Trust is primarily a positive emotion. It makes people confidently rely on the integrity, or ability of people and organizations. Without its emotional overtones, the word “trust” can also mean a rational expectation. The switch may be “trusted” to turn on the light. The trust emotion is not required for a person to rely on another. Acceptance of treatment from a physician in an emergency room is decided not by trust, but by necessity.
The mind triggers the trust emotion after complex rational and empathic evaluation. The emotion overcomes doubts and fears and makes their nervous systems commit people to risky ventures. Being a positive emotion, trust generates greater energy and interest in the ventures. While it largely lubricates the wheels of society, trust may often be misplaced, or violated. Easily destroyed, only sincere care and redoubled effort can rebuild trust.
Is Trust? – A Positive Emotion
Trust is a positive emotion. It grants a person goodwill towards another, while inhibiting fears concerning his/her reliability. Rousseau suggested that "Trust is a psychological state comprising the intention to accept vulnerability based upon positive expectations of the intentions or behavior of another."
Emotions are distinctive patterns of nerve impulses, which micromanage the fluidity of your muscle movements, your thoughts, your facial expressions and the choice and tone of your words. Positive emotions release the neuro-modulator dopamine. Dopamine provides clarity to immediate objectives and makes a person feel more energetic, elated, aware and interested in the tasks on hand. With positive emotions, a person is likely to be more trusting, as well as to be more trustworthy.
What Is Trust? – Subconscious Pattern Recognition
In interactions with people, trust appears subconsciously. The mind evaluates their benevolent intentions, expectations and hopes. It evaluates the value and costs of benefits. These evaluations occur within the limbic system. Within this group of nuclei, many emotions, including distrust, fear, goodwill and trust compete. Each emotion offers a behavior option. When goodwill and rationality prevail in this network, trust can beselected. Once selected, the emotion makes a person decide to rely on the “trustee” with the care of her children, or to accept his/her advice. If the distrust emotion dominates, it compels avoidance of commitment.
The continuous evaluation of people occurs through mirror neuronswithin the anterior insula and the inferior frontal cortex. Those nuclei internally re-enact the actions and emotions of the people being observed. If a door slams on a child's finger, the observer feels the pain. Seeing a person yawn triggers yawning. Mirror neurons evaluate the words, expressions, and gestures of others, enabling people to read their intentions and emotions like a book. While such empathic ability varies, it enables most people to know the probable responses of others in uncertain situations.
Trust follows positive emotions and expectations. Respect must exist for the integrity or competence of the trusted person. Trust is occasionally triggered through sympathy for the concerns of a trusted person. Empathy and trust enable people to act as agents for each other. Each person “knows” the response of the other to situations. Trust can also follow from a feeling of gratitude to another person.
Trust is subjective. Personal evaluations differ widely and a few people may only feel dissatisfaction and resentment for actual benefits. Also, when lacking empathy, a person may feel that she does not “know” the other person at all, making trust impossible. If the benefits appear doubtful, indifference, rather than trust follows. When the person is perceived to be a competitor, trust is also likely to be withheld. If a person has been shamed and his pride offended by another, distrust is more likely.
What Is Trust? – Positive Expectations
The trust emotion and even social mores are subconsciously perceived by the trusted person. When people are trusted, they feel under an obligation to deliver on that expectation. Mirror neurons sense the social expectation of a particular way of doing a task and will act to produce the desired result. Social norms and the laws of the land often compel people to act in a trustworthy manner. Unfortunately, such internal controls work negatively also. A mother, who expects her child to misbehave, will trigger indiscipline in the child.
What Is Trust? – Pattern Recognition And Societal Trust
Trust communicates subconsciously within a society and enables more complex social transactions. It brings goodwill, inhibits fear and enables people to make risky decisions. Such a climate of virtue is nurtured through the growing wisdom of developing societies. Trusting increases the opportunities for cooperation. Trust removes the need for the added complexity of checking on people. With trust, even in complex contracts, a handshake may be enough. Whole populations recognize and adapt to increased trust levels.
The empathic behavior patterns detected by mirror neurons make people adapt speedily to communities having increased levels of trust. Migrants from backward countries quickly and instinctively adopt the higher trust levels mandated by their new friends and neighbors. As totalitarian governments become more democratic, trust levels increase. Trustworthy institutions encourage greater autonomy for its members. High trust societies have stronger economic activities.
What Is Trust? – Building Customer Trust
Uncertainty and fear accompany the decisions of customers. With many competitors in the market place, only a few really care for the customer. Their total commitment to quality will inspire client trust. For those who meet this pivotal requirement, building greater trust is a process of building positive emotions through innumerable clues, which subdue the normal fears of customers.
Familiarity is often a basis of trust, since most customers do not know the marketplace. Presences in many locations, or advertisements in the media grant a sense of familiarity. Beautiful and well designed interiors make people feel good and offer them a greater sense of security. Courtesy and friendliness by the employees build positive emotions.
