Would you trust this man?

THE loss of trust is arguably the most damning outcome of the 20th century. In many cases the words “trust me” do little more than encourage cynical laughter.

Remember when we could seek the advice of doctors, lawyers, academics, scientists and politicians with the expec-tation of receiving a sincere honest, fair and caring answer?

But these days our authority figures are people like the directors of the crashed HIH Insurance; like the GM food trial run by scientists in Tasmania, who knowingly violated their containment agreement; like doctors wooed by pharmaceutical companies to promote drug acceptance rather than natural healing; like pro-litigious lawyers; any politician involved in planning approvals; or religious leaders found guilty of immoral behaviour. The list goes on.

Today, with the world wide web hurtling huge amounts of information at us from vast numbers of complete strangers, we have to sort out who we can trust and who we can’t.

We are learning to trust only those who earn it through our immediate personal experience, or who are known to someone we already trust.

Lengthy use of the Internet encourages a sophisticated ability to intuit the trust-worthiness of those communi-cating with us, encouraging the use of our right brain processes to instantly make good guy/bad guy judgements.

It helps if we understand the three types of trust found in our corporate world – reciprocal, representative and counterfeit.

Reciprocal trust occurs when people advance each other’s interests out of duty, affection, or enlightened self-interest. This most common form of trust is also the most difficult to achieve in the workplace, as it is based on positive attitudes and shared outcomes. Reciprocal trust achieves the greatest results and underpins the most successful business partnerships, strategic alliances and often, but not always, family businesses.

A more complex but less rewarding form of trust – representative – occurs when we are handed trust on the understanding that we will honour and return it. Simple, but being reliant upon honour and the uneven balance of power, it is vulnerable to abuse. We give politicians, doctors, lawyers, mechanics, technicians and the like power over us based on their expertise and we trust they will do right by us. Yeah, right.

The third, and most fragile, form of trust – counterfeit – occurs through association or alignment with self-serving others, working on common interests but not on common principles (often no principles at all). As the name implies, counterfeit trust actually relies on mutual distrust based on fear and greed, and is therefore rarely sustainable for any length of time.

Whenever interests diverge, betrayal follows. We see our highly competitive and confrontational corporate scene using counterfeit trust for short term or temporary gain, particularly in many contractual relationships.

The economic rationalist 20th century turned counterfeit trust into a management art form, most visibly in HR and labour relations.

But we are moving out of the old, masculine, left brain paradigm maintained on greed and distrust into the more feminine right brain paradigm built on sharing goals and positive endeavours.

It’s a pity most politicians, lawyers etc continue on the misguided belief that there is representative trust from the community. For them, there is not much trust left at all, not even counterfeit.

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