—Relying on Another


Trust requires both intent and ability.

Whenever we meet someone for the first time, we instinctively begin to evaluate the level of trust we can wisely attribute to our relationship with the other person. We use several clues to guide us in extending or withholding trust. We hear what they say, but can we rely on their promises? We are constantly reevaluating the question “Can I trust you?”

Trust can provide many interpersonal advantages including:

  • Relying on another.
  • Confident expectation of future events.
  • The expectation of fair exchange.
  • Authentic connection, and
  • Communicating understanding.

Trust is congruence between what is said and what is done. Trust is valuable, and it is wise to earn the trust of others by being trustworthy. Similarly, it is wise to accurately assess the trust we can safely place in others we interact with. It is helpful to strike an accurate balance between trusting others and being wary of them.



The objectives of this course are to help you:

  • Assess and describe various levels of trust,
  • Understand the nature of trust,
  • Adopt trustworthy behaviors,
  • Evaluate the costs and benefits of trusting others,
  • Use good judgement in extending or withholding trust to others,
  Completion status: this resource is considered to be complete.
  Attribution: User lbeaumont created this resource and is actively using it. Please coordinate future development with this user if possible.

The course contains many hyperlinks to further information. Use your judgment and these link following guidelines to decide when to follow a link, and when to skip over it.

This course is part of the Applied Wisdom curriculum. This material has been adapted from the EmotionalCompetency.com page on trust, with permission of the author.

If you wish to contact the instructor, please click here to send me an email or leave a comment or question on the discussion page.

Various trust-related terms differ in the reliability they describe and the strength of the evidence supporting each evaluation. Each current trust assessment varies as more evidence accumulates about the relationship.

Several terms are related to trust in various ways. It is helpful to review the definitions of related terms and understand the distinctions and relationships. Each of the terms defined below are plotted on the reliability / evidence grid at the right.

  • Trust implies depth and assurance of feeling often based on inconclusive evidence.
  • Confidence frequently implies stronger grounds for assurance than does trust.
  • Faith is confidence or trust in a particular ideology, often a religious doctrine.
  • Blind-faith describes an unfounded trust that can leave us vulnerable to exploitation.
  • Rely implies complete confidence. We act on trust when we rely on others.
  • Dependence suggests reliance on another having the greater power.
  • Gullibility refers to a blind trust—an unfounded or misplaced trust.
  • Betrayal and cheating describe a broken trust. This is shown as a red arrow on the diagram at the right to illustrate the rapid shift toward distrust based on new evidence.
  • Distrust is a lack of trust. Distrust may be based on any evidence or no evidence at all.
  • Suspicion is a lack of trust.
  • Manipulation describes behavior that takes place before establishing trust.
  • Reputation is the history of trust behaviors accessible from past transactions. We use reputation information to help set expectations for future transactions; it eases exchange of valuables and reduces risk.


  1. Recall a time when you were betrayed.
  2. What word best describes your level of trust before the betrayal?
  3. What word best describes your level of trust after the betrayal?
  4. What evidence supported your initial level of trust?
  5. What new evidence lead to the betrayal?
  6. What evidence is there supporting the new level of (dis)trust?



Trust forms the basis for social interactions, especially reciprocity and the agreements for future actions essential for planning and working together. Trust is one of the strongest predictors of a country's wealth; nations with the lowest levels of trust tend to be poor.[1]

Levels of Trust


As we meet people, spend time with them, and establish a relationship we naturally estimate how much we trust them. We approach each person beginning with our natural inclination toward trust or distrust. In addition, as we learn more about each person, primarily from first-hand experience, we have reason to trust or mistrust them. Of course, they are also estimating how much they trust us. It can be revealing to estimate for each of your friends, acquaintances, coworkers, and contacts the level of trust you have in them, and they have in you. Are you trusting? Are you trustworthy? Trust levels fall roughly into one of the following categories:



We have reason to believe they cannot be trusted. We have evidence, or just a sense of their unreliability, indirectness, unfairness, unreliability, deceit, or carelessness. They may have already betrayed us or people we know. Their reputation is not good. We are constantly on guard with strong defenses alert to protect ourselves.



