What is Trust?

Trust is the foundation of strong relationships. Without trust, any relationship is weak. Trust is the willingness to rely on the actions of another person.  In a relationship of trust, the trustor is willing to release control over the actions of the trustee.

Trust has to be earned. It is not given. Trust is an intuitive, inner sense of whether I allow you to influence me. The trust equation is the most practical tool that I have come across as a guide to trustworthy behaviours.

Trust is an economic lubricant, reducing transaction costs.  Greater levels of trust in a society accelerate business activity, increase employment and increase prosperity.

Trust is a powerful force in human activity.

What is Trust made of?

Charles Green describes the 4 ingredients of Trust in the Trust Equation:


  • T = Trust
  • C = Perception of Credibility
  • R = Perception of Reliability
  • I = Intimacy
  • SO = Perception of Self-Orientation

How do you Increase Trust?

In order to Increase Trust = Increase Perception of Credibility or Increase Perception of Reliability or Increase Intimacy or Reduce Perception of Self-Orientation.

Ways to increase Perception of Credibility:

  • Tell the truth.
  • Don’t exaggerate.
  • Avoid saying things that others may see as lies (eg “We’ll put our best people on it”)
  • If you don’t know, say “I don’t know”.  Quickly.
  • If you don’t belong, don’t go.
  • Do your homework.
  • Care about the work.

Ways to increase Perception of Reliability:

  • Make specific small commitments and deliver 100%.
  • Send meeting materials in advance.
  • Make sure meetings have clear goals, and that those goals are met.
  • Use the words your listener would use.
  • Review agendas for meetings.
  • Re-confirm events 24 hours before.

Ways to Increase Intimacy:

  • Ask insightful questions.
  • Share first.

Ways to Reduce Perception of Self-Orientation:

  • Ask questions.
  • Listen and paraphrase without adding anything.
  • Resist the need to fill silences.
  • Focus on defining the problem, not guessing the solution.
  • Say “I don’t know” if you don’t know.
  • Take responsibility for failed communications (“I have failed to communicate clearly” vs “You don’t understand“)
  • Think as if you were completely responsable for this person’s future success in all aspects that are important to the other person.
  • Care about the work.  If you don’t care about the work, it is inevitable that you will focus more on yourself.  Low self orientation is all about intensity of your commitment to help your listener.

A Working Example of the Trust Equation

Imagine that we rate each variable on a 1 to 10 scale.  (Trust can range from 0 low to 30 high).

We have a business relationship between a client Tom and a salesman Mary.  It is early days in their dealings.  

Tom’s perception of Mary is:  

  • Credibility = 7
  • Reliability = 5
  • Intimacy = 4
  • Self Orientation = 8  

Trust = 7 + 5 + 4 / 8 = 2  

Any mathematical minds will rapidly have seen that changing the divisor SO will have the greatest possible impact on trust levels.  

Reducing SO from 8 to 4 doubles trust.  Reducing SO to 2 quadruples trust.  Reducing SO to 1 multiplies trust by 8.   Perfect Trust would be a score of 30.  

Reducing Self-Orientation

Reducing Self-Orientation is the greatest lever to increase trust.  

  1. Ask more questions.  
  2. Listen.  
  3. Don’t fill silences.    

Trust increases wealth.  Trust is the lubricant of wealth creation.

Do people perceive you as reliable?  Do people perceive you as credible?  Do people perceive you as interested in them, or ego-centric?

(How do you know?)

If you liked this post, you will also like My father’s list: Leaders and Non-Leaders and 12 Vital Questions for any Business.

Author: Conor Neill

Hi, I’m Conor Neill, an Entrepreneur and Teacher at IESE Business School. I speak about Moving People to Action.

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