Transparency in revealing issues and problems voluntarily inspires trust. But, reservations are always needed. The boundaries between transparency and privacy are instinctive individual choices. Failures are inevitable in any enterprise, but can be stepping stones to success. Mistakes offer huge opportunities to create trust. Over the years, a genuine concern about the problems of customers and extraordinary efforts to set them right can win enduring customer trust.
What Is Trust? – Building Trust For Individuals
People are not required to be trusted in all areas, but in the performance of specific tasks. An understanding of the word “trust” implies reasonable expectations. The need to be trusted does not expect a suicide to get the job done! But, trustworthiness cannot be faked in the long run. Personal integrity, an ability to consistently deliver on promises and transparency in interactions are mandatory.
Since customers fear to make decisions, fears can only be inhibited slowly, as a transaction proceeds. Keep in touch with customers. Cherish every meeting. Actions speak louder than words. Acting with a (nonverbal) commitment to commonly shared social and ethical mores inspires trust. Always respect confidences. Badmouthing your employer, or your competitor reduces trust levels. Your dependability is in question, if you dress sloppily, or are late for appointments.
What Is Trust? – A Sense Of Gratitude
Trust is greatly needed, when a venture faces problems. At such times, positive and helpful feelings are a vital need. Gratitude, accumulated over the years, can be of help. Gratitude evolved as a social instinct. Evolution developed specific patterns of social rewards and punishments for the survival of herds. An action, which benefits the recipient but is costly to the performer, fills the recipient with goodwill, motivating a strong desire to return the favor.
Harmful actions invite retribution, discouraging unsocial behavior. Invariably there is a time lag between giving and receiving. The related emotions persist within the neural network for a reasonable period and subside only when favors, or punishments of equal value are delivered to the giver. Delivering goods and services, which go beyond the call of duty, leaves behind a sense of gratitude by the customer, or employee. Positive emotions enhance trust levels in troubled times.
What Is Trust? – A Sense Of Fairness
People are sometimes forced to take sides in a conflict. In such situations, a consistent commitment to actions which are fair bring trust. Trust is, after all, an emotion, which keeps accounts over long periods. Respected lawyers, who insist on fairness in documentation for both sides, are even trusted by opponents during conflicts. Trust enables negotiations, when emotions are strong.
What Is Trust? – Courtesy
Mirror neurons subconsciously mimic the behavior of others and return goodwill for goodwill. Loyalty, even when a person is absent, begets loyalty. Sensing goodwill places subtle pressures on people to be more trustworthy. A person senses the pain of their disappointment, if trust is betrayed. Within teams, goodwill expressed in numerous courteous acts strengthens mutual trust. Even among strangers, warm requests can return more trustworthy responses.
What Is Trust? – Trust, But Verify
Trust can be misplaced. Some people are too trusting by nature. Greed motivates some others to misplace their trust. Greed has the effect of suspending common sense. If a proposal offers unusual benefits, the tendency to trust gets exaggerated and they become blind to the risks. They tend to trust impractical projects. Most financial scams have depended on the gullibility of greedy people. Trust also overcomes common sense, when the trusted person holds a position of authority. Several fatal airline accidents have reportedly occurred, because a co-pilot or navigator assumed, during the last few critical seconds, that “the Captain knows what he is doing.”
Things can go wrong, whenever you hand over responsibility. Products can fail. Mistakes can occur. People may not deliver on promises. They may not even be able to reveal their weaknesses. Sheer necessity, or tact may hide truths. Even vast enterprises may fail. Everywhere, trustworthy behavior implies the delivery of specific goods, or services. If there is no verification of the actual delivery for crucial services, the incentive for trustworthy behavior reduces. Trust, in such cases, becomes foolhardy. Trust should not overcome common sense. Do trust, but do verify too!
What Is Trust? – Teaching Trustworthiness
The recognition of innumerable patterns, including company mission statements and social mores compel people to meet expectations. Children often learn by example. Consistent trustworthy behavior by parents makes children subconsciously aware of what is “the right thing to do.” Examples of actual behavior are incomparably better than verbal exhortations. People can sense the distrust of others. They also know when they have been trusted to behave. In most such cases, their nervous system obliges them to deliver on such expectations.
What Is Trust? – Building Team Trust
Trust is built within a team by committing it to a commonly identified goal. This commitment is subconsciously conveyed by the individual priorities of team leaders. For them, team objectives are more important than demonstrations of personal loyalty. They see individual failures to be failures of their own leadership. They seek to rectify the failure, not to find fault in public.
Devoid of the fear of having to curry favor, team members wish to prevent their leader from failing. They subconsciously cooperate to rectify individual failures. This process enables them to come to truly comprehend the common goal. Trust grows, since they truly believe that everyone succeeds, when their true goal is met. Clear enunciation of the common goal through personal actions enables a leader to reduces suspicions and build trust within a team.
What Is Trust? – Building A Trusted Team
A trusted team over delivers and builds customer confidence. Such teams do not appear overnight. Reputations are built over time by assembling a knowledge base of skills, with clear demarcation of responsibilities between members. The team learns continuously as it innovates and makes mistakes. Its high reputation creates expectations on new entrants to learn quickly to deliver excellence. New team members subconsciously feel that nothing less is acceptable.
