Thursday, September 18, 2014

Trust, but Verify

Ronald Reagan said: Trust, but verify. It’s as good a rule as another. Not only in politics, but in life itself.

Who should you trust? Who can you trust? If you can’t trust someone you should not be having any kind of relationship with him… business or pleasure.

Northeastern professor David DeSteno says that our default position is to trust other people. We assume that people are trustworthy unless proven otherwise. In that he is surely correct.

It might be safer to be more skeptical, but, in truth, this produces standoffishness. People who refuse to trust make it impossible to transact business. And this produces more disconnection than connection.

If you refuse to trust people you seriously limit your risk of being betrayed. But you also limit your relationships and your social connections.

But, there’s trust and there’s trust.

We are more likely to trust someone from the neighborhood, someone who is a friend of a friend, who has been vetted and who can be vouched for by someone we know well and trust.

We are less likely to trust a stranger, someone who does not know anyone we know, who comes from somewhere else and who cannot be vouched for.

It is as wrong to distrust someone who is a friend of a friend as it is to offer unconditional trust to someone who comes from afar and does not know anyone you know.

All things being equal, it is better to offer trust, even to someone you do not know. But, in that case, you need to be parsimonious. You will not trust someone you do not know to manage your retirement accounts. 

If you want to know whether someone is trustworthy you need to begin small. That is, you will begin by observing whether he is loyal and reliable and responsible in small matters.

Someone who cannot be trusted with small matters can surely not be trusted with anything important.

Even when your new acquaintance has been thoroughly vetted, trust must still be earned. It is developed through a series of transactions that extend over time. You might feel that you can trust someone from the neighborhood, someone whose parents are friends with your own parents, but it is always a good idea to see how trust expresses itself over time.

Trusting someone means believing that he will keep his word, honor his commitments and reciprocate. An acquaintance who fails to keep his word and who fails to honor his commitments is not to be trusted.

Let’s say that a friend or even an acquaintance asks you for a favor. Assuming that the favor involves licit activities, you will be inclined to do it. Obviously, the favor you do for a friend might require more effort than the one you do for an acquaintance.

When you do so, the friend or acquaintance is obligated to reciprocate. The obligation is iron-clad. When you ask for a favor you are giving your word that you will return the favor, regardless of impediments. If you have seen the first Godfather movie, you know how this works.

When you ask someone to do you a favor and he does not do it, he is saying that he does not trust you to return it. He is saying that he doubts your good character and is also telling you to doubt his.

Assuming that the favor is neither illegal nor extravagant, someone who refuses to do you a favor is not a friend.

Someone who fails to return a favor is also not a friend. He should no longer even be an acquaintance.  Regardless of the excuse, he is derelict in his duty and is demonstrating weak character. He has betrayed your trust.

1 comment:

Ares Olympus said...

Maybe better than "Trust, but verify" is "Trust, but remember"

I agree keeping one's word is important to developing trust, but since we're all human, and we all imagine the future that may not go as planned, with many demands and shifting priorities, so there's a constant need for adaptation, or at least on anything that can't be completed at this very moment.

Also thinking about a George Bernard Shaw quote I read recently "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place."

So that suggests part of "verify" means to "clarify" what an agreement was, and that also looks "standoffishness", but the more important something is, the more clarity is needed. But if it seems impolite to ask for detailed clarification, then you also have to accept responsibility when things don't happen as you expect.

I learned this more when I was president of my toastmaster club, and some people would be very resistant to agree to doing anything, but once they agreed, they were generally dependable, while others might agree too easily, but "forget" what they agreed to do.

So a leader could justifiably blame the undependable "agree and forget" people, or a leader can just remember which people were more dependable, and which needed a little more reminding. So like you say, you can ask for little tasks first that can fail without great consequences, and see how people respond, and work from there.

The worst problem is people who refuse to admit they agreed on anything, and you can't tell if it is honest miscommunication or denial, but again, it just means you need to remember to clarify agreements more carefully, even on paper if needed.

In regards to "obligated to reciprocate", I've got mixed feelings, but this is also a part of the unspoken social agreement.

My personal assumption would be any reciprocation must be offered or claimed in a relatively short period. So if I help you move, you might offer buy pizza and beer, but if I'm too busy to stay for the pizza, I shouldn't expect any other payback. OTOH, I'll know I should offer pizza if I need help to move, and same thing whether all of my helpers can stay.

At this point in my life, if I need help on special skills, I might ask a friend , but I'll offer money compensation after the fact, and usually don't discuss payment. But I know, if my compensation is too cheap, my friends might say no next time, so its nice when you can be generous, and be grateful for help and to help without expecting anything too.