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What Triggers Our “Trust Antennae”?

November 8, 2010

What Triggers Our “Trust Antennae”?

Trust is essential to healthy relationships and confidence in others. Most of us can sense when we can and cannot trust someone. Frequently we discover that someone is not trustworthy only after being burned. Yet often there are signals we pick up that put us on alert, but we may be unable to pinpoint the reason why. The reason for our concern may be elusive and we might give the person the benefit of the doubt. Ultimately, we may take a mistaken leap of faith.

So what sets off our “trust antennae”? What alerts us to be on guard about someone’s trustworthiness? When we are uncertain, what can we do to protect ourself or test the waters?

To answer these questions, we first must know what trust looks like. Trust is often seen as an intangible quality. We can, however, transform our understanding of trust, so it becomes more tangible.

In the Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey has broken it down into four key factors: integrity, intent, capabilities, and results. The first two are about character and the second two are about competence.

When my trust antenna goes up, the first thing I do is ask myself: Which of these four factors am I observing? I ask myself questions such as:

  • Is this person being honest and forthright or spinning and shading the truth? Are they being open about the situation or shifting the conversation to avoid certain subjects or facts? If so, there is an integrity issue.
  • Is this person focused on the best interests of all involved or just his or her own? Does he or she have ulterior motives? Is the individual mostly interested in their own agenda and objectives or in benefits for others? What might they be trying to gain? The answers to these questions might point to an issue with intent.
  • Does this person have the ability to do what they say they will do? Do I have confidence that they can produce promised results? Have they taken on tasks for which they are unqualified? If so, there may be an issue of capability.
  • Does this person have a history of delivering on commitments in a timely manner? What is their track record for meeting expectations related to quality and quantity? Did they get the right things completed? Are they accountable? If not, then results are an issue.

The answers to these questions help identify specific trust issues – the reasons why our trust antenna went up.  Once you know the answers, it’s much easier to determine how to address the issue.  These questions have helped me diagnose every trust issue I’ve encountered since I began using them. The four trust factors provide a great framework or lens through which we can isolate the concerns. The next step is deciding what to do about them.

We also need to be aware of our own behavior and what might be setting off other people’s trust antennae. If others think we cannot be trusted or lack credibility, they will be guarded with us or avoid us. So as you assess the trustworthiness of others, also reflect on your own behavior patterns and identify how to improve them. We all have trust lapses from time to time.

In the near future, I will write about how to build trust and discuss specific trust-enhancing behaviors linked to the four trust factors.

*             *             *

If you enjoyed this post, you may also be interested in “What Does Integrity Look Like?” which we posted in September.

We post every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The topic on Wednesday  will be “Championship and Leadership Versus Empty Nobility?”

Steve Weitzenkorn

Steve Weitzenkorn, Ph.D., is a learning innovator, organizational advisor, experienced facilitator, and lead author of Find-Fulfill-Flourish: Discover Your Purpose with LifePath GPS – a book, forthcoming website, and workshop series focused on guiding people toward more meaningful and fulfilling lives.

Copyright © 2010 F3 Forum, LLC. All rights reserved.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 8, 2010 6:07 am

    Trust yourself . . . then you will know how to live! ~ Goethe

  2. November 9, 2010 7:52 pm

    Great post! I liked how you examined trust at an interpersonal level, and I think your insights are valuable at a macro level as well. With all the messages out there, we need to use our “trust antennae” to determine what corporate and political messages are truthful.

    • November 9, 2010 8:32 pm

      Thanks for the feedback and making the point about how the concepts apply at a macro level as well. Trust is important within and between organizations, businesses, public leaders and individuals — whether they are customers, suppliers, constituents, supporters, or other stakeholders.


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