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The Hysteresis of Trust and Betrayal


Explanations > Emotions > Trust > The Hysteresis of Trust and Betrayal

How hysteresis works | The hysteresis of trust and betrayal | So what


Hysteresis is a term used by engineers to determine the different routes taken by systems when they change in two directions. 

How hysteresis works

Take for example, the humble thermostat. If you set the temperature in a room to 70 degrees Farenheit, then a system without hysteresis would turn on the heating system at 69.99 degrees and the cooling system at 70.01 degrees. The system would then would rapidly switch back and forth as the temperature moved by a fraction of a degree, quickly resulting in the switch wearing out!

So instead, a thermostat switches one way at, say 65 degrees and the other way at 75 degrees. Now, although the temperature in the room may float up and down by 10 degrees, the thermostat and the heating / cooling system at least has a chance to survive.

The hysteresis of trust and betrayal

The graph below shows the path taken by which betrayal often happens in the balance between the trustworthiness of myself and the trust you place in me. 


Creating trust

If I start from a position where I am not very trustworthy, then you are right not to trust me.

Japanese products in the 1950s were cheap and of low quality. We thus did not trust them as worthwhile.

I thus need to increase my trustworthiness, which can take some time and effort. The problem is that once you have decided I am untrustworthy, you will not easily change your mind, still keeping me at a low level of trust.

Japanese products through the 1960s were steadily improved. We could have trusted them as being higher quality, but we had already pigeon-holed them as low quality and hence did not trust them.

Trust is given

Eventually, you realize that I am worth trusting. I have been trustworthy for a long time and you have had ample opportunities to test that trust.

In the 1970s, Japanese products were realized as being high quality. In a short period, they sold in ever increasing numbers as people trusted them as being high quality.

Taking advantage

When you have given trust to me, it is easy for me to take advantage of that trust, effectively becoming less trustworthy. Just as you would not trust me before, now you trust me blindly now.

In the 1980s, Western companies fought to catch up. Quality became the number one target and many companies did catch up, becoming trusted by their customers. However, companies became used to the increasing profits from increased sales and pushed their people to save more and more money. 


As I decrease in trustworthiness, you eventually realize what I have been doing. Unsurprisingly, you feel betrayed and hurt by my actions, and you may well decide to act yourself. The betrayal effects can be highly damaging. 

As companies cut back further, the effect will reach their customers. The reengineering revolution has turned sour and many companies are teetering on the brink of the abyss of customer betrayal. Some have passed that point and are languishing in a deep and dark hole.

So what

Beware of taking advantage of a trust that is not constantly verified. You  may gain some advantage for a while, but if you are tipped over the cliff of betrayal, it's a long and hard fight back through the arid desert in which many perish.

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