Deception Destroys Trust – 10 Questions to Ask To Keep From Being Duped

Contrary to popular belief, trust is not as fragile as we make it out to be. Trust can be one of the strongest forces in the world, binding people, institutions, and nations together in the midst of incredible adversity. Trust can be amazingly resilient, and when broken, can be restored over time through diligent and intentional behavior.

Research findings from Wharton have shown that “trust harmed by untrustworthy behavior can be effectively restored when individuals observe a consistent series of trustworthy actions,” and that making promises to change behavior can help speed up the process. However, the study also found that  “Trust harmed by the same untrustworthy actions and deception, never fully recovers – even when deceived participants receive a promise, an apology, and observe a consistent series of trustworthy actions.”

In order to build trust you have to first extend trust. Extending trust to others requires wisdom and discernment, and the amount of trust extended grows over time as you observe repeated, consistent, and reliable behaviors that cause you to make yourself more vulnerable to another person without fear of being taken advantage of or being harmed. There will inevitably be instances in relationships where one party breaks trust and disappoints another, either intentionally or unintentionally, and those occasions are usually repairable. Yet when intentional deception is involved, it strikes at the heart of the very integrity and character of the deceiver.

Dr. Bill Knaus suggests that you can protect yourself from harmful deceptions through enlightened skepticism and confident composure. Enlightened skepticism is a way to discern the facts of a situation through asking questions that force you to think critically. It helps you learn who to trust and to what degree so that you minimize the risk of deception in the first place.

Confident composure is a belief that you can directly command only yourself and you choose to do so. When you are in charge of yourself, you believe you can better influence the controllable events that take place around you. It’s a self-empowering approach to acting confident and composed that allows you to come across as authentic and resolute in your convictions and actions.

Dr. Knaus says that “You are vulnerable to lies and deceptions when you don’t know the facts, the situation is fuzzy, or you want to believe” and he offers the following ten enlightened skepticism questions to gain clarity:

  1. What do I know about the speaker’s truthfulness?
  2. Is the statement consistent with reality?
  3. Can I verify the statement?
  4. What do I gain by accepting and acting on the statement?
  5. What do I lose by accepting and acting on the statement?
  6. What does the speaker gain if I bought into the statement?
  7. What is exaggerated or downplayed in the statement?
  8. Does the idea seem too good to be true?
  9. Would I advise my best friend to accept the statement without a question of doubt?
  10. What doesn’t compute? (Is something being said too emphatically or in some strange way?)

Trust is an active and vibrant dynamic in relationships, not a passive condition that “just happens” over time. Part of developing a high trust relationship is being wise about who and what you trust. Not all people or situations are deserving of your trust, and approaching these situations with confident composure and enlightened skepticism is a proactive way to help prevent you from being deceived in the first place.

9 Comments on “Deception Destroys Trust – 10 Questions to Ask To Keep From Being Duped

    • Thanks for your comments David. It’s a fine balance to strike when deciding how much to trust, when, who, etc.

      Take care,

      Randy Conley
      Sent via mobile device. Please excuse any typos.

  1. Hi Randy,
    An excellent post! I especially like your point that in order to build trust you have to extend trust, and that you provide helpful questions to think through an emotional process.

    • Thanks Jesse! The research findings from Wharton along with the article from Dr. Bill Knaus are very interesting aspects to how deception factor into the breaking & repairing (if possible) of trust.

      Take care,


  2. Thanks Randy. I’m a little unclear on how Dr. Knaus suggests we use these questions to gain clarity. I personally believe we aspire to be transparent with the other person when addressing these types of questions (and the approach one takes will vary, case by case, depending on the dynamics of the situation).

    Just my two cents, appreciating the complexity.

    Take care, have a great week.

    • Hi Murray. I agree that there is complexity involved and personal authenticity and transparency is key to establishing trustworthy relationships. I view Dr. Knaus’ questions as a model to help you think critically about whether or not to trust someone/something, rather than just relying on a gut feeling which oftentimes can be misleading.

      Thanks for wading into the deep end!


  3. Randy,
    Important points to use to examine situations of the heart as well as in business endeavors. Our best council may be our instincts that something is unfortunately short of the truth. Reality may not be the truth we seek, however it is important to know the answers for a relationship to flourish. Hiding from the truth in the end leads to disappointment, moreover resentment leaves a long path to recovery! Trust, but verify in search for truth seems the unquestionable way to proceed.
    Thank you for your valuable lesson.

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