The Undiscussed Side of Trust
post # 381 — May 30, 2007 — a Client Relations post
Three things came together in the past week or so that caused me to reflect on what we know about trust.
First, I was reading in The Economist an article on immigration which pointed out that, throughout history and throughout the world, people like to associate with those with whom they have a lot in common.
Thatâ€™s why, The Economist argued, immigrants from the same country tend to move (at least initially) to the same cities and regions where previous immigrants from their origin have gone. Just as there are Bangladeshi areas in certain British towns, Irish in Boston and Russians in Brooklyn.
Nothing wrong with that, right?
Well, no, but in the same week I received an email from someone in an eastern European country who asked: â€œDo you think the principles of trust that you and your co-authors described in the Trusted Advisor apply in Eastern Europe? Rather than the factors of credibility, reliability intimacy and lack of self-orientation that you write about, trust in my country basically boils down to whether or not you come from the same village as I do. Or at least the same region.â€
The third thing that happened is that I was sent an email about a blog by Carmen van Kerkhove, who argued that, essentially, many diversity trainers in business focus on all the wrong things. One of her most telling points is that by trying to teach people how to be â€œsensitiveâ€ to other races, genders and religions, the training actually just trains people how to hide their racism — it doesnâ€™t stop them being racist, just how to not show it!
Iâ€™m really not equipped to be a moralist, but thereâ€™s some complicated stuff going on here.
Sometimes, we work hard to be race-, gender, religion- and class-blind. The, at other times, we are all â€œrealistsâ€ and recognize that, very often, people like to deal with people who are like them. We call it â€œcomfortâ€, â€œchemistryâ€, â€œconnection.â€
For example, when we strive to create diverse firms in order to appeal to diverse buyers (female partners to go after female clients, people of color to â€œpenetrateâ€ the ethnic community they come from) we are trading on the (apparently universal) tendency of people to prefer dealing with people like themselves.
There seems to be an aspect of how we as humans come to trust that is inherently â€œracist.â€ OF COURSE, itâ€™s not just Caucasian males who can be racist in trusting people who are like them. People of all nationalities, genders and religious background do it ALL the time — not just occasionally, but (it would appear) as the default position! Global literature and movies from any age would be only a microscopic fraction of what they are if we eliminated dramas based on star-crossed lovers whose families do not want them to marry because they come from different backgrounds.
If all this makes you uncomfortable (as it does me) thereâ€™s still some hope. People like interacting with and TRUST people with whom they have a lot in common, when thereâ€™s no other evidence. â€œBeing like usâ€ (ie the class-ist, racist, religious, gender-biased starting default position) can, it seems, be overcome by just being more trustworthy than others. Credibility, reliability, intimacy and lack of self-orientation DO matter.
But letâ€™s not fool ourselves about what a large portion of the world actually uses to base their trust judgments on. We donâ€™t have to like it, but we do have to acknowledge and deal with it.