Never Trust, Always Verify

No TrustNever trust, always verify.

I saw this tagline recently in an advertisement for a digital security product. The company’s message was straight-forward and clear—when it comes to digital security, you should never, ever, ever trust anyone or anything. Always verify.

Sadly, this advertising tagline struck me as ringing true for the way many people treat relationships in this day and age. Our current polarized political and social climate pits people against each other with little room in the middle. You’re either Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, patriotic or traitorous, a coastal elite or a fly-over country bumpkin.

This either/or mentality is shaping the way we build trust in relationships. In order for trust to be established, one person has to make the first move to extend trust to the other. It’s risky and there’s no way around it. If there wasn’t risk, there wouldn’t be a need for trust. How can you make the first move to extend trust if you believe you should never trust and always verify? You can’t.

If we hope to make any progress in finding common ground with each other we have to learn to trust. Trust isn’t all or nothing. Trusting someone doesn’t mean you trust them 100% of the time in all situations. Trust is situational. It’s contextual to the individual and circumstance. For example, I have a high degree of trust in Tim, my auto mechanic. Over the years he’s done quality work, charged a fair price, and been honest in his dealings. He’s earned my trust. Would I trust Tim to prepare my tax returns? No, I wouldn’t. He’s not a CPA.

So, if trust is situational, how do we know when we can trust someone? An individual is trustworthy when he/she is…

Able—An able person demonstrates competence by having the knowledge, skills, and expertise for their particular job. They achieve goals consistently and develop a track record of success. They show good planning and problem-solving skills and they make sound, informed decisions.

Believable—A believable person acts with integrity when they tell the truth, keep confidences, and admit their mistakes. They walk the talk by acting in ways congruent with their personal values and those of the organization. They treat people equitably and ethically and ensure that rules are fairly applied to all members of the team.

Connected—Trustworthy people care about others. They are kind, compassionate, and concerned with others’ well-being. They readily share information about themselves and the organization. Being a good listener, seeking feedback, and incorporating the ideas of others into decisions are behaviors of a connected person who cares about people.

Dependable—People trust those who honor their commitments. DWYSYWD—doing what you say you will do is a hallmark of a trustworthy person. They do this by establishing clear priorities, keeping promises and holding themselves and others accountable. Dependable people are punctual, adhere to organizational policies and procedures, and respond flexibly to others with the appropriate direction and support.

Never trust, always verify. It’s a catchy phrase that plays well for a company advertising a digital security product, but it’s a relationship killer. There’s no way to have any sort of relationship with someone without a modicum of trust. Someone has to make the first move to extend trust, with the hope and belief the other person will prove him/herself trustworthy.

6 Comments on “Never Trust, Always Verify

  1. This comment is from my fellow Trust Activist, Charles Green. Charlie is one of the world’s foremost authorities on trust and I encourage you to check out his work.
    Randy, this is spot-on.

    It’s worth remembering the not-so-long-ago political derivation of this idea: “Trust, but verify.” Ronald Reagan used it to describe negotiations with the then-Soviet Union.

    The problem: it was originally a Russian proverb, and Russia is one of the culturally low-trust societies in the world (great reference point: Francis Fukuyama’s book Trust: the Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity).

    Fukuyama’s point is the same as yours: if everyone endemically practices the “never trust” program, you end up with ruined economies and failed prosperity, just as you do at the individual level. It is, as you point out, a recipe for killing relationships.

    The thing about trust is, it requires risk-taking – by someone at some point in the relationship. Trust falls in the broad middle of an interesting continuum. At one end, you’ve got mere probability assessment. At the other, blind faith.

    In between, you get this interesting phenomenon (you can see it in the animal world too, but humans have raised it to an art form) where you realize you might actually be harmed, and the other person really could harm you – but you decide to take the risk anyway, in search of some better outcome.

    And one of the great things about trusting is that it appeals to people’s inclination toward reciprocity. If you trust people, they’re more inclined to trust you (it works in reverse too – try being paranoid and skeptical about everyone and see how your friend-circle and social life fall apart)

    Named to Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior
    Charles H. Green
    Trusted Advisor Associates
    Blog: Trust Matters

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