Blog - March 9, 2020

The Trust Barometer

One of the beautiful things about working with smart people is that interesting things get brought to your attention. There’s something called the Edelman Trust Barometer, it’s a survey that sets out to measure public trust. It is an interesting question that may have some predictable conclusions, but also tracks some interesting trends.

One area that may not seem terribly surprising of late, is the complete lack of trust in government, closely followed by a lack of trust in the media. It’s important to note that these two groups are weak both on perceived competence and perceived morality. Non-Governmental Organization’s are seen to be more ethical but not that competent; and businesses are seen to be most competent, not as ethical.

How can we be comfortable when we feel we cannot trust many of the major institutions in our lives? The answer is we can’t.

Trust is the cornerstone of our inner peace. If we are in a state of constant discomfort our anxiety levels rise and it leads to different coping patterns that are not normally positive, though they do occasionally lead to high-level athletes or Nobel laureates.

Many of us seek to establish valuable trusting relationships through friendships and family.  As I have no credentials in that space, I’ll leave the examination of those phenomenon to Dr. Phil or Oprah.

The other area we seek to establish trust to protect us in a cruel word is with professional services. We like to have our go-to mechanic, carpenter, lawyer, dentist and other service providers at the ready. There’s comfort in feeling the presence of a competent, ethical expert who is truly looking after you. It’s glorious. It’s such a great feeling, in fact, that we’re excited when we find an opportunity to share that feeling with our friends by telling them they should have “our” professional help them.

How we find those trusted resources is the tough part. Without being a doctor, we might not feel we have the objective skill set to evaluate the qualities of our physician. Therefore, the first quality we need in a trusted professional is the ability to communicate. Let us stipulate from the beginning it’s impossible to become completely fluent in medical jargon, legal terminology, or mechanic speak. It’s the responsibility of the expert in question to communicate in a way that allows people to understand and then make a judgement call.

Competence is important. That can sometimes be established with credentials and experience; relevant credentials indicate that a professional has taken the time to become proficient in an academic sense in their chosen vocation. Credentials can vary in difficulty and effort required to attain them, so that can also be a consideration. In a horse race between two professionals, their level of credentials can be a good tie breaker.

Once we’ve established credentials, it’s about how long and to what extent they’ve honed their skills. Some professionals choose to challenge themselves throughout their careers and constantly improve, while others find a narrow niche, and focus their efforts – and therefore their experience and skillset – in that specific arena.

Without integrity, none of the above matters. In fact, historically speaking, great communications skills and no integrity are hallmark qualities of some very bad people. Integrity is the toughest of metrics to score so some detective work is useful. In the age of the internet there is lots of information out there readily available. It may sound like common sense these days, but always do a little research online about a person you’re taking advice from. Quite often within a few clicks it’s possible to find reviews on services and/or feedback from clients. Knowing the internet as well as most of us do, we should remember to consume this information with a grain of salt. Still, it should be possible to glean a sense of the person or business in question. Perform searches on the companies listed on their web site, look at past employment history, and see how generally visible they’ve been throughout their career.

Many of us rely on the referral of a trusted friend or colleague, and that can be useful. The success of this transaction is based on two limiting factors: 1) the ability of the referrer to make a good determination on the quality of service they have received, and 2) we’re working with a data set of one. If the referral you get is backed up by a good online presence and solid credentials, the referral is potentially the best shot at success.

Trust, love, and risk are all things we feel. We should take every step we can to achieve the feeling we want to feel, and we owe it to ourselves to try. At the end of the day, if you ask me where you should cross the street and I tell you to go down to the corner and use the crosswalk, but you’re struck by lightning while crossing, that is bad luck.

You should strive to make your decisions based on trusting the kind of people who will ensure you only have bad luck to fear, not poor advice.

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