Leaders convert a competent team into an outstanding one. They subconsciously convey their own commitment to excellence through constant monitoring and dedicated efforts to improve skills. Such leaders encourage innovation, tolerate failures and strictly monitor performance. Injuries to team reputation cause pain to all members and demand to be swiftly redressed. High expectations from customers add further motivation. “We expect more from you!” is the self reinforcing message, which sustains a trusted team.
What Is Trust? – Violation Of Trust
While building trust is a slow and painful process, destroying it can be “quick and dirty!” Intentional deception, purposefully reneging on a promise or obligation, and rude, disrespectful treatment in such cases quickly achieves it. The victim can feel anger and disappointment towards the offender for exploiting trust and at oneself for trusting.
Violations of integrity and benevolence have greater emotional impact than violations caused by sheer inability. The level of emotional involvement decides the level of damage. Subtle anger can build up with minor offenses, till "the straw that broke the camel's back" causes the avoidance of further transactions with the offender along with the withholding of cooperation.
People, who lack empathy are more likely to violate trust, without being even conscious of a need to apologize. When the relationship cannot be terminated, it will continue merely as superficial cooperation. In organizations, trust violation affects the performance, preventing mutual support and sharing of information. Severe trust violation leads to escalating conflict and vengeful actions.
What Is Trust? – Conflict Resolution
Trust is the pivotal factor in the resolution of human conflicts. It is normal for people to support different methods of achieving commonly held objectives. The need to allocate resources limits the decision to one solution. Those who champion an alternate method become angry at the possibility of having to abandon it. Anger makes them believe the offending solution to be self serving and vindictive. Ulterior motives are suspected for all the arguments, which support it. Communication breaks down.
An effective interaction demands trust. Trust needs goodwill and can only appear, when anger is subdued. It is the task of the mediator to reduce anger by initiating pleasant social interactions. Against a background of positive emotions, the mediator can seek to convince each party of the good intentions of the other. Once they trust each other, they can agree on a method, which will usually involve some element of sacrifice on both sides. When trust, goodwill and common sense replace anger, an amicable solution becomes possible.
What Is Trust? – Rebuilding Trust
Trust may have been betrayed by an unintentional act, by causes beyond one's control, or through faulty products or services. Violations of trust build anger and resentment leading to a vengeful victim. An apology is only a belated expression of courtesy. But, delays in acknowledging the offense will steadily worsen the damage.
Generally, a victim may be unwilling to deal again with the offender. But, if damaged relationships can be repaired, alternate emotions, such as sympathy, or gratitude can overcome the lowered trust. The victim could feel sympathy for the discomfiture of a sincerely repentant offender, who apologizes. The victim could even feel gratitude if the compensation far exceeds the loss. These emotions can restore trust.
Communication is vital. Apologies should be made quickly. The background and reasons for the incident should be explained. The victim could be made to understand common and shared intentions - to know that customer satisfaction is the core need of the business. But, the sincerity of an apology can only be proved through concrete actions.
Reimbursing losses clearly indicates fairness and good intentions. Going beyond the call of duty in making restitution can trigger gratitude in the victim and help to quickly rebuild trust. Many companies build their trusted reputations through dedicated and generous follow up actions after the occurrence of shortcomings.
This page was last updated on 02-Jan-2014
For my peace of mind, I earmarked 20 minutes for meditation on the terrace. With my eyes closed, I sense my hands on the chair and feel the numbness in my feet.
I feel my breath flowing through my nose, my throat, my chest and my stomach. I can hear the chirping of birds, the phut phut of auto rickshaws, the occasional roar of a truck and the insistent hooting of horns.
The wide sky and the treetops come to my attention, when I open my eyes, I see a pale moon over two hundred thousand miles away. I see the nuclear fires, blazing for millions of years in the pale globe of the setting sun. I see a single star millions of miles away in space.
I can see green shoots coming up on a tree, watch the dives and swoops of birds, the great circles of the hawks and flocks of birds flying home for the night.
Diffused light from the sun reflects off a parrot on the tree and enters my eye through a pinhole opening. I sense the bustling mood of the bird, even though it is smaller than a drop of water in my eyes.
All these things are seen and felt by me in a few brief minutes. In the distance, is the head of a man seeming to be no bigger than a pea. Yet, that head too sees and feels such things. Ten million people in this great city see and feel in ten million ways.
My mind wanders to a misty view of postwar London; an exciting glimpse of Disneyland. An awed view of Tiananmen Square. The looming Himalayan ranges. My mind takes me to distant galaxies.
It carries me into the heart of millions of invisible neurons, where electrical charges flash thousands of times a second powering my contemplation. I see the campaigns of Julius Caesar and Alexander. I feel the longings of Jehangir.
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While my thoughts wandered far and near, the thought "20 minutes is a long time" also kept floating in. And yet, life has already blessed me with over twenty million waking minutes! I have an infinity of time on my hands. Have I a right to expect more from life?
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