The Trust Equation

You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you. -Dale Carnegie

I was reading The Trusted Advisor over the weekend based on a recommendation from a friend. This book is chock-full of excellent advice for professionals (specifically, consultants) interacting with clients. One thing that really stuck out to me was the Trust Equation in Chapter 8.

Simply stated, the level of trust between you (the trustee) and your client (the truster) is defined by the sum of credibility, reliability, and intimacy divided by your self-orientation.

T = (C + R + I) / S

I think it is important to note that client does not exclusively mean business. A client can be a friend, family member, student, boss, direct report, or any other person you enter into a trust relationship with.

Let’s break down each variable in the Trust Equation to gain a better understanding of what we can do to increase trust in our relationships.

  • Credibility (Words) - Content expertise and presence (how we look, act, react, etc.) This is the most common trust factor. Most people get this one right.
  • Reliability (Actions) - Whether or not you are thought of as dependable and can be trusted to behave in certain ways. Increasing reliability takes time. People tend to trust those who they have interacted with regularly.
  • Intimacy (Emotions) - The extent to which a trustee can discuss difficult topics/agendas with you. This is a high-risk/high-reward variable with a huge gray area.
  • Self-orientation (Motives) - Anything that keeps us focused on ourselves rather than the person we are trying to get to trust us. Self-orientation can manifest itself in several ways, selfishness being the most common.

What struck me most about the relationship between the variables in the Trust Equation is how heavily weighted self-orientation is. For every marginal increase in self-orientation that occurs in a relationship, you have to work that much harder to re-build trust. Conversely, focusing on others first is the single most effective way to increase trust. This is powerful.

Creative Commons License

What do you think?