Some people seem to naturally elicit trust in others. If you do a search on the internet for trustworthy famous people, for example, you will find lists that include the likes of Morgan Freeman, Tom Hanks, Betty White and James Earl Jones. Locally in Latrobe, hometown heroes Arnold Palmer and Fred Rogers are viewed as exemplars of trustworthiness. On the other hand, there are also many examples of people that some individuals might consider to be non-trustworthy, but I will not mention them here in order to focus more on the positive.
Of course, though they can serve as examples of individuals that people trust, celebrities are not the only people who are judged based on their level of being trustworthy or not. On a personal level as a professor, I strive for my students and colleagues to trust me, especially in times of uncertainty such as this one.
But how do these celebrities build the perception of being trustworthy? How can I encourage others to place their in trust in me? And how can leaders increase trust within their groups? The study of organizational behavior can help to partially answer these questions. Some scholars in this field have suggested that there are at least three major aspects to developing perceptions of trustworthiness: disposition-based, cognition-based and affect-based trust (Baer & Colquitt, 2018).
The first element of trust is related to the individual distributing trust, not the person being trusted. Some people have a natural propensity to trust others. Other people do not have the same propensity. This is known as disposition-based trust. Whether or not someone is trusted can depend on the nature of the individual perceiving her or him to be trustworthy.
The concept of trustworthiness is central to the second major influence of trust. This has been labeled cognition-based trust. Here, people form thought-based impressions of another person’s trustworthiness often on the basis of their perceived ability, integrity or honesty. Think about someone that you trust. You likely think of that person as competent and truthful. Of course, individuals low on disposition-based trust may have a difficult time leveraging this type of trust.
While cognition-based trust leverages what a person thinks, the third type of trust is affect-based trust which is concerned with how someone emotionally feels. This is a type of trust that develops over a long periods of time in fewer relationships than those exhibiting cognition-based trust. This is a very strong type of trust. Think of those individuals that you trust most. It is likely that they elicit very strong positive emotions within you.
Of course, trust in a person is strongest when all three types noted above are present. For individuals who want to be more trustworthy, though, building strong trust takes time. It likely cannot be done by everybody because it takes actual integrity and it takes creating a true connection with others. And building trust also assumes that those that you want to trust you have the propensity to do so.
While building trust takes a long time, losing it can occur quite quickly. Once trust is decreased and someone is viewed to be untrustworthy, psychological contracts (unwritten expectations that people have of each other; Robinson, 1996) are often broken which leads to negative relationships, decreased morale, dissatisfaction and a loss of commitment.
I want to hear your thoughts. Who do you trust? What makes that person trustworthy? Which of the three types of trust discussed above do you feel is most important? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with me on Facebook.
Dr. Mike Urick
Baer, M., & Colquitt, J. A. (2018). Moving toward a more comprehensive consideration of the antecedents of trust. Routledge companion to trust, 163-182.
Robinson, S. L. (1996). Trust and breach of the psychological contract. Administrative science quarterly, 574-599.