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Trust and Fear


Explanations > Trust > Trust and Fear

Fear of others | The price of fear | Increasing trust | So what


Trust and fear are often related. Where there is fear, there will be less trust. If you want to create trust, then reducing fear is an important activity.

Fear of others

Trust and fear are linked in the way we fear other people. If we do not fear a person then we will likely trust them far more.

Experience and uncertainty

If you beat me regularly, then my experience tells me that I should fear you. If a child is beaten they may develop a belief that adults and others are dangerous, are to be feared and so are not to be trusted.

This need only happen a few times, and maybe only once. If I cannot predict that you will never harm me, then I will not be able to fully trust you and will always be uncomfortable around you.

Power imbalance

Power often includes the ability to harm another without fear of reprisals. When one person has more power than another, then they will likely trust them more. However this is not necessarily the same in the reverse direction.

When a person is in a position of low power, they may well fear what the powerful person or people around them my do, and so they trust them less. This can be problematic in work situations and other authoritarian contexts where they have to obey commands. When a person complies to an order it does not mean they trust and do not fear the person giving the order.

The price of fear

Fear is a very expensive commodity. It is often used to gain short-term compliance but the price of fear is a loss of trust and at least an increase in transaction cost and maybe seeking of some other form of justice.

In fear-based organisations (and there are still many where managers regularly use fear-inducing threats) then productivity will be limited and subtle sabotage will create an undercurrent of organisational harm.

If you seek to increase trust then you must also seek to decrease fear. This is not always easy but can be done.

Increasing trust

To increase trust by decreasing fear, there are number of activities that can be used.

Balancing power

When power is imbalanced, then this can be rebalanced in a number of ways. One way is to gain representation, which is one thing that trade unions seek to do. You can also use formal or informal mentoring from those who are more sympathetic towards you and who can converse as equals with a person in power who may be causing fear and distrust.

'Empowerment' is a method that many firms seek to use (although implementations of this are not always very effective). The principle is to give more decisional power to people lower down the company tree, reducing the need to ask permission or gain approval for the use of resources.

Appreciating humanity

A simple method is to show a basic respect for the other person. An easy way to do this is to get to know them as a person. Learn about their family life, their interests and fears.

This may be done through formal meetings, which is a method that a mediator might use. It can also be done through chatting at the coffee machine and other informal settings. Saying hello and smiling in the corridor helps. Sitting nearby also has a big effect if interactions are friendly.

Demonstrating care

In a similar way to appreciation of the humanity of the other person, showing that you care about them has a strong effect. Passive care implements a 'do no harm' ethic that should be effective at decreasing fear. On a stronger note, active care positively encourages trust.

So what?

See also

Fear, Power, Building Rapport


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