Who do we trust? Who can we trust? Family members? Friends? A perfect stranger we bump into on the street?
And do you think “most people can be trusted”?
Dr. Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser, researchers at the University of Oxford aggregated worldwide datasets to answer this question. And it turns out we have significant discrepancies between countries¹.
There is another fact about trust that is absolutely stunning. Trust is one of the root causes of economic growth² ³.
Even if this result can seem obvious at first, researchers spent decades crunching data to demonstrate that trust doesn’t simply influence, but directly contribute to economic progress. They showed that the effects of trust not only work at the scale of countries, it also benefits individuals⁴.
So this begs the question, why is trust so low in so many countries? And why even in countries with the highest rates, like the Netherlands, more than one-third of the people are reluctant to trust others?
The famous business author, Jim Collins, might have given us the beginning of an answer with his concept of trust wager. In his book “Beyond Entrepreneurship”, he explains that individuals can react in two ways when they meet someone for the first time.
They can either bet on “Trust” or “Mistrust”.
The former means that we will offer our trust to the other person, even if we don’t know them. Even if there is a risk of being betrayed and hurt.
In the latter case, other people have to earn our trust. Since there is no risk to see our trust be abused, it is tempting to believe this behavior protects us. But, as Collins rightly emphasizes, it exposes us to more insidious issues.
First, with a “Trust” opening bid, we enhance our ability to connect and fight social isolation.
When we ask people to prove their trustworthiness to start a relationship, we will simply push many away. After all, why should they go the “extra mile” and bear with our skepticism?
On the contrary, do you remember this time at work where our manager gave us an important project which was outside of our responsibilities? Like leading a key customer meeting or organizing the company’s annual conference. We were trusted, so we wanted to return the favor and give our best. We were trusted, so we wanted to honor it and give our best.
When we show trust, most people want to be worthy of it, on top of returning it. This is the bedrock for developing great and enriching relationships.
Secondly, the trust wager is an empowering mindset tool to foster resilience.
We all know that even the people we thought trustworthy can end up deceiving us. Nothing will make it less painful when it occurs, but we can trust ourselves to overcome it.
Indeed, adopting the “Trust” bid doesn’t mean we should naively believe everyone, like this “new acquaintance” sketchy financial advice. We have to remain vigilant when it comes to important decisions but we should also be biased toward trust.
As scary as betrayal can be, we should build bridges rather than walls, trusting others and ourselves.
To help us build our trust bias, we can pair it with a philosophical principle, called Hanlon’s Razor.
Funnily, the concept was initially submitted for a book of jokes and aphorisms called “Murphy’s Law Book Two: More Reasons Why Things Go Wrong”. As it grew in popularity, it became “mainstream” and often referred to in the programming industry.
So what is the Hanlon’s Razor? Basically, it is a rule of thumb to “shave off” unlikely explanations for an event.
Let’s say we got stood up by our colleague Dave for this customer meeting where we have to report delays in the project. It is easy to go with the reason: “He left me alone so he would not be involved with this mess and he would not look bad.”
But instead of fulminating against this blatant betrayal, we could take a step back and reflect with the Hanlon’s Razor.
The adage states:
“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”.
Could it be that Dave simply forgot to set up his alarm clock?
Maybe he lost himself on the way to the customer’s office?
Or he put the warehouse address in his GPS.
Hanlon’s philosophical razor can even be extended. In addition to stupidity, people can also be tired, hungry, stressed, distracted, misunderstood, and the list goes on…
Yes, the result remains unchanged. Dave was not there for the meeting. But if there was no ill-intent, the blow is often smoothened. And next time, we should offer Dave a ride — just in case.
In the end, choosing the opening of our trust wager is a delicate and personal decision.
When we have been burned, it is difficult to stand close to the fire again. Does it mean that we should never light one again and remain forever in the shivering cold?
When a child is learning to walk and fall, should we prevent it from walking again? Or put so much protection that his movements are hindered, making him fall even more?
In doubt, let’s remind ourselves of these powerful words:
“the best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them”.
To learn more on how to trust ourselves more and be more decisive (without overthinking), join my free workshop here: https://lisonmage.com/master-your-life-workshop-ld
- Ortiz-Ospina E. and Roser M., 2016, “Trust”, OurWorldInData.org
- Bartling B. and others, 2018, “The Causal Effect of Trust”, Institute of Labor Economics
- Algan Y. and Cahuc P., 2010, “Inherited Trust and Growth”, American Economic Review
- Bjørnskov C., 2012, “How Does Social Trust Affect Economic Growth?”, Southern Economic Journal