Trust involves making a ongoing series of Assessments that you will take action which takes care of me, including not taking action to harm me.

That someone “can be trusted” is not a matter of fact. Otherwise we would not have the situation where I believe someone is trustworthy, but you don’t. If trust were fact, this situation could not exist. Nor could my trust in someone wax and wane over time.

Trust is reducible into four interwoven components.

  • Sincerity - the belief that someone is being genuine in their intentions when they say they will take action that cares for something important to us (or refrains from taking action that will damage us). Of the four components, this is the easiest to damage when we find out there was incongruity between what was said and the other person’s internal dialogue.
  • Reliability - an assessment that someone will take action when they said they would, and to the standard they said they would.
  • Competence - our judgement the person is also capable of performing the task they have said they would.
  • Involvement - this component answers the question “Why are they helping me?“. Are they doing it out of a genuine care for me, or is it purely for themselves. There will always be some component of personal involvement on the side of the other person, as they will also be involved in their own Concernful Activity (e.g., someone helping you out of a sense of community involvement is also doing it because that is important to them.)

My daughter could sincerely offer to perform brain emergency brain surgery on me, immediately, because it’s the only way to save my life. I can’t trust her to do this because she is, as far as I know, not a brain surgeon. She is not competent. In the moment, I may need to take that risk.

I could ask a potential client for a meeting next week. With space in our calendars (reliability), having met together before (competence) and with a need to solve a business problem together (involvement), I may still assess their, “I’ll call you with a time tomorrow” to be insincere.

More common is the person who is sincere about meeting, but highly unreliable.

This raises the question of domains. In what domain do I trust someone? In the domain of brain surgery, my daughter is untrustworthy. In the domain of driving me safely to an appointment with a brain surgeon, she is fully competent and trustworthy.

A work colleague who never turns up to meetings on time, may not be competent enough at managing their time, which leads to unreliability. Yet, this does not mean I can extrapolate out to all areas of their work. If they are the payroll officer and my pay is always made on time, then I’m happy.

Once I coached someone who could not trust a subordinate. As we delved into why, it became apparent the subordinate was not capable of performing a task as required. An assessment of their competence. This had become quite an issue, hence the coaching. An interesting moment followed when I asked the manager, ‘So, have they been given the training by you that they need to perform the job as required’ and they answered, “No”.