Director of Facility Planning – Every so often, I hear or read something that shifts my universe a little. This happened to me just last week.

Have your ever heard of the trust equation?

As we all know, trust can be difficult to earn and yet easily lost. Why is this? What builds trusts? And how is it so easily lost?

The trust equation has helped make something obscure into something more tangible. According to Charles H. Green, founder and CEO of Trusted Advisor Associates, the trust equation goes as follows:

Trustworthiness = (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy) / Self-orientation

Differently stated, to be ‘worthy of trust’, the numerator requires to be greater than the denominator. And the greater the numerator and the lower the denominator, the more trust is strengthened.

I’m not a math buff, but this equation resonates with me because it has to do with people, which I understand.

When it comes to professional interactions, often credibility and reliability are the most talked about terms. For example, “I trust Pam; she’s credible on the subject,” or “Lawrence says he’ll have the information tomorrow and I trust him; he’s always been reliable.”

Now, intimacy in the trust equation for professionals at first seemed odd to me. Until I dug a little deeper… intimacy, refers to the safety or security we feel when entrusting someone with something. For example, “I trust her with this information,” or “She will not use this information against me.”

Lastly, self-orientation – or the person’s focus. If you’re trying to gain trust, stop thinking about yourself and think about whom you want to build the trust with. To achieve high trustworthiness, self-orientation needs to be low – the focus should be on the other person. Think about a time when someone was giving a speech and the entire time that person was concerned about his hair. Chances when you lacked trust in this person, not because he had bad hair, but because he was focused too much on himself and not you, the audience. His self-orientation was high.

Let’s use the example of the stereotype of the used car salesperson. Why do we generally view the used car salesperson as untrustworthy? The salesperson is credible (knows a great deal about cars) and is reliable (has documents to back up his/her knowledge); however, intimacy is low (it takes time to establish a relationship and feeling of safety) and self-orientation is high (we automatically think the salesperson is in this relationship to make money).

The trust equation has given me a new perspective on how I approach relationships, in both my personal and professional life. It doesn’t matter if I’m meeting with people from other organizations, having a chat with a member of my team, or presenting to a group of parents – I know that establishing trust (through credibility, reliability, intimacy and self-orientation) is vital to getting my message heard and understood.

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