Trust / Speed of Trust

Questions for the Speed of Trust

On April 22, 2008 Stephen M. R. Covey contributed the following questions to QuestionsForLiving®.

QuestionsForLiving: What are the five most important questions which you ask yourself in creating and maintaining a trusting relationship?

Mr. Stephen M. R. Covey's answer: 

When you get right down to it, the practical issues with regard to extending trust are these: How do you know when to trust somebody? And how can you extend trust to people in ways that create rich, high-trust dividends without taking inordinate risk? How do you reach the happy medium of "Smart Trust” - the combination of the propensity or bias to trust with the analysis to manage risk wisely - and learn to extend Smart Trust in a way that maximizes the dividends and minimizes the risk?  

I believe sustained trusting relationships start with one's self, that is, you'll have a hard time maintaining trust with other people if you don't really trust yourself.  So I begin my questions with asking about myself and my own behavior (the first two questions), and then I move into the dimensions of building a "smart trust" with others.

I ask myself these five key questions (with several other questions behind the initial five):

1.  Do I trust myself?
-- Am I credible?  
-- Do I demonstrate the 4 Cores of Credibility (in italics below)?
-- Am I a person of Integrity (i.e., Am I congruent?)?
-- Do I have Intent to do good, to contribute, to give back (i.e., What's my agenda?)?
-- Are my Capabilities in step with current demand (i.e., Am I relevant?)?
-- Am I providing Results (i.e., What's my track record?)?

2.  Do I give to others a person they can trust?
-- Do I behave in ways that build trust and avoid the behaviors that diminish or destroy trust?  
-- Do I demonstrate the 13 Behaviors of high trust people--or do I exhibit their opposites or counterfeits?
-- Do I: Talk Straight? Demonstrate Respect? Create Transparency? Right Wrongs? Show Loyalty? Deliver Results? Get Better? Confront Reality? Clarify Expectations? Practice Accountability? Listen First? Keep Commitments? Extend Trust? Each of these 13 Behaviors can be practiced individually, but together, they build trust faster and stronger than you may think possible.

Having started with myself first by learning to trust myself and by giving to others a person they can trust, my focus then shifts to how I can appropriately and wisely extend trust to others (smart trust).  My starting place is to have a propensity or bias to trust since it's the leader's job to go first and since trust is typically reciprocated.   But I need to be smart about it so as to not be naive or gullible, what might be called "blind trust". So I balance a propensity to trust with solid analysis.  The analysis flows from these three questions working in tandem:

3.  What is the situation, the opportunity, the relationship (or the job to be done)?

4.  What is the risk involved?
-- What are the possible outcomes?
-- What is the likelihood of the outcomes?
-- What is the importance and visibility of the outcomes?

5.  What is the credibility (character/competence) of the person/people involved?
Based upon my answers and impressions to questions 3, 4, and 5, I exercise my best judgment on how much trust to extend.  In some cases, I may choose to extend trust abundantly because the risk is acceptable and the credibility of the person/people involved is so high.  In other cases, I may extend trust more conditionally because the risk may be high or I may be still learning about their credibility.  In still other cases, I may choose not to extend trust at all because the risk might be so high (like investing all of your life savings) and the credibility of the person/people involved is low.  It ultimately comes down to good judgment.  But the best judgment will flow when we lead out first with a propensity to trust (as opposed to a propensity not to trust) and then balance that inclination with good analysis.

Here's a brief personal story of this smart trust process in action:

"Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
One season when I coached Little League flag football, we had one of only 2 or 3 girls in the league on our team - Anna Humphries. Anna wasn't a bad player, but she didn't have the same level of experience and skill as some of the others. She did have tremendous courage and character in deciding to compete with these boys in the first place. Due to league rules, I was required to play each player for at least half the game. With only 10 of the 14 allowed players, I had a little leeway, but I still wanted to play everyone equally.
Everything went great until we came to the big game at the end of the season. Both teams were undefeated. On the last play, the other team ran toward Anna's side and scored a touchdown. Now only 1 point behind, they were going for two points and the win.
I had a choice - I could take Anna out and put another person in her place, or I could leave her in. Based on my earlier decision to play everyone equally, it was still her turn to play. I also believed in the principle of inspiring people through extending trust, and I knew that this could be a defining moment in her life. I quickly determined to make a moment of decision a moment of trust, and decided to leave her in. I told her that if they ran to her side again, she could make the play and stop them. Anna felt that extension of trust and rose to the occasion.
Sure enough, the other team ran to her side, but Anna made the play, pulling the runner's flag and stopping him just inches short of the goal line. This was only the second flag she had pulled the whole season, and she pulled it on the most crucial play of the year. We won the game and the unofficial league championship.
Would I still believe that my decision was an exercise of extending Smart Trust if we had lost the game? Absolutely. I believe it sent a message not only to Anna, but to every member of the team - that I believed in them and would support them, regardless of what was on the line.

In conclusion, we need to increase trust in ourselves, in our relationships, in our organizations, in our communities, and in all our society.  That is why leading out with a propensity to trust is so important, always balanced by good analysis so we keep it in the realm of smart trust.  The reason this propensity to trust matters as a "starting place" is because people tend to reciprocate how they're treated.  Trust is contagious.  The only thing more contagious than trust is distrust.  When we distrust others, they tend to distrust us back.  We tend to create the very world we fear.  But when we trust others, they tend to trust us back.  Yes, there may be a few who abuse that trust.  But don't let the few tell you about the many. Don't let the 5% or 10% you can't trust tell you about the 90% or 95% that you can.  As the former CEO of Johnson & Johnson (one of the most trusted brands in the world), Jim Burke, said, "I have found that by trusting people until they prove themselves unworthy of that trust, a lot more happens." Similarly, the educator and religious leader Neal Maxwell said, "It is better to trust and sometimes be disappointed than to be forever mistrusting and be right occasionally."

Indeed, the first job for any leader is to inspire trust!  



Mr. Stephen M. R. Covey can be contacted at:

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