“Building trust is one of the key skills in the Future of Work.” That’s what I hear futurologists and experts claim these days.

I believe indeed, that in the future of life, being a broker of trust will be a crucial skill.

More decentralisation, asynchronicity, ecosystem thinking, enhanced intelligence, and diversity are trends that have an impact on trust. Building trust is essential if you want to thrive in such a context.

“You can ignore the principles that govern trust, but they will not ignore you.”

“Trust makes existing relationships more productive and efficient, opens the door to new relationships and opportunities, builds loyalty and respect, and fosters innovation and collaboration. In short, more than any other asset, trust is the key to success.

The business case for trust

Steven Covey, author of Speed of Trust, says this about the effect of trust on results(I would have used power of, but that’s geeky semantics): 

Results = Trust (Strategy x Execution).

“Teams and organizations that operate with high trust significantly outperform teams and organizations with low trust—this has been proven in dozens of studies, across a multitude of industries and sectors.”

HIGH TRUST is a dividend while low trust is a tax. High trust is a great “accelerator,” increasing speed and decreasing costs in every dimension. The impact of trust is dramatic and pervasive. It’s something you can’t escape. “


“Firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something.”

“To believe that someone is good and honest and will not harm you, or that something is safe and reliable” (Cambridge Dictionary)

Similar words: confidence, faith, belief.

So the trust I’m talking about is relational. It’s about connection and perception, with yourself and with other people. So it’s not because you believe you are trustworthy(which is a good start), that people will perceive you like that.

Say what you do, and do what you say” is a good start, but it’s not enough. So I dove into the topic more.


I’m not an expert in psychology like many of my connections, but Charles Green created a famous equation that seems useful: Trust = (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy) / Self-orientation

  • Credibility has to do with the words we speak. In a sentence, we might say, “I can trust what she says about intellectual property; she’s very credible on the subject.”
  • Reliability has to do with actions. We might say, “If he says he’ll deliver the product tomorrow, I trust him, because he’s dependable.”
  • Intimacy refers to the safety or security we feel when entrusting someone with something. We might say, “I can trust her with that information; she’s never violated my confidentiality before, and she would never embarrass me.”
  • Self-orientation refers to the person’s focus. In particular, whether the person’s focus is primarily on him or herself or the other person. We might say, “I can’t trust him on this deal — I don’t think he cares enough about me; he’s focused on what he gets out of it.” Or, more commonly, “I don’t trust him — I think he’s too concerned about how he’s appearing, so he’s not really paying attention.”

The math behind it

When I see a formula, I can’t help myself but wondering if it’s actually intended as a formula or more as some kind of representation. I’m pretty sure that in this case, it’s more a representation, but that’s ok. Here’s what Mr Green himself had to say about it:

“The Trust Equation has one variable in the denominator and three in the numerator.

Increasing the value of the factors in the numerator increases the value of trust. Increasing the value of the denominator — self-orientation — decreases the value of trust.

Self-orientation, which sits alone in the denominator, is the most important variable in the Trust Equation. We developed the formula this way on purpose. A seller with low self-orientation is free to completely and honestly focus on the customer — not for his own sake, but for the sake of the customer. Such a focus is rare among salespeople (or people in general for that matter).

The truth in selling is that you succeed more at sales when you stop trying to sell. When all you focus on is helping prospects, they trust you more and buy from you more as well.”

Teams and companies

“The Trust Equation covers the most common meanings of trust that you encounter in everyday business interactions. What’s important to remember is that the meanings are almost entirely personal, not institutional. People rarely give over their trust to institutions; really they trust other people. While companies are often described as credible and reliable (the first two components of The Trust Equation), it’s really the people within the companies that make those companies what they are. And intimacy and self-orientation are almost entirely about people. Trust in business and selling requires good “scores” on all four variables in the Trust Equation. You want high credibility, reliability and intimacy, and low self-orientation. Living the four Trust Values is the best way to increase your trustworthiness. When others around you go the extra mile when there is nothing to gain, then the trust builds and the performance goes through the roof. There’s a reason the TEAM is spelled like this – it’s because together everyone achieves more.”

In an interesting HBR paper, Paul J Zak talks about the effects of trust on employee engagement.

Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report: 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, 40% less burnout.”

How to manage for trust

The HBR article identified eight management behaviors that foster trust:

  • Recognize excellence.
  • Induce “challenge stress.”
  • Give people discretion in how they do their work.
  • Enable job crafting.
  • Share information broadly.
  • Intentionally build relationships.
  • Facilitate whole-person growth.
  • Show vulnerability.

Former Herman Miller CEO Max De Pree once said, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant.”

Ultimately, you cultivate trust by setting a clear direction, giving people what they need to see it through, and getting out of their way.

It’s not about being easy on your employees or expecting less from them. High-trust companies hold people accountable but without micromanaging them. They treat people like responsible adults.”

Is it biological, and what’s the impact of stress?

Here’s a cool study about the effect of oxytocin on trust in Nature. “Since the brain generates messaging chemicals all the time, it was possible we had simply observed random changes in oxytocin. To prove that it causes trust, we safely administered doses of synthetic oxytocin into living human brains (through a nasal spray). Comparing participants who received a real dose with those who received a placebo, we found that giving people 24 IU of synthetic oxytocin more than doubled the amount of money they sent to a stranger. Using a variety of psychological tests, we showed that those receiving oxytocin remained cognitively intact. We also found that they did not take excessive risks in a gambling task, so the increase in trust was not due to neural disinhibition. Oxytocin appeared to do just one thing—reduce the fear of trusting a stranger.”

“High stress is a potent oxytocin inhibitor. (Most people intuitively know this: When they are stressed out, they do not interact with others effectively.) We also discovered that oxytocin increases a person’s empathy, a useful trait for social creatures trying to work together.”

Trust thyself

“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American Transcendentalist poet and essayist during the 19th century who wrote his essay titled “Self-Reliance.” The transcendentalists operated with the sense that a new era was at hand. They criticised their contemporary society for its unthinking conformity and urged that each person find, in Emerson’s words, “an original relation to the universe”.

Or, as Dr Spock said it

trust thyself

Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance” aimed to encourage his readers to think freely. He argued that societal standards have a conflicting effect on an individual’s personal growth and individuality and states that self-sufficiency allows the individual to determine their own opinions and ideas instead of allowing outside influences to direct their thoughts and actions. Emerson was ahead of his time in thinking more rationally than most during this period, which is why he founded transcendentalism. His essay conveys an inspirational yet informative approach to individuality through many rhetorical strategies that help Emerson connect to his audience.

Emerson empowers the reader to create themselves through trust without letting the fear of disapproval morph the way they think or act. If each person trusts themselves enough to find self-acceptance and stability, they are competent enough to overcome the internal doubts they hold themselves accountable for.

An example

Recently there was an important pre-election poll in Belgium showing that trust in government is at an all-time low.

Politicians and their technocrats are wondering why. Let’s start with the equation above. Trust is low because (low+low+low)/high is infinitesimally low.

Increasing trust

Trust is constantly evolving. When it’s broken, it’s wise to start by saying sorry. Here are some excellent articles that can help you increase trust by working on the four drivers of the equation:

  1. CredibilityWork on building expertise, being transparent, being professional, and communicating clearly.
  2. Reliabilitymanage commitments, start and finish, respect time(yours and others),
  3. Intimacycreate psychological safety by sharing your values, thoughts, feelings, and doubts.
  4. Self-orientationstart with self-awareness

Now imagine you are an AI, and you need to increase trust. Hope that makes you think.

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