Leadership – Are You Too Trustful?

Many times I find that my colleagues and clients are mistaking trustful people as being too trustful. I found this topic to be of great importance because it is common knowledge that a team cannot function without trust, a sales person cannot get business if their prospects do not trust them, and it is very difficult to earn someone’s trust without giving it.

6 Common Beliefs About Trust

In John Maxwell’s “Monthly Mentoring” session entitled “Trust – The Foundation of Leadership”, he identifies research and data on 6 common beliefs about trust, and you may find the following conclusions remarkable.

  1. Contrary to popular wisdom, trustful people were no more likely than the mistrustful ones to seem gullible to their friends.
  2. Trustful people are more perceptive than mistrustful people of what others are really feeling.
  3. People with a poor opinion of themselves are less trusting than people with a good opinion of themselves.
  4. Levels of intelligence have no impact on how trustful a person is.
  5. Mistrustful people rely on others to direct their lives for them. Trustful people rely on themselves.
  6. Trustful people are more trustworthy than mistrustful people.

Trustful People Are Gullible.

Julian Rotter, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Connecticut, conducted a study to test this belief. When he compared the gullibility scores to trust scores of participants that knew each other well, he found that, contrary to popular wisdom, the trustful ones were no more likely than the mistrustful ones to seem gullible to their friends.

Trustful People Are Less Perceptive Than Mistrustful People of What Others are Really Feeling.

Ronald Sabatelli, psychologist, and two colleagues at the University of Connecticut tested 48 young married couples for trustfulness, using Rotter’s Trust Scale. The husbands and wives were secretly videotaped as they individually watched a slide show. Some slides were scenic, some sexy, some repulsive and some strange. Finally, each spouse was shown pictures of his or her mate’s expressions and asked to identify what the mate was feeling in each case. The results contradicted the popular belief. Those who scored high on trust were better than the mistrustful at interpreting their spouse’s emotions. The likely reason: If you can’t “read” other people well, it’s easy to be suspicious of them; if you can, it’s easy to trust them.

People With A Poor Opinion Of Themselves Are Less Trusting Than People With A Good Opinion Of Themselves.

This feels right, though many of us might not be able to explain why. Several studies show that people who score high in tests of self-esteem score high in trustfulness. The explanation, cited in a 1985 report by the psychologists John Rempel, John Holmes, and Mark Zanna of theUniversityofWaterlooinOntario, is that a person’s self-esteem contributes to the extent to which he or she is willing to take emotional risks. Or, more simply: Those with high self-esteem are more likely to think well of others; those with low self-esteem are less inclined to do so.

People with Lesser Intelligence Are Trustful; Smart People Are Mistrustful.

This is not true. Research by a number of psychologists at various universities consistently has shown that people with high college aptitude scores or high scholastic scores are no less trustful and no more skeptical than people with low scores. Evidently, being intelligent doesn’t necessarily make one mistrustful of others, nor does being dumb make one trustful.

Trustful People Rely On Others To Direct Their Lives For Them; Mistrustful People Rely On Themselves.

Exactly the opposite is true. Three different teams of researchers at theUniversityofConnecticutfound that people who feel controlled by outside persons and forces are relatively mistrustful. In contrast, those people who feel pretty much in charge of what happens to them tend to trust others.

Trustful People Are More Trustworthy Than Mistrustful People.

The ancient Greeks used to say, “He who mistrusts most should be trusted least.” Geraldine Steinke, psychologist, in her doctoral dissertation research at theUniversityofConnecticut, gave volunteers a test at which it was easy to cheat, telling them that the best performer would win a cash prize. What she didn’t tell them was that she had rigged it so she could tell if anyone cheated. Her finding: Low trusters cheated distinctly more often than high trusters.

Rotter explains: “If low trusters believe that other people cannot be trusted, they feel less moral pressure themselves to tell the truth. They may feel that lying, cheating, and similar behavior are necessary for defensive reasons — because everybody else is doing it to them.”

Why Myths About Trust Matter

Here is why these myths should matter to you:

  • Trustful people will be trusted more often.
  • Trustfulness complements intelligence and intuition rather than detracting from it.
  • You should help a team member that is low in trust to raise their self-esteem.
  • Being more trustful can lead to being liked by more people.
  • Being trustful and trusted leads to less distress and thus more productivity.
  • Trustful people will tend to be less stressed and thus in better health than mistrustful ones.
  • If you can’t “read” other people well, it’s easy to be suspicious of them; if you can, it’s easy to trust them.

Howard Shore is an executive leadership coach and founder of Activate Group Inc. based in Miami, Florida. His firm works with companies to deliver transformational management and business coaching to executive leadership. To learn more about executive leadership coaching through AGI, please contact Howard at 305.722.7213.