#19 How Trustworthy Is That Person? Four Considerations


In my first blog on trust I introduced five faces of trust. Integrity is probably the face of trust that we most often relate to.  It involves relying on people behaving and acting in the way that they present themselves to us.

In The Truth about Trust David DeSteno makes four helpful suggestions regarding criteria we often apply in determining integrity and trustworthiness:


1) Reputation does not consider the fact that trust is situational

We tend to assume that because an individual has been trustworthy in the past, that he or she is more likely to be trustworthy in the future. Numerous experiments indicate that a person’s past behaviour is not a reliable predictor of future behaviour. The concern should not be about whether the person has been trustworthy, but whether the person is likely to behave in the future in a trustworthy manner to you.

Here is what happened in one experiment that indicates how situational trustworthiness may be. Before playing a computer game that could be observed for cheating by researchers, subjects were given a pair of sunglasses. Some were told the glasses were designer glasses, others were told the same glasses were knock offs. Those who were told the glasses were designer glasses cheated 30 percent of the time; whereas, those told the glasses were knock offs cheated 70 percent of the time.

Apparently the sub-conscious association with lack of authenticity impacted the behaviour of subjects significantly. Whether subjects cheated or not may have been largely a matter of character, but it also appears to have been significantly influenced by a newly introduced subconscious factor. These results also confirm many other recent psychological experiments that indicate we are not as in conscious control of our behaviour as we like to think we are.


2) Power corrupts

Recent experiments indicate that we are more likely to act in a trustworthy manner when we require the trustworthiness of others in our environment; and less likely to be trustworthy if we are more self-sufficient. This is DeSteno’s explanation for why those who are higher in the socioeconomic status may be less trustworthy.

You might have heard a report on the news of a study conducted at an intersection in San Francisco. Researchers stepped into the crosswalk. Whether cars stopped for them as required by law varied directly with the market value of the car being driven. Drivers of high-end sports vehicles stopped only 50 percent of the time. Drivers in mid-value vehicles stopped about 70 percent of the time. Every driver in the least valuable category stopped for the researcher.

In any case, the advice is to be more careful if the person you are dealing with is more powerful or has nothing to lose should she or he cross you.


3) Your gut is more reliable than you might think

As detailed in the previous blog, the capacity to consciously assess honesty by observing another person as we interact is surprisingly poor – less than a few percent better than chance. However, our unconscious capacity to assess lack of trustworthiness as revealed through intuition and gut feelings has proven to have traction. So, pay attention to those misgivings.


4) Confidence does not include competence

Many thousands of people have been hired based on presenting themselves as if they are a good fit for a position, only to later disappoint their employers. In the world today, as job interviewees know well, confidence seems to be seductive. So, in any situation take some care when you notice someone seems to be confident and self-assured. How well is he or she concretely demonstrating or communicating the competence that you require?


In the next blog I will write about the competence face of trust.








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