the same. Something happens, and I may trust you more while you trust me less. The whole thing is dynamic and constant. Most of the trust interactions are going on in our subconscious minds.

Many authors, including me, have likened trust to a bank account where we have a balance, and we make deposits and withdrawals. The size of the deposit or withdrawal will vary depending on what is happening, and the transaction may be totally subconscious. We can make a huge withdrawal of trust with another person and be totally oblivious to it.

A few years ago I built a model that helps people visualize this trust account and how it works. I call it my “Trust Barometer” and show it at all my programs. People really get the message about how trust works very easily. Here is a link to a six minute video about how trust is built and lost. Take a peek at this fun description and see if it helps you picture the nature of trust in your life.

Trust is more complex and ubiquitous in our lives than we realize. Try to be more aware of this aspect of trust, and you can see it working for you more consciously on a daily basis. It is fun, and it certainly is an eye opener.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at, or 585.392.7763

Making Values Have More Value

May 25, 2013

square dealA vital function of leadership is to instill a coherent set of values in the organization. Notice I did not say the function is to “articulate” good values. Too many leaders believe the job is done when there is a set of values hanging on the wall. Unfortunately, that attitude does more harm than good because any hypocrisy in living the values ends up undermining the whole concept.

Leaders need to exemplify the values and talk about them at every opportunity for them to become firmly planted into the hearts of the organization’s people. Here are some tips that can make your values shine and create a foundational bedrock for the work of your business.

Create the values together

Values do not come from one person. They are aggregated into being through a process of creation and selection. There are literally thousands of values one could choose. Words like integrity, loyalty, respect, trust, and flexibility are frequent choices. Less often used, but equally effective are words like honor, dependability, family, innovation, and transparency. It is important for people in the organization to participate in the crafting of a master brainstorm list and the voting on how to winnow the list to a vital few.

Don’t have too many values

To be most helpful, values must reside in the hearts of the population and be simple enough to remember. It is a mistake to have a dozen or more values for an organization. Few people will be able to remember the entire set. I recommend five values, or six at the most. These will form the core of why we do what we do. Then it is a simple matter of doing a pareto vote to cull out the less important candidates from the longer list.

Talk about the values

Make sure everyone knows the values by communicating them at every possible opportunity. Say things like, “We have decided to admit our mistake because one of our core values is transparency.” As people hear a value reinforced every time it is modeled by leaders in the organization, it becomes stronger and more useful to the business.

Reinforce people who point out inconsistencies

If an action or decision does not appear to be consistent with a stated value, it is important to encourage and reinforce employees who point out the apparent contradiction. If employees are stifled or punished when they voice concern over a possible lapse, then they will clam up, and the values will quickly lose their potency for the organization. If people are rewarded for bringing up concerns, then the values will spring to life and remain vibrant.

Allow infrequent changes

Values form a bedrock for the actions of a community. It is important that these statements of intent have stability, and yet it is a mistake to be totally rigid. If an additional value to the current list would help clarify some common activities, feel free to add a new value with great ceremony. Beyond some number, it is wise to retire a less relevant value when adding a new one. This can be tricky because no value is totally useless. If you retire a value, make sure to state it is still important, just less frequently called upon in the current environment.

Reinforce actions consistent with the values

The easiest way to perpetuate actions consistent with the values is to reinforce people when the follow them. A simple thank you is not sufficient reinforcement here. The conversation should sound more like this, “That was a great point Martha. When you recognized Ed for not backing down in the face of pressure from the angry employee, you demonstrated consistency, which is one of our key values.”

The magic in having values is teaching all people to model them every day, but that is only half of the job. You must make the connection between actions and values highly visible at every opportunity to ensure the values drive the right behaviors far into the future.