We may be wary when we don't yet have evidence of their trustworthiness, so we are cautious and not willing to extend them the full benefit of the doubt. We also understand the value of extending trust. We are alert and on guard as we gather more information and work together. This is the “Trust, but verify” transitional strategy made famous by Ronald Regan.



We may be optimistic when we don't yet have strong evidence of their trustworthiness, but we are generous and willing to extend them the benefit of the doubt. They have a favorable reputation that we continue to evaluate as we work together. Each kept promise increases the trust. We continue to proceed with caution, we trust and verify. The more difficult it is to keep a promise, the greater the increase in trust. Trust is tested most when you are most vulnerable. Broken promises lead quickly to distrust. The term blind-faith describes an unfounded trust that can leave us vulnerable to exploitation.

Quid Pro Quo


Quid Pro Quo—something for something—is an exchange agreement that focuses narrowly on a transaction, often without regard for the broader trust levels of the parties. It may refer to a narrow agreement to conduct business among parties that distrust each other, sometimes strongly.



We have been interacting with each other for some time and have not yet been let down or disappointed. However, it seems the transactions form the basis of our relationship and I'm not sure we care and connect with each other as concerned humans. The trust is situational and depends on continued benefits of the transactions. If the transactions disappear or become less favorable, this ephemeral trust will disappear with them. The relationship is instrumental and temporary; the relationship ends when the deal ends.



We have established a human bond and truly care about each other. Even if our tangible or material interchanges end, or become burdensome, we continue to care about each other, and can rely on each other. We have gone beyond reciprocity and attained grace where good-will and even unmerited favors characterize the relationship. The trust has been tested and withstood our vulnerability, disputes, hardships, and other difficulties. The trust is unconditional and based on empathy, caring, and a lasting human bond. The relationship is genuine, deep, committed, and permanent.


  1. Consider several of your family members, friends, acquaintances, and co-workers.
  2. Consider the level of trust that exists in the relationship you have with that person.
  3. Name at least one person that fits each of the trust levels described above.

Intent and Ability


Consider the photograph at the top of this page. Does the lower acrobat intend to support the upper acrobat? Is the lower acrobat able to support the upper one? Trust requires both.

Trust depends on two independent components; intent and ability. Unless you intend to fulfill your agreements and keep your word, there is no trust. But intent is not enough, you have to deliver on your promises, and that requires the ability to do what you promise. Since none of us can be expert and capable in all areas, we are all specialists. Therefore, our trust in someone's abilities is limited to their areas of expertise. We trust our dentist with our teeth, but not with car repair.

Do not promise more than you can deliver. Do not tempt others to promise more than they can deliver. Do not confuse intent with ability, address each independently.


  1. Recall a time when someone relied on you to fulfill some promise or expectation.
  2. Recall an instance when you did not meet their expectations.
  3. To what extent did a failure of intent lead to this failure to meet their expectations?
  4. To what extent did a failure of ability lead to this failure to meet their expectations?



Betrayal is the shattering of a trusted relationship. Betrayal is the breaking or violation of a presumptive contract, trust, or confidence that produces moral and psychological conflict within a relationship amongst individuals, between organizations or between individuals and organizations.

Betrayal elicits anger. An act of betrayal creates a constellation of negative behaviors, thoughts, and feelings in both its victims and its perpetrators. The interactions are complex. The victims exhibit anger and confusion, and demand atonement from the perpetrator; who in turn may experience guilt or shame, and exhibit remorse. If, after the perpetrator has exhibited remorse or apologized, the victim continues to express anger, this may in turn cause the perpetrator to become defensive, and angry in turn. Acceptance of betrayal can be exhibited if victims forego the demands of atonement and retribution; but is only demonstrated if the victims do not continue to demand apologies, repeatedly remind the perpetrator or perpetrators of the original act, or ceaselessly review the incident over and over again.

Trustworthy Behaviors


Former Secretary of the Treasury, Hank Paulson noted “Trust is established through action.” Certain actions are interpreted as increasing the trust in a relationship, and others diminish trust. Choosing the following behaviors can help earn the trust of others.

  • Express yourself authentically, speak carefully, accurately, clearly, and honestly to gain and sustain a full and accurate common understanding. Become intellectually honest.
  • Never betray a confidence.
  • Understand what is being proposed, described, and discussed; the expectations of others, problems you might encounter, the risks involved, changes that may occur, what you are agreeing to, others you may need to rely on, and your preparation and ability to meet commitments. Establish and maintain clear expectations.
  • Don't promise more than you can deliver. Describe your doubts, uncertainties, risks, and events beyond your control. Don’t overstate your ability. Don't overcommit.
  • Make and keep promises, do what you say. Deliver results. Hold yourself and others you depend on accountable. Go beyond what you promised when you can.
  • Behave consistently and predictably, avoid unpleasant surprises and erratic behavior. Don't manipulate others, be entirely clear about your full intentions. Do not harm others. Do not mislead others. Do not betray others.
  • Provide early notice of problems, obstacles, and choices. Share your thoughts, concerns, and proposed solutions. Face issues and obstacles directly, fully, and promptly. Don't make assumptions.
  • Manage risk. Foresee risks early and take steps to reduce the uncertainty and impact. Always keep “Plan B”—your contingency plan—up to date.
  • Work transparently, keep others up-to-date on progress and problems, allow others to observe the progress of your work, involve others in key decisions. Expose any hidden agendas, sources of influence, conflicts of interest, or vested interest. Former associate justice of the Supreme Court Louis Brandeis declared “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.”
  • Use dialogue to reveal, describe, and solve unanticipated problems.
  • Take responsibility for solving problems and delivering results. Don't blame others for problems you can anticipate, avoid, or solve yourself. Do your best, especially when it matters most.
  • Take full responsibility for your actions. Adopt an internal locus of control. Apologize fully for your harmful actions.
  • Acknowledge your humanity, anticipate your limitations and inevitable mistakes. Quickly identify, acknowledge, repair, and apologize for errors. Learn from your mistakes. Remain humble.
  • Ensure both truth and grace. Provide authentic, proportional, and timely feedback expressing your careful and thoughtful assessment, both positive and negative, of the issues and relationship. Accomplish the task as you strengthen the relationship. Demonstrate and express your appreciation of others as you reaffirm your commitment to strengthening a meaningful relationship. Confront and resolve conflict so obstacles can be identified, resolved, and overcome. When being critical, talk to people rather than about them. Never make, overlook, or tolerate an ad hominem attack.
  • Proceed in stages, commit only as far in advance as you can clearly foresee and plan. Proceed with step-wise refinement of complex problems or extensive plans. Reassess and re-plan as information unfolds and becomes clearer.
  • Stay firmly grounded in the full reality of the situation. Accept, evaluate, and assimilate new information as it emerges. Facts are our friends. Confront reality; the good, the bad, and the ugly.
  • Continue to build your reputation for trustworthiness by keeping your promises.
  • Don't gossip and don't make assumptions. Innuendo—an indirect attack—and rumors—unverified information from unreliable sources—can quickly destroy trust. Rather than spread rumors or be influenced by innuendo it is best to challenge the source and get all the facts and the full story. Advance no falsehoods.



Part 1:

  1. Recall a time when someone lost trust in you.
  2. Which, if any, of the behaviors listed above were lacking and contributed to the loss of trust?
  3. Work to earn trust.

Part 2:

  1. Consider the people in your life.
  2. Identify the people you most trust. Why do you trust those people?
  3. Identify the people you least trust. Why do you not trust those people?
  4. What, if anything, could someone you distrust do to regain your trust?

Power and Vulnerability


We trust people most who are similar to us and who genuinely care about us. We trust people with substantial but not invulnerable power. Exposing vulnerabilities increases trust because it demonstrates human qualities. In addition, exercising restraint by showing compassion rather than taking advantage of exposed vulnerabilities demonstrates trust.

The Costs of Mistrust


In addition to the trillion dollars spent each year on national defense budgets, mistrust has many other costs:

  • Missed opportunities. We are often wary when we meet a stranger for the first time. We are often approach people we first meet with caution, and sometimes even alarm, fearing they may be untrustworthy. We miss many opportunities to meet new people, explore interesting topics, innovate, create, collaborate, and discover new friends because of this caution.
  • Defensive actions. Complex contracts, legal fees; review time, effort, and expense; investigation time and expense, litigation time and expenses, rework, inflated cost or time estimates,
  • Suspicion. Doubts, anguish, anxiety, uncertainty, reservations, contingencies, conflict, lack of commitment, disengagement, apathy, uncertainty, micromanagement, calculating, hesitation.
  • Security Systems. Guards, metal detectors, surveillance systems, safes, locks, encryption, security software, spam.
  • Swindles—trusting someone who is not trustworthy—are the basis for con jobs, rip-offs, swindles, scams, and ploys of all description. Getting taken by these schemes is financially costly and emotionally humiliating.
  • Complexity and delay. Reviews, approvals, investigations, double checks, audits, surveillance, duplication, bureaucracy, . . . Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche expressed this cost well when he said: “I'm not upset that you lied to me. I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you.”
  • Manipulation—attempting to control people without letting them know your intentions—deceit, blather, obfuscation, bogus issues, swashbuckling, intimidation, busy work, infighting, cross purposes, playing games, back stabbing, getting even, entrapment, gotcha, hidden agendas, speculation, covert operations.
  • CYA—Recording evidence of your trustworthy behavior. Effort devoted to looking good. Choosing image over substance.
  • Disrespect. Sniping, ignoring, humiliation, discounting, retaliating, disloyalty,
  • Theft, fraud, deceit, cheating, slacking off, distortion, waste.
  • Deniability—Avoiding creating records that could provide evidence of bad decisions or unwise actions. Withholding information.
  • Dissatisfaction and disengagement. Participating is no longer fun, people look forward to leaving the relationship or organization. Enthusiasm decays into complacency and malaise. People leave mentally at first, and then physically.
  • Obstruction—Failing to help others. Dragging your feet when you could be helping others succeed. Slow walking. Engaging in mischief.


  1. Recall instances when you distrusted others.
  2. Which of the costs listed above resulted from that lack of trust?
  3. Were those costs avoidable?
  4. Were those costs warranted?

Extending Trust


When do you extend trust to others and when do you withhold it? Do you approach new relationships from a stance of suspicion or one of trust? How extensively do you have to observe their behavior before you have reason to trust or distrust another? How strongly do they reciprocate and reflect your trust or distrust of them?

Consider both your wanting to trust and your reasons to trust.

Use good judgment to find the balance between gullibility and suspicion. Trust breeds trust. Approach new relationships assuming good-will and trust until careful analysis proves this is unwarranted. However, respectfully require due diligence and don't be gullible whenever the risks are truly unacceptable. Manage risk, fairly balancing the certain costs of distrust with the possible cost of gullibility. In his book The SPEED of Trust, Stephen M. R. Covey presents these choices in the “Smart Trust™” matrix[2]. He uses the phrase “propensity to trust” to describe wanting to trust, and “analysis” to describe reasons to trust.

  • Ruiz, Don Miguel (November 7, 1997). The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book). Amber-Allen Publishing. pp. 160. ISBN 978-1878424310. 
  • Ekman, Paul (January 26, 2009). Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 416. ISBN 978-0393337457. 
  • Cloud, Henry (June 2, 2009). Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality. HarperBusiness. pp. 304. ISBN 978-0060849696. 
  • Covey, Stephen M .R. (February 5, 2008). The SPEED of TRUST: The One Thing That Changes Everything. FREE PRESS. pp. 354. ISBN 978-1416549000. 
  • Frankfurt, Harry G. (January 30, 2005). On Bullshit. Princeton University Press. pp. 67. ISBN 978-0691122946. 
  • Frankfurt, Harry G. (October 31, 2006). On Truth. Knopf. pp. 112. ISBN 978-0307264220. 
  • Reich, Robert B. (February 20, 2018). The Common Good. Knopf. pp. 208. ISBN 978-0525520498. 
  • The Neurobiology of Trust, Paul J. Zak, Scientific American, June, 2008.
  • Roberts, Monty (December 30, 2008). The Man Who Listens to Horses: The Story of a Real-Life Horse Whisperer. Ballantine Books. pp. 288. ISBN 978-0345510457. 


  1. Crosby, Sam (November 1, 2016). The Trust Deficit. Melbourne University Publishing. pp. 224. ISBN 978-0522869019. 
  2. Speed of Trust website.