Becoming a More Positive Influence: Know How to Build Trust

Ryan Gottfredson

by Ryan Gottfredson

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Are you ready for a crazy statistic?

82% of employees don’t trust their boss to tell the truth!

If effective leadership requires being someone others want to follow, what does this statistic state about how well leaders and managers are doing at being effective leaders?

One of the issues at play here is that while most people know what trust is and value trust, very few know the ins and outs of trust.

If we can better understand how we evaluate trustworthiness in others, we can do a better job of managing the trust that others have in us.

But, before I dive into that, let me cover some trust basics.

Trust Basics

First, let’s define trust. Here are three definitions that do a good job of explaining what trust is:

  • Having confidence instead of suspicion

  • A willingness to be vulnerable to another

  • A firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone

Next, how valuable is trust?

Do you happen to remember what it was like to navigate an airport and board a plane prior to September, 2001? If you do, you know it was much easier.

But, because of the September 11th attacks, we understandably have a difficult time trusting others that we fly with. Because of this lack of trust, two things have occurred:

  • The speed to which it takes to board a plane has dramatically decreased, primarily because of all of the security measures

  • The cost it takes to run TSA security is astronomical (My guess we can count the cost of the added security across essentially all airports over the last 17+ years to be in the trillions of dollars)

Stated differently:

  • When trust goes down: speed goes down and costs go up

  • When trust goes up: speed goes up and costs go down

In other words, trust is more than just some “soft skill.” It is an important economic driver. If you have trust, you can move with incredible speed and efficiency.

As a more positive example, Warren Buffett once did a $23 billion deal with a subsidiary of Walmart in two hours on a handshake and it took 29 days to complete. Most deals of this magnitude take a full team working nine months. Speed and efficiency.

Ok, with the foundation set, let’s dive into three principles associated with how people evaluate others’ trustworthiness.

How People Evaluate Others’ Trustworthiness

1. Trust operates like a bank account

Our evaluation of trust in another person operates like a bank account, but our trust accounts have two unique qualities:

  • Deposits are usually much smaller than withdrawals

This means that if we want to enhance our trust account with another person, we need to ensure we are continually making deposits and refraining from taking withdrawals.

  • Once a trust account is overdrawn, it is nearly impossible to reestablish

Something to recognize is that it is really easy to make withdrawals. This is not responding to an email, missing a deadline, or asking an employee to fill in for an absent employee.

Thus, if we want to enhance our trustworthiness, we need to refrain from withdrawals and be continually intentional about making deposits. In some of my research, I have found that we need at least a 4:1 deposit to withdrawal ratio.

2. Managing trust requires managing expectations

  • Trust increases when our behaviors exceed expectations

  • Trust decreases when our behaviors fall below expectations

This means that if you want to build trust (make deposits), you must exceed expectations.

Thus, a basic strategy for managing how much others trust you is by under-promising and over-delivering.

Frequently, people set tight deadlines because they feel like setting a deadline further out makes them look less able or less competent. The result is that they leave them prone to over-promise and under-deliver, resulting in diminishing trust.

3. There are three dimensions of trust

When we are evaluating how much we trust another person, we primarily evaluate three aspects about that person. Their:

  • Ability – An assessment of the other’s knowledge, skill, or competency

  • Benevolence – An assessment of whether the other person has our best interests in mind

  • Integrity – An assessment of whether the other person adheres to principles that are acceptable to you

This means that if you want others to trust you, you need to exceed their expectations with regards to your ability, benevolence, and integrity.

But, there is more…

We evaluate these different aspects very differently. Specifically:

  • We evaluate others’ ability based upon their highest performance

For example, hitting a home run makes you a home run hitter.

Thus, trust in ability is something we can establish really quickly. We just need to demonstrate a high level of ability.

  • We evaluate others’ benevolence based upon their average benevolence over time

For example, if someone is really benevolent toward you during your first interaction (a level 9), but not very benevolent toward you during your second interaction (a level 3), you will evaluate them to be moderately benevolent (a level 6).

Thus, trust in benevolence is something that takes time to establish. And if you want others people to evaluate your benevolence at a high level, you have got to repeatedly demonstrate benevolence at a high level

  • We evaluate others’ integrity based upon their lowest performance

In other words, we tend to assume that people have high integrity, until they prove us otherwise. And the level to which they stoop below our expectation is the level at which we will evaluate their integrity. This means that integrity is generally super quick to lose. And, we tend to think that lying makes you a liar; and once a cheater, always a cheater.

Thus, if we want to be seen as having high integrity, we much not run contrary to the principles that others find acceptable.


Altogether, if we want other people to trust us at a high level, we must:

  • Make consistent deposits and refrain from withdrawals

  • Ensure our behaviors meet or exceed others’ expectations for us across three areas: ability, benevolence, and integrity

  • Seek to demonstrate high levels of ability early in the relationship

  • Continually demonstrate we have others’ best interests in mind

  • Refrain from operating counter to the principles that others find acceptable


Isn’t this awesome! In a short blog post, you have gained much depth and specificity in your understanding of trust; and correspondingly, you now have much clearer direction on how to enhance the trust others have in you.

With this information, I hope you feel empowered to:

  • Become a more positive influence in others’ lives

  • Be part of the 18 percent of leaders that employees can trust to tell the truth

This article is the fourth article in a series of articles all about helping people and leaders become people of positive influence, people that others want to follow.

·         Article 1: Why Do Organizations Miss the Mark when Developing their Leaders?

·         Article 2: Becoming a More Positive Influence: Rewire Your Brain

·         Article 3: Becoming a More Positive Influence: Develop a Self-Purpose


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