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The Trustee's Choice

Explanations > Trust > The Trustee's Choice

Alignment | Personality | Consequence | Obligation | Relationship | So what


When a person is asked to do something, they are the 'trustee' (as opposed to the 'truster' who must trust them). They have a choice whether to be trustworthy or not. Here are options open to them.


We are all driven by a set of motivators, including natural needs and chosen goals, that we seek to satisfy and achieve. If the trusted action aligns with these motivators, then the trustee will be strongly motivated to act in a way that sustains trust.

However, if the trusted action conflicts with existing motivators, then the person may face a choice whether to perform the trusted action or to act on their existing motivations. It is a particularly difficult decision if being trustworthy harms them in some way as this can be choice between losing trust and failing to achieve elsewhere.

A further alignment factor is between the ability required to do the job and the actual ability the person has. If they are less able then they should consider this when making promises, though few like to admit inadequacies, which can easily lead to dishonesty.


The basic personality of the trustee will have a significant effect on their action.

Some people are naturally trustworthy and put their integrity above virtually all other motivations. If they commit to doing something they will go a long way to ensure they deliver. Others can be less reliable, less honest or more selfish and may see meeting commitments as optional rather than essential.

Another problem can occur where a person who always seeks to please others may get into trouble when they agree to actions for which they do not have sufficient time, resources or ability.

Personality includes the beliefs and self-definition of the trustee. If the person believes that duty or obligation are worthless constructs, or that they stand alone in the world then they are again less likely to be trustworthy.


Whether or not a person decides to fulfil a commitment may depend on the consequences for themselves or the other person of being trustworthy or untrustworthy.

If they see the consequences of being untrustworthy as minor, then they may be tempted to reduce the priority of the action. If they are self-focused then they may not even consider the consequences for the other person.

The power gap between people can be important. A powerful person may face few consequences if they do not act in a trustworthy way with people of lower power, while an inferior person risks punishment if they fail to deliver.

The extent to which the person thinks about the more distant rather then the short term future will also affect their decision. Someone with a very short term view will be more likely to be untrustworthy, unlike the person who considers the longer term impact of betrayal.


One of the basic social rules is about reciprocity, that we are obliged to pay our debts, giving back to people who have previously given something to us. The force of this rule will be felt by someone deciding whether to break a trust, especially if they feel they owe the other person a great deal.

We also are affected by other duties of social obligation. Common values that affect trustworthiness include care for vulnerable people. Although a person could take advantage of a child, a disabled person or someone who is elderly, the risk of broader social criticism means those who might break a trust with a vulnerable person would likely think twice before doing so.

Prior commitments may also oblige us, such as a marriage vow or a work contract. Sticking to such commitments and other obligations is increased if the person has had a recent reminder of this.


The choice of whether to meet a commitment can be affected by the relationship between the truster and the trustee. If the trustee has a strong personal regard for the other person then they are likely to be more trustworthy.

Sometimes people are, paradoxically, less trustworthy with people they trust as they depend on the other person forgiving them for their indiscretions. This typically happens in families, where support is repeatedly given, no matter what has been done.

So what?

If you are being asked to do something, think: Can I trust the other person? Do they trust me? What dynamic of trust is happening here? Then decide intelligently, using the above points.

See also

How people trust


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