There’s the why and the how and we usually mix those up.
In short, the WHY: survival instinct and because we want to belong.
In short, the HOW: instant profiling, assumptions and oxytocin. For a longer explanation – read on.
Trusting someone based on quick surface cues helps infants to survive. Of course, it depends on the infant and the child’s next experience – withdrawing parents can do a number on you and so can helicopter-smothering types. (You end up trusting only yourself or not trusting yourself at all.) But we’re talking about trusting others today.
Princeton researches say we make up our mind whether someone is trustworthy or not in milliseconds. That’s less than a second. We call it intuition, but it’s really instantaneous profiling (pattern recognition based on our experiences). Apparently, we trust more people with softer, female and happy faces and ladies with lower voices. Here start the assumptions.
I have a friend whose measurement of trust was a hug – how people hugged him. He could tell which girls he’d date and which ones he wouldn’t by pouncing in for a hug straight after “Hello”. That’s actually rather clever, because 20 seconds of hugging and our body chemistry turns on the oxytocin – the trust hormone – and if you can stand being hugged for that long, you’re more prone to trust the person who hugged you after the hug. Handshakes for longer than 6 seconds achieve the same result, btw.
However, when the stakes are higher and so is the risk of making a wrong decision, hugs and initial assessments won’t cut it. Cautious people take months, even years to build up trust. E.g. with financial decisions risk assessment is on a whole different level and you look out for cues of “what’s wrong” aka why NOT to trust. Convincing you to trust someone e.g. with their money takes a lot of consistent behaviour, reassurance, proven successes. Enter the immediacy, exclusivity and urgency biases that people try to use to manipulate faster and more emotional decisions to bypass that longer-building trust judgment. More on those in another post, I promise.
But HOW does trusting work, exactly? What do we base our millisecond decision on?
Patterns and assumptions.
Let’s talk patterns. Predictable things that happen or you get used to spotting and expecting. Look at your nearest and dearest. Why do you trust THEM? (I hope you do, because if you don’t, you need new peeps in your life, stat.)
Ultimately, you trust your nearest and dearest (and likeable strangers) because:
#1 you like them – because you think they are like you (or at least you have things in common and have shared experiences), so you think they understand you;
#2 they are predictable (you know what to expect of them in certain situation and in uncertain ones as well; and across time or based on the information available you have already assessed if they are authentic and act with integrity); and
#3 you appreciate their help and empathy (the last bit is linked to the other person understanding you based on things you have in common).
All of those things actually rest on assumptions. Even monozygotic twins have distinct personalities, so it’s difficult to find two people who are quite identical in their world view, attitudes, beliefs, actions, wishes and wants. So, we assume we’re similar when we merely have a few touch points.
Then come our attitude and biases. When we’re geared towards belonging and trust, we spot more of the similarities in others. When we’re beaten down by bad experiences to NOT trust easily, we look out for differences and for things that scream “unauthentic!” or “no integrity!”. We’ll pick up on positive and negative biases in another post.
One of my clients (several, actually) told me that they want to work with me because we both have a legal background and because I understand where they are coming from, including the stress levels and the level of responsibility. The assumptions: we have similar backgrounds and have high-octane lives with multiple projects and hobbies, so they trust me to teach them about time management because I understand where they are coming from and what they need. These assumptions are not wrong, but…how our cooperation will go will depend on 2 things: 1. Whether the person is looking out to validate their assumptions or disprove them; 2. Whether I act with integrity and am authentic.
Now, working with coaching clients, I sometimes have to provoke and nudge them to new insights. In order not to break reason to trust me #2 (predictability), I usually warn I will be prodding and provoking and sometimes asking them to do counterintuitive things and step out of their comfort zone. Then clients can assess whether I do as I say and if it’s not too far out of what they expected/assumed, the cooperation works. If it is too far out… Either we have a chat and they adjust or then consider the OTT action requested of them as a deal-breaker. I have had potential clients balk at my suggestion to get to know their 20-person team and approach each one individually – for their value system of how leading happens that was OTT and they did not trust me to help.
With strangers we meet or call, authenticity and integrity are the key things we look out for to prove or disprove our initial millisecond assessment of like+understand+helpfulness. That’s why the first meet and greet is important. You see how the person acts and whether there are signals that go against the impression you have about them from social media, their website, what someone else told you about them, etc.
That’s why coaches offer those 30-minute free call – so the CLIENT(!) can see if we’d be a good fit to work together.
Because we do make a lot of assumptions. You smile as much as I = you’re like me. You gesticulate a lot = you’re like me. You dress in Gucci-Shmucci, like me = you’re like me.
Those assumptions are comfortable. When surrounded by people who we think are “like us”, who we trust, we feel like we belong. And vice versa. We want to feel like we belong, so we tend to trust people who are like us.
Our need to belong makes us seek out individuals and groups that are like us. When someone behaves or looks like us, we automatically assume they have the same value system, want the same things, make the same choices and behave the same way we do. So, first comes the assumption #1 (I like you because you understand me). If they don’t behave with integrity (say what they mean and do what they say) or if they don’t help us or don’t empathise with us, that breaks assumptions #2 (predictability) and #3 (helpfulness) and that breaks established trust.
It’s trusting someone who isn’t quite like you, but complements you and takes an interest to understand where you’re coming from that’s a difficult feat, but most fun as well.
Have you ever given it a thought who do you trust and why and how?
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels. #trust #moodmanagement #timemanagement #selfmanagement #howtotipsandtricks