A deeper look at deeper trust

From the Archives

Originally published January 21, 2013

A colleague recently challenged me to look at trust a little differently with these questions: What are the results (consequences) of trust built on authenticity versus the same built on manipulation? Taking it a step further, how does one sustain trust built on either? From personal to business to social ties, many of us will agree that a key ingredient to keeping our relationships alive and well is trust. (Communication ranks fairly high, too, and while it is germane to the question of trust, I’ll not harp on it so much in this post.) Personal and professional experience leads me to believe that only trust built on integrity and truth is sustainable, whereas trust based on lies, deceit, and manipulation – even the most careful kinds – break down over time, as truth manifests itself. Consider some examples.

I am reminded of a still-recent marketing experience with a client, in which I was hired to devise a marketing strategy to move his company toward some aggressive new goals. The problem was that there were no goals. My job got tiring fast because part of my job became coaching the CEO toward setting realistic goals in order to help come up with program to move his team toward those goals. Along the way, I learned that a lot of the connections he thought he had made with customers were in his head; fewer people trusted him than he believed, and many were all too candid with me about their feelings toward him as a (not so) trustworthy business associate. He lost considerable momentum among his established clients, his team struggled to earn new business, and I even felt a little sting to my own credibility just by association.

In another setting, the workplace, the same questions about trust come up almost daily. Persons in leadership and management positions sometimes grapple with trust in their subordinates, and it isn’t uncommon for day-to-day employees to raise an eyebrow at management’s decision making. Even laterally, trust is not easily earned, and the weaker its foundation, the quicker it breaks down. Trust built on anything but truth and authenticity requires far more effort to sustain, has fewer benefits for anyone involved, and is likely to result in a breakdown that hurts more than helps productivity and teamwork.

Some interesting and highly recommended reading on the topic includes “Authentic Conversations: Moving from Manipulation to Truth and Commitment” by Jamie Showkeir, Maren Showkeir, and Margaet J. Wheatley. I also enjoyed this blog post and look forward to hearing my coworker’s take on it when he approaches the questions head-on as a thesis paper. In the meantime, what’s your take on it? Weigh in with your comments.

Update: You will see, as I did when making sure the included link still works, that the author of the linked blog post has updated the content as recently as March 2019. It’s a testament to the relevance of this subject, especially in increasingly shaky economic and political climates.