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What is trust?

posted 12 Mar 2014, 22:09 by Suzi Wallis   [ updated 12 Mar 2014, 23:16 ]
Trust is a decision you make. Some of us are led to believe that it's magic - when you meet the right person, are in the right job, live in the right home, all will fall into place, and you won't have insecurities any more. For people who believe this, trust can be elusive.

Trust is a decision that you make internally. When you decide to trust, "evidence" presents itself to prove that your decision has merit. The converse is true - if you decide not to trust someone/something, you will see reasons for that decision too. If you've ever heard the saying "what you focus on gets bigger", trust is a great example of that. 

For some people, mistrust comes about because of their own inability to control their impulsiveness. Maybe they have some compulsive behaviours that they are ashamed of, or intrusive thoughts that they know others would disapprove of. Perhaps they think of cheating in their job or relationship, and suddenly they see "suspicious" behaviours in others. This is projection - and it applies to many emotions. What we don't own in ourselves we see reflected in others. It's our way of being given the opportunity to fight our demons, and grow in the process.

Wikipedia has a social sciences definition of trust:
  • In a social context, trust has several connotations. Definitions of trust typically refer to a situation characterised by the following aspects: One party (trustor) is willing to rely on the actions of another party (trustee); the situation is directed to the future. In addition, the trustor (voluntarily or forcedly) abandons control over the actions performed by the trustee. As a consequence, the trustor is uncertain about the outcome of the other's actions; they can only develop and evaluate expectations. The uncertainty involves the risk of failure or harm to the trustor if the trustee will not behave as desired.
  • Trust can be attributed to relationships between people. It can be demonstrated that humans have a natural disposition to trust and to judge trustworthiness that can be traced to the neurobiological structure and activity of a human brain. Some studies indicate that trust can be altered e.g. by the application of oxytocin.
  • Conceptually, trust is also attributable to relationships within and between social groups (families, friends, communities, organisations, companies, nations etc.). It is a popular approach to frame the dynamics of inter-group and intra-group interactions in terms of trust.
  • When it comes to the relationship between people and technology, the attribution of trust is a matter of dispute. The intentional stance demonstrates that trust can be validly attributed to human relationships with complex technologies. However, rational reflection leads to the rejection of an ability to trust technological artefacts.[7]
  • One of the key current challenges in the social sciences is to re-think how the rapid progress of technology has impacted constructs such as trust. This is specifically true for information technology that dramatically alters causation in social systems.
  • In the social sciences, the subtleties of trust are a subject of ongoing research. In sociology and psychology the degree to which one party trusts another is a measure of belief in the honesty, fairness, or benevolence of another party. The term "confidence" is more appropriate for a belief in the competence of the other party. Based on the most recent research, a failure in trust may be forgiven more easily if it is interpreted as a failure of competence rather than a lack of benevolence or honesty. In economics, trust is often conceptualized as reliability in transactions. In all cases trust is a heuristic decision rule, allowing the human to deal with complexities that would require unrealistic effort in rational reasoning.
Trust is in part, a leap of faith. Those who live life not trusting until it's "proven" lead a draining life indeed. To do this, you must be hypervigilant - looking out for danger constantly. Apart from being tiring, it's hard work! People who trust as a default behaviour lead happier, more productive lives.

If someone has betrayed your trust in the past, take the knowledge that you have gained and put it through the logical part of your brain (or someone else's if you need an objective view). You can then decide if forgiveness is an option, or if it is an indication of a character that you no longer wish to interact with. You can then vote with your feet.

One exercise I have given couples who have difficulty trusting each other is to "try it on for size." It's a self reinforcing thing - once you behave "as if" you trust the other person, evidence presents itself, your confidence grows, and you trust the other person more.

I hope you have enjoyed the concepts above, and at the very least, it gives you food for thought.

Suzi Wallis | Mar 2014