Tempered TrustIn the June 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Roderick M. Kramer, a professor of organizational behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, explains a concept that he refers to as "tempered trust." This is an attitude toward trusting people that is prudent, rather than being either unduly credulous or unduly suspicious.
We can never be certain of another's motivations, intentions, character, or future actions. ... That said, there is much that you can do to reduce the doubt in particular, by adjusting your mind-set and behavioral habits.Kramer offers seven rules for tempering trust:
- Know yourself. Ask yourself what your disposition toward trust is.
Someone who tends to trust people too readily must work on improving his/her ability to interpret the cues people send out, bearing in mind that just about "any indicator of trustworthiness can be manipulated or faked."
On the other hand, a person who is good at reading cues, but still hesitates to form trusting relationships, needs to develop more receptive behaviors.
- Start small. Take incremental steps, with further steps contingent on reciprocity. This way, you control the risk that the other party will exploit your good will. On an encouraging note, Kramer advises that "Salting your world with lots of small trusting acts sends a signal to others who are themselves interested in building good relationships ..." This leads to more positive interactions.
- Write an escape clause. Kramer argues, "With a clearly articulated plan for disengagement, people can trust more fully and with more commitment."
- Send strong signals. Kramer emphasizes the importance of sending clear and consistent signals of your interest in dealing with people who will trust you and be trustworthy themselves. He says, "Most of us tend to underinvest in communicating our trustworthiness to others ..."
The signals need to be unambiguous so that you attract other tempered trusters, while deterring predators, who need to recognize that you are not someone to be trifled with. The idea is to develop a reputation for fair dealing with those who reciprocate, and for retaliating strongly, but proportionately, against those who violate your trust.
- Recognize the other person's dilemma. Kramer points out that "the people we're dealing with confront their own trust dilemmas and need reassurance about whether (or how much) they should trust us. Good relationship builders are proactive at decreasing the anxiety and allaying the concerns of others."
- Look at roles as well as people. Kramer explains, "A person's role or position can provide a guarantee of his expertise and motivation" even when we have not had the opportunity for personal contact with the individual. "Role-based trust is trust in the system that selects and trains the individual."
- Remain vigilant and always question. Kramer's admonition is to keep one's due diligence concerning others' bona fides up-to-date. Admittedly, this can feel awkward because it involves regularly checking up on people with whom you have an established relationship of trust.