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The Benefits of Trusting

 

Explanations > Trust > The Benefits of Trusting

Cost of distrust | Benefits of trust | In practice | So what

 

If people with whom you are interacting might be untrustworthy, then there can be high risks to you in trusting them. So why should you stick your neck out and trust others?

Cost of distrust

Not trusting people has benefits in that you reduce the risks of being deceived. But there are risks of not trusting also. For example if you do not trust a person then they may well not trust you.

People often end up acting in the way you treat them. Consistently treating a person as being untrustworthy may lead to them acting in this way. At the very least they will feel unhappy about this unfair treatment and be less inclined to associate with you.

When you do not do something, the 'opportunity cost' is the cost in terms of what is lost. In not trusting, the opportunity cost is that you will not get the things you might have gained if you had trusted others.

Not trusting others is an isolating action. If you do not get close to others you will not have friends to call on when you are troubled.

Distrusting also adds the cost of stress in terms of the personal worry and anxiety about what the other people may do. 

Benefits of trust

There are many benefits to be gained by trusting people.

Bonding

Bonding is the connection of identity between two or more people where, in some sense, each person connects their 'self' to that of the other person or group. People who are bonded care about one another and naturally trust one another.

Bonding also gains the benefit of feeling good. It is nice to be have friends and feel you can trust and rely on other people. It is also nice to be trusted and that others accept you as you are and do not question or challenge everything you say.

Changing minds

Whether you are closely bonded with another person or simply have gained a certain amount of trust, you will find it far easier to influence them and to change their mind.

Trust is effectively the 'gateway' to persuasion. If you do not have the trust of the other person, then they will not really listen to you or consider your persuasive arguments.

Society

Society at large also benefits from trust, which is sometimes called 'social capital'. In a healthy financial economy there is plenty of cash circulating. In the same way, in a healthy society there is plenty of trust and people feel safe and comfortable, even in the company of strangers.

In practice

In practice, you have to trust some people and there are things you can do to work with others.

Believe in benevolence

If you believe that people are all selfish then you will treat them as if they were so, which may make them act in untrustworthy and malevolent ways.

If, on the other hand, you believe people are basically good and benevolent, then you will treat them this trusting way and they will be more likely to be trustworthy in practice. 

Tit for tat

In an early computer artificial intelligence game about trust, it was found (in a program called 'tit for tat') that starting with trust, but then echoing the other side was an easy and effective strategy. Basically what you do is to start out trusting and trustworthy, but then if they break that trust you act as if they were untrustworthy until they do something to demonstrate trust, then you start from the beginning again with trust.

Trust, but verify

In the words of Ronald Reagan about cold-war nuclear negotiations, whilst it is good to trust, it helps a lot if you can get evidence that the other side is indeed acting in a trustworthy manner. If they are indeed doing so, then they should be quite open about allowing inspection, which again increases trust.

Agreement about how this works is good for trust. By negotiating an easy verification, you can gain the benefits of trust with little of the cost of distrust.  

Lie detection and trusters

You might think that people who are highly trusting would be very poor at detecting lies, yet strangely they are often better than average. Carter and Weber (2010) found that high trusters tend to be better at detecting lies.

This may be because people who trust expose themselves to exploitation, and so need to develop better 'radar' for detecting lies. Trusters also tend to be more open and empathetic and so more easily understand what others are feeling, including liars.

So what?

Whilst there is a cost of a trust being betrayed and it may be easy to become disillusioned, the cost of not trusting can be much more.

So work towards being trustworthy and helping others to trust more. Whilst you should not trust blindly, you should also avoid the paranoia of blind distrust. As the research shows, you can both trust and detect deception.

When you seek to persuade, develop trust first. Show that you are reliable, honest and have high integrity. When others know you are trustworthy, they will more easily listen to you and seriously consider your suggestions.

See also

The Spectrum of Trust, Bonding Principle

 

Carter, N.L. and Weber, J.M. (2010). Not Pollyannas: Higher Generalized Trust Predicts Lie Detection Ability, Social Psychological and Personality Science, 1, 3, 274-279

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