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In a time where international research suggests that the world is “suffering from stagnant distrust”1, gaining a more robust understanding of what it really means to trust is important. Can trust be something you give against your will? Asked another way, is it possible to unwillingly trust yourself or to trust others? To consider these questions, let’s turn to what academics from behavioural science and philosophy typically include as core elements in a definition of trust. These include:
- An intentional choice to trust
- A recognition and acceptance of vulnerability because of the risk in trusting
- A degree of hope or optimism that the person in whom trust is being placed is trustworthy – they have the combined competence, character and reliability to earn others’ trust.
So the idea of placing trust against your will seems to me to be problematic.
If you’re feeling you ‘have to trust someone’ and you’re doing so against your will – for example because the person is your manager – it’s not trust that’s being given, it’s something else… but what is that something else if it can’t be unwilling trust?
It might be reluctant compliance, and that’s certainly not trust. It might be apprehensive hope, and that’s certainly not trust. It might fearful or tentative optimism and that’s certainly not trust. Or maybe it’s simply apathetic detachment and that’s certainly not trust.
This relatively simple notion of trust is in reality quite complex. We know for most people, when we have trust placed in us, we strive to earn, honour and live up to that trust. We know when we trust in others we are doing so with free will… it is our choice to trust (albeit sometimes cautiously because of being vulnerable to risk)… and with the realization that blind trust is foolhardy and we need to hold others accountable for the trust we place in them.
Finally there’s the trust we willingly place in ourselves – sometimes we may let ourselves down but nonetheless it would seem nonsensical to think we could ever unwillingly trust ourselves. This dialogue would sound something like this “I don’t want to trust myself but I will anyway”… It just doesn’t make sense that trust can ever be given unwillingly.
Maybe this is a bit academic, theoretical and philosophical for you and that’s ok. However, what’s not ok is to ever take trust for granted because it impacts almost every measure of success in your professional and personal life.
So let me leave you with this question; who are you intentionally choosing to place your trust in, and importantly, how are you holding them accountable for that trust?
- 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer – visit www.edelman.com/trust-barometer