#57 Building Trust in the Absence of Integrity

This blog further explores the notion introduced in Blog #17 that there are different approaches to trust. There, I initially named these approaches ‘faces of trust,’ and in this blog I am describing them as qualities that we can rely on in someone else to build trust. This blog also pulls together several ideas from Blogs #18 to #22.

I wish to introduce both a general definition of trust I have formulated and the general idea of trusting before looking at some of its variations:

trust (def): a belief in a positive attribute(s) of someone else, and a willingness to rely on that belief although the belief is not fully verifiable

Trust flows out of relationship with others. As we come to know people and have experienced their integrity in various situations, we come to rely on that integrity and therefore trust them. But, what if trust has been lost?

Building Trust

A closer examination of what we rely on may enable us to both better understand trust and begin to rebuild trust when it is lost. We tend to assume that confidence in someone’s integrity is required for trust, but this may not be the case to the degree we assume. It is not only integrity that we may rely on. In any particular situation we might rely as much on one of the following qualities:

  • competence
  • consideration
  • caring
  • predictability
  • vulnerability

Below I devote a short paragraph to each of these five qualities, attempting to show that they may allow us to build trust when we are unable to rely fully upon someone else’s integrity.

Trust in a bookkeeper, carpenter, or medical specialist is likely to largely be a reliance on competence and skill more than integrity of personhood. As long as a professional does his or her work for us in a satisfactory manner, we may not be overly concerned about his or her conduct in other areas of life or even how he or she is viewed by peers. In the Speed of Trust, Stephen M. R. Covey highlights the importance of competence as a basis of trust.

Suppose you know that your boss is sometimes dishonest and lacks integrity in other ways. It may be enough for you to know that he or she shows consideration for you and will consult with you over decisions. You can trust that you will be considered even when you don’t think he or she has much overall integrity.

On the other hand, you may have a sibling you find to be inconsiderate (the opposite of the boss). However, at a more fundamental level, you may know through acts of affection that you are loved by this sibling. You know that he or she cares about you and would not intentionally set out to hurt you. You can rely on caring but not on consideration (in the form of forethought or action infused with wisdom).

In Getting Together, Fisher and Brown presented a version of trust that divides trust into predictability and caring. They point out that in the Cold War, the USA and USSR, although not caring about the well-being of the other, had a form of trust based on predictability. As long as each remained predictable to the other, the tension between them remained in balance. Unpredictable behaviour provoked alarm. Legal settlements and less formal agreements often create some predictability over future behaviours. In an antagonistic relationship, if we have assurances about how each of us will predictably behave, we can then set out on a road to building deeper forms of trust.

In the Five Dysfunctions of Team, Patrick Lencioni has promoted vulnerability-based trust as essential on high-performing teams. One key behaviour is the willingness to be open about one’s weaknesses and errors, and to bring them into team conversation so they can be addressed and compensated for. Another needed practice is the willingness to engage in conflict over proposals with the willingness to consider other viewpoints. Being vulnerable with others is an important avenue to building trust.

There are at least three benefits that come from examining what we rely on in a relationship where trust is an important factor:

Firstly, if trust has been broken, we may be able to find one of these five qualities in the other person at a time when we think he or she is lacking in integrity. If we can rely on one of those qualities, we can begin to rebuild trust.

Secondly, if we know what quality we are relying upon, we may be able to find ways of increasing mutual trust, for example, by demonstrating greater predictability or competence to each other.

Thirdly, if we discover that we are relying largely on a quality other than integrity, it indicates that we may not have much evidence of integrity (because we didn’t need to experience integrity in order to trust). In this case we should not be surprised when we encounter lack of integrity. And, in some situations, we should probably be prepared for lack of integrity to show itself.

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2 Responses to #57 Building Trust in the Absence of Integrity

  1. Colette Squires says:

    Hi Gordon,
    This was a very helpful, insightful article. Thanks for sharing!
    Warm regards,
    Colette Squires, MA

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