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You Can't Earn My Trust!

I have heard the statement, “trust must be earned” for decades, and I assume you have as well. Actually, I suspect that we all heard it from our parents, and I for one just heard it in a professional discussion as recently as yesterday.  If I were to guess, I must have heard this phrase hundreds of times over my lifetime.

I cringed whenever I hear this popular saying in my personal and professional life, even though I must admit it has some merit in casual and public situations (trust & verify has more merit).  At best, “trust must be earned” is a half-truth.  As a result, whenever I join a new organization I share my viewpoint on trust...

If trust is “to be earned”, a person must have to do something to prove himself. Corresponding, those that have “trust to give” are inclined to qualify recipients through tests.  If my intended candidate passes my first test of trust, do I give them my complete trust, or another test?

More than likely and more prudently, one would give them some measure of trust, and then design, or allow time to present a more stringent test to assess them further.  If they passed that test, one would give them more trust, and so on.  Hypothetically, one could invent endless scenarios to qualify one’s trustworthiness.

If we devise more complicated tests, or test frequently enough, our candidate is certain to fall short at some point due to the human condition.  Maybe the failure was on a small issue, such as Joe does not really like your tie, even though he said he did  In this scenario of a tie, Joe may have avoided the truth to avoid discomfort to you and himself on a trivial subjective matter, since we all have heard that “the truth hurts”(another half-truth).  So, do you create a series of tests, with ever-increasing ante, to see if Joe will fail again? If you do, he will likely fail at some point, since we have heard the statement that “Everyone has a price” hundreds of times (another half-truth).  In this original case Joe’s “price’ was “avoiding unkindness”.  I suggest that these additional popular sayings are two more statements that need clarification.

What then?  Is all trust lost?

It seems to me that trust is binary; either I trust someone or I do not.  “I think I trust Joe” or “I trust Joe somewhat” is not much of a compliment in a relationship.  It appears to me that in supporting the statement “Trust is earned” we subconsciously spend time sequestering information, and helping people fail, instead of supporting their growth and confidence. Mistrust just slows down an organization.  “Mistrust” is a belief or suspicion. It is not a fact. When I mistrust, it is my failure and not yours.

I propose that “Trust is a gift… honor it”. A gift I give freely to you, and a gift that is yours to keep or lose.  Conversely, if you give me your trust, it is mine to lose as well.

Instead of testing each other, we share something of value that is to be treasured, instead of being earned.

Think about it, if trust “is earned” the earner owns it in the end.  One cannot own my trust; it is something that I always own.  I can extend it and I can retract it.  Extending trust is an investment in someone; it is gift or a favor to an active relationship.  Think about it, if I trust you to borrow my car, you will drive it more gingerly, than a car you rent from me in a transaction.

Give people respect, and they will give it in return.  Demonstrate confidence in others, and they are more to be confident in you, and you need their confidence to affect change.  Trust, confidence, skill and vision are all necessary to set the stage for the successful execution of change.

There are situations and subjects where trust cannot be given (e.g. confidential information without a need to know, any information that you do not directly “own”).  There are also personal situations where one might not have the courage and confidence to extend trust.  If so, it is hard to know in retrospect if the decision was accurate, or if it was our failure to extend the gift of trust because we felt too at risk. If withheld for lack of courage, it is a loss for all parties without the opportunity of success.  I know that first hand.

So what if the gift is lost?  Can one earn trust back?

Actually, that is dependent on the people involved, the circumstances and the degree of the breach, but that is an entirely separate conversation on an even more controversial gift called grace.

I wish that I was in a position to state that I have never needed to rely on grace, and I never will… but neither would be true.




© 2015 R.Islinger

Bob Islinger has held the CEO, COO, SVP, and other roles in the retail, consumer products, and marketing service industries within organizations ranging in size from $15M to $6B. Currently he is the founding principal of Invigoren LLC, which employs “operatives” that assist senior management teams address extraordinary opportunities and avoid pivotal situations as they grow, develop and react to their marketplace. As “operatives” they ensure solutions provide resolution.

© Robert S. Islinger 2015 Invigoren LLC;  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert S. Islinger and Invigoren LLC; Advocate of the Customer, Guardian of the Franchise, Catalyst for Change, Manager of Metrics with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.











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