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Trust Must Be Earned; Trust is Fragile

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”– Ernest Hemingway

“Trust starts with truth and ends with truth.”– Santosh Kalwar

At the heart of any dispute resolution process is Trust. Whether one is a negotiator, mediator, arbitrator, executive coach, et al, users must trust the process and must trust the neutral. As indicated in the previous Blog on Likability, persuading is more likely if the people being persuaded “Like” the presenter, and is even easier if they “trust” the presenter.

What is Trust?

Quoting Author and Management Leader John Maxwell*:

“Trust is a firm belief in the honesty, integrity, reliability of another person.

Trust must be earned-one piece at a time.

Trust is the result of a risk successfully survived.”

How does one behave to gain trust?**

-Get involved. Ask questions. Start dialogs.

-Follow through on commitment

-Be consistent. Do what you say you are going to do.

-Say what you mean; Mean what you say.

-Give trust. Reciprocity works.

-Be transparent.

-Look for opportunities to agree. Find commonalities.

-Admit when you are wrong. Mistakes are easy to make. Recognize them quickly and rectify with a simple and clear apology.

How does one behave so that you never gain trust?

-Say one thing and do another.

-Not keep a confidence.

-Violate confidentiality.

-Don’t follow through on commitment.

-Be indiscrete.

-Be negative.

How do you erode trust?

-Acting superior


-Behaving detached



-Shoot down ideas

-Not listening

-Having indiscretions.

How do you regain trust?

-Admit error (in behavior)

-Trust is fragile; take small steps.

-Take great risks.

-Apologize and do it timely.

-Have a Face to Face (F2F).

-Listen. Listen verbally and nonverbally.

-Show loyalty.

-Be sincere.

-Create and share action plan.

-Accept responsibility.

-Follow through.

Be open; Be honest. Do not buy into the mantra: open and honest. Treat these differently to gain trust. Being honest is part of a negotiator’s