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Trust - The Most Valuable and Fragile Currency in the World

Trust has been discussed from all kinds of perspectives as it relates to all types of relationships in all kinds of contexts. In the overall business world, the political arena, and of course in our intimate private spheres, trust is one of the major drivers in the success or break-down of any relationship.

Trust is now viewed as the most valuable currency in the world while also as a most fragile one. This is no more evident than in the socio-political and economic climate of our present-day Risk Society. Living and working remotely, as the coronavirus pandemic has brought to the fore, adds to the complexity of trust in others and also in ourselves - being trustworthy and trusting.

In a recent post on LinkedIn, Fabio Moioli (see Building trust (in virtual teams): a very practical framework to share | LinkedIn) introduced the book “Leading at a Distance” by James M. Citrin and Darleen DeRosa. In this post he shared the authors' framework of trust (see below) and asked for any feedback or comments on the fascinating topic of trust.

Given that the concept of trust continues to be of personal and professional interest to me, this motivated me to think about trust anew, taking into account the presented trust framework which consists of the following four interactive elements (italics added by me to emphasise behaviour versus belief).

Reliability: Consistent behaviour shows that people can depend on one another.

Intimacy: Close, familiar, and authentic behaviour creates affection between team members.

Orientation: The extent to which others believe you care about their concerns

Credibility: The quality of being believable, truthful, and a source of expertise or authority.

The above framework reminded me of the conceptualisation and trust matrix by Richard Barrett below (see: The Trust Matrix | LinkedIn).

What I find most interesting and valuable in Richard Barrett’s approach to trust, and his trust matrix as shown on the left, is the distinction he makes between two principal components of trust:

Character and Competence with particular sub-components and values.

Looking at the two frameworks of trust above, I was wondering if and how these might relate to each other. In my view the elements and components of trust presented by Jim Citrin and Darleen DeRosa and Richard Barrett share some common ground and could be related as follows.

My suggested framework (see below) brings together the idea of the four different trust elements presented by Jim Citrin and Darleen DeRosa and the two distinct principal trust components of -character and competence and associated sub-components as suggested by Richard Barrett.

COMPETENCE on the left side of the matrix which includes:

Reliability/Results at the top

(Reputation, Credibility, Performance)

Credibility/Capability at the bottom

(Skills, Knowledge, Experience)

CHARACTER on the right side of the matrix which includes:

Intimacy/Integrity at the top

(Honesty, Fairness, Authenticity)

Orientation/Intent at the bottom

(Caring, Transparency, Openness)

The trust elements of credibility/capability (competence) and orientation/intent (character), each depicted at the bottom of the matrix in a way suggest that it is at this level where unbridled early trust starts to develop and exist. These trust elements are not uncommonly based on unquestioned assumptions and beliefs (see my italics above in the brief description of the trust matrix by Jim Citrin and Carleen DeRosa).

The trust elements of reliability/results (competence) and intimacy/integrity (character), each at the top of the matrix could be viewed as a way of maturation. This maturation reflects mutuality (everyone's needs matter) and authenticity, with early trust having been validated by reaffirming actions and behaviour over time.

Trust, as pointed out by Arnd Zschiesche is formed based on positive prejudice yet is something that has to be earned through the demonstration of confirming actions and behaviour and dependability (see ‘Trust - Die Härteste Währung der Welt’ - Trust - the Hardest Currency in the World - Arnd Zschiesche). He further emphasises the overall importance of value-oriented management and stresses that “Believing is not the same as knowing” (see ‘Reality in Branding’ - Arnd Zschiesche & Oliver Errichiello).

When we think about trusting someone else and trusting ourselves as leaders in organizations, including as leaders of virtual teams and in life in general, we might benefit from asking ourselves some questions such as:

  • Am I trusting based on aspirational, proclaimed and stated values, the values projected as the guiding principles in decision-making and action?

  • Am I trusting based on unquestioned beliefs and assumptions, on lived values that are possibly incongruent with the proclaimed values?

  • What specifically are these values - the proclaimed and lived values?

  • Is there perhaps a gap between these two sets of values and what might this suggest?

Questioning our assumptions and beliefs is a way to explore whether or not there is a gap between what has been ‘alluded to’ if not ‘promised’ and what has actually been delivered - be that in the business world, in politics, or in the sphere of our personal lives. And this refers not only to other people but also us, with a need to ask ourselves:

  • Is the trust I want to and/or can place in others perhaps also a question of being trustworthy and trusting in myself?

Like Richard Barrett and many others, I believe in the need to consider not only competence but character when exploring if we can or cannot trust others and also ourselves. As Richard Barrett argues:

Even though the focus on competence (capability and results) is important, these are skills that can be learned and accumulated over time. I believe the focus on character (intent and integrity) is more important because these qualities are required for bonding and are much more difficult to develop. Competence is about achieving results; character is about how you achieve them.The Trust Matrix | LinkedIn.

I believe - to add to the above quote - that trust is very much a question of WHY (See Simon Sinek’s wheel of why/how/what and also the Six Seconds EQ Model).

  • Why do we do things the way we do and act the way we do?

I would argue that the elements under the principal trust components of character direct our attention to questioning the why, while those captured under competence allude more to the questions of what and how.

While in the business domain a more rational and cognitive approach has been traditionally supported and taken with a focus on credibility (capability) and reliability (results), we benefit from reminding ourselves that trust is as much a question of technical skills and mental intelligence as it is one of emotional intelligence, or emotional agility and social intelligence (see Richard Barrett).

It has been argued by some that trust can be given freely out of our belief in the goodness of humanity and our desire and effort to foster trust in others with an open mind and open heart. But as has been pointed out by many, including Jim Citrin and Darleen DeRosa, "trust develops through a series of interactions over time."

The observation of the dynamics within any relationship over time accompanied by a combination of emotional agility and rational thinking serves to ensure a balanced levelheaded approach for being trustworthy, and for trusting others and indeed ourselves. Trust after all is not just a value but an emotion that is closely related to fear, a most powerful emotion that easily hijacks our ability to 'think clearly'. The fear of losing something we value infiltrates our sense of competence, control and self-worth, and our sense of integrity.

Accordingly, the need for developing emotional agility (Susan David) or emotional intelligence (Joshua Freedman) has been recognised to be important for thinking clearly and in fostering empathy.

Generally, empathy instils the idea of being good at 'putting ourselves in the shoes of others', of connecting with others, and the ability and desire to show that we care.

However, when we hear the words empathy and care we might want to pause and ask:

  • In which way and to what extend are empathy and care actually demonstrated?

  • Is empathy about other care?

  • Is empathy about self-care?

  • Or is empathy about mutual care, of mutually where everyone’s needs matter?

Empathy is perceived as the basis for moral action and the building and maintaining of trust, yet empathy also has a downside. There is extensive research available with publications that include notions of The Dark Side of Empathy (see Fritz Breithaupt) and Against Empathy (see Paul Bloom).

As Fritz Breithaupt argues: "The ability to empathize with others is also a prerequisite for deliberate acts of humiliation and cruelty toward them"...and... "Even well-meaning compassion can have many unintended consequences, such as intensifying conflicts and exploiting others."

While empathy can be expressed via cyberspace, we as human beings yearn for physical proximity and real time experiences. Physical proximity allows us to more easily give and receive compassionate empathy (see three kinds of empathy: cognitive, affective, and compassionate empathy), and to gain a sense of true care and authenticity in all kinds of ways.

As much as credibility/capacity and reliability/results are important elements of trust, it is the character traits as captured above in the trust elements of orientation/intent (care) and the notion of intimacy/integrity (authenticity) that deserve utmost attention in our considerations of trust.

The points made by Fritz Breithaupt above highlight that both individual and societal value orientations are worth exploring, offering us insight into cultural complexity including notion of power and control. There is also a need to be aware of situational dynamics as these also can overtly or subliminally influence a persons' decision making, reactions and behaviour.

The above brief discussion highlights that trust is a complex and multi-layered concept.

Whether we want to accept it or not, all of us are part of the web of life where our human frailties in the way of bias and the power of feelings in any emotion episode (see Klaus Scherer - component process model) continue to impact our decision-making processes, consequences of actions, and the behaviour demonstrated.

Given our human existence in an increasingly complex world, I continue to argue for the importance to develop critical mindfulness, to raise our consciousness of our inner world - our thoughts, feelings, needs and values - as well as remaining aware and sensitive to what is happening in our outer worlds (‘The Way of the Peaceful Traveller - Dare to Care and Connect’, Trauer, 2020).

Trust in the end is what nourishes inner and outer peace with trust in ourselves and others an ever-recurring issue that requires our continuous personal and societal attention on our journey through life.

Despite the challenges we may face in trusting others and ourselves, I believe that we all have the capacity to draw on our curiosity and courage to trust - to allow ourselves to disclose, to take risks and be vulnerable (see Brene Brown). Trusting in others and trusting in ourselves engenders reciprocal actions that feed our souls (not just our pockets $$).

Trust is

about giving of ourselves

as much as

receiving from others

in a mutually

caring and authentic way.

Deep and long-lasting trust I believe rests in our ability to balance our cognitive and emotional competencies. Embracing this combination helps us to dare to care and connect with an awareness, acceptance and commitment to live by the underpinning values of trust reflected in the two principal trust components of Competence and Character as argued above.

@Birgit Trauer, Naxos 23 October 2022.


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