At the most basic level, the need to trust implies one fundamental fact: you’re vulnerable. The ability to satisfy your needs or obtain the outcomes you desire is not entirely under your control.
That observation is the foundation for David DeSteno’s book The Truth About Trust. He argues that trust is a fundamental element of all human relationships. Because our needs and the needs of other people rarely align perfectly, our brains have evolved to spend a great deal of energy assessing the potential for conflict and the degree to which others are trustworthy in any given situation. For a good summary of the book, check out this review.
These days we rarely wonder if the neighbors in the next cave will share their fire, but trust is still crucial. To be successful in the complexity of modern society we have to depend on mutual trust and cooperation.
According to DeSteno, the bad news is that we’re not very good at determining who is trustworthy. The industry built around books, assessments, and even brain scanning doesn’t have a good track record of success. Even cues from facial expressions aren’t reliable. For example, what is your impression of this person’s mood? Would you be comfortable to approach him?
One strategy that can help is to focus on the whole context of the interaction. As the picture below indicates, Milos Raonic wasn’t angry – he was actually ecstatic after advancing to the next round in a tennis tournament. Similarly, the job applicant who isn’t making eye contact might not be indicating lack of trustworthiness – she might be using her cultural traditions to indicate respect.
DeSteno says that we can learn strategies to improve our ability to trust others appropriately and encourage them to trust us. Here are some of his tips:
- Trust is risky, but necessary, useful, and even powerful: withholding trust unnecessarily can limit success
- Trust is contextual: try to understand a person’s motives in the current context rather than relying on reputation or past experiences
- Rely on your intuition, but be informed about nonverbal cues and situational factors that can influence your judgment
What actions have other people taken that inspires you to trust them?
Dee Anne Bonebright