All people have expectations of themselves and others. The expectations that are held may not be understood, agreed upon, or even fair.
These expectations fall into one or more of the following six categories: communication, character, concern, competence, connectedness, and consistency. Trust is built when we prove reliable by meeting the expectations others have of us in these six areas, but we can't gain someone's trust if we don't know what they expect. It's a viscous cycle.
1. Find out what you are up against [expectation-wise].
People often have differing expectations and do not know it because they have never honestly discussed and agreed on the expectations.
The more we successfully meet the expectations others have of us, the more they will perceive us through the filter of “this is a trustworthy person.” Distrust develops when we fail to live up to the expectations others have of us in one or more of the six areas. This distrust then becomes a filter through which most of our other actions or behaviors are judged.
2. Do your homework rather than following blindly.
Christians sometimes operate with a presumption of innocence when dealing with others who profess faith in Christ. It is assumed that since this person, group, or organization claims to be following Christ, they are trustworthy. As a result, it is further assumed they will act in our best interest, do the right thing, and desire to honor God.
However, there are numerous examples of the danger and destruction associated with presumed innocence, including people being sold products or given financial advice that ultimately resulted in loss for them and gain for others. Presumption of innocence must be balanced with accountability and due diligence in investigating the trust history of another person or group.
One of the ways we practice due diligence is by seeking the endorsement of others regarding someone’s trustworthiness. If someone we trust endorses the trustworthiness of someone else, we are more inclined to trust that person as well. On the other hand, if someone we trust believes another person should not be trusted, we are less likely to trust that person. This initial perception formation is one way trust is initially acquired or lost.
3. Don’t forget to read the book after you have judged its cover.
Perceptions are cognitive pictures that are stored in the brain. They develop as a result of a complex combination of factors including concrete experiences, cultural beliefs, and social influences. They are often treated as “the truth” from those who hold them, even if the perception is inaccurate, therefore making them very powerful. Perceptions can be changed, although not easily, through honest dialogue and changed behaviors.
Balancing expectations and perceptions plays a key part in cultivating trust. For more on this topic, read the article "Cultivating Trust in Your Organization" in our book FIT – Improving the Leadership Health of Yourself and Others.
Jay is the Executive Director of The Center and serves on the Senior Leadership Team at Calvary Church in Souderton. Jay brings experience in the areas of ministry assessment, leadership coaching, decision-making, and strategic questioning. Jay’s degrees include a B.S. in Bible, a M.Ed in Instructional Systems Design and a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Leadership.