Debunking 8 Common Myths About Trust

myth-v-truthWhen conducting training classes to teach people how to become more trustworthy and build trust in their relationships, I often have to address some common myths. There are commonly held beliefs about trust that aren’t quite as true as people believe.

Here are eight common myths about trust and my thoughts about the truth behind these misconceptions.

Myth #1: Trust takes a long time to build — You’ve probably heard this said before or maybe even said it yourself. Sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s not altogether true. Yes, there are instances where trust can take a long time to build, such as relationships that have infrequent interactions or where one or both of the parties are trust-averse and uncooperative with each other, but in many cases trust is established quickly. When you walk in a doctor’s office and see diplomas on the wall from Harvard Medical School and John’s Hopkins, you have an immediate sense of trust based on the doctor’s expertise. The same is true for many professions where the individual’s expertise engenders immediate trust. A person’s reputation for being trustworthy also carries great influence when starting new relationships. Trust can be built very quickly.

Myth #2: Trust is lost in a second — This is the companion to myth #1. In relationships where a strong bond of trust has been formed, a single instance of violating trust rarely destroys the whole relationship. In fact, a high-level of trust in a relationship leads to the parties assuming best intentions about each other, so when a breach of trust occurs, the offending party is often given the benefit of the doubt. Instead of losing trust in a second, trust is more frequently lost when it’s broken repeatedly over a period of time. One party keeps making withdrawals from the trust account of the other party until eventually they start bouncing checks.

Myth #3: Trust is fragile — Because people believe the previous myth about it only taking a second to break someone’s trust, they assume that trust must be fragile. Wrong. Trust, true trust that has stood the test of time, is extremely resilient. Consider the most trustworthy relationships you’ve seen or experienced in life. They are probably ones that have endured their fair share of trust-busters, and yet because of the high level of trust between the parties, they addressed the challenging situations and moved beyond them in ways that continued to sustain and reinforce the trust between them.

Myth #4: Trust is soft — One of the most common myths I encounter, particularly from senior leaders, is that trust is a “soft” interpersonal issue. You know what I mean, the group hug, hold hands, and sing kumbaya kind of soft. Well, trust is anything but soft. Trust has hard, bottom-line impacts to people and organizations. Research has shown that high trust companies consistently outperform low trust ones. High levels of trust enables innovation, creativity, productivity, collaboration, and lower turnover, all of which directly impact an organization’s bottom-line.

Myth #5: Trust “just happens” — People assume trust just happens naturally, like some sort of relationship osmosis. The truth is trust is built through the use of very specific behaviors that can be taught, learned, and practiced. If you’re leaving the building of trust to chance, well, chances are you’re not going to be successful. Learn the specific elements of trust and how you can use their associated behaviors to become more trustworthy and develop high-trust relationships.

Myth #6: Distrust is the opposite of trust — On the surface this seems to make sense, right? If we have a spectrum with trust on one side, then distrust must be on the other. Actually, the opposite of trust is control. Control? Yes, control. See, when you don’t trust someone you try to maintain control. Staying in control means less risk, and risk is required when trusting someone. Without risk there is no need for trust and trust requires that you give up control to one degree or another.

Myth #7: Trust is all about integrity — Integrity is one of the four core elements of trust and most people identify it as being the most important when it comes to building trust. However, integrity is just one of the building blocks of trust. Another is competence. People who have expertise, a proven track record, and are effective at what they do inspire trust. A third element of trust is connectedness, showing care and concern for others by building rapport, communicating effectively, and demonstrating benevolence. Finally, the fourth element of trust is dependability. You build trust when you are reliable, accountable, and responsive in your actions.

Myth #8: Trust is all or nothing; you either have it or you don’t — Trust is not a one size fits all proposition. There can be different levels of trust in relationships based on the nature of the relationship and context of the situation. For example, you may have a high level of trust in your plumber to fix plumbing issues in your house, but you wouldn’t trust him to repair your automobile because it’s not his area of expertise. Or, you may have someone in whom you confide your deepest feelings to because they have earned your trust as a close confidant, but their history of being habitually late causes you to not trust them to arrive on time for an appointment.

Many times we accept myths as truths because on the surface they seem pretty reasonable. That’s the case with these myths about trust. But when you dig a little deeper, you begin to see that trust is not quite as simple as we make it out to be. It’s actually quite complex and multi-dimensional.

I’m interested in your experience. What are other myths about trust you’ve encountered? Please take the time to share by leaving a comment.

9 Comments on “Debunking 8 Common Myths About Trust

  1. Wonderful post, Randy! You paint such a vivid picture of trust and got me thinking about some aspects in a new way. Thank you!

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  3. Randy,

    Absolutely right. I too have been making the case for years in particular about your myths 1, 2 and 3.

    I love your number 6 – you highlight the critical relationship between trust and risk. Too many people equate trust with low risk, but the absence of risk isn’t trust, it’s predictability (and probably low trust, since it can’t exist without risk).

    Another one you might consider is the idea that “Trust comes from being trustworthy.” Well, partly. But the other part is that great quote from one of Roosevelt’s Cabinet members, “The fastest way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him.” Trust is two-sided: it takes a trustor and a trustee. The trustor is the one taking the risk, the trustee is the one who is (or isn’t) trustworthy. And – you can’t just play one role. If all you do is be trustworthy, eventually the other person is going to notice that you’re never the one taking the risks. And voila, they no longer trust you.

    • Thanks, Charlie. Your writings about the myths of trust have been quite helpful to me.

      Great addition pointing out the reciprocal nature of trust. One person can be trustworthy as humanly possible, but if the other person isn’t willing to take a risk and extend trust, well…not much is going to happen.

      Hope you’re doing well,


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  6. Hi Randy,

    I very much relate to myth #6. I feel offended if someone controls me and I hardly ever control others because I firmly believe that people work better If they feel one trusts them. This of course leads to my disbelieve of myths #1-3.

    Trust requires courage; a rather rare feature 🙂

    Have a great rest of the week.
    Kind Regards

    • Great insights Brigitte! I like your emphasis on trust requiring courage. It can be scary to put yourself at risk and trust someone else, yet we have to have the emotional courage to do so.

      Take care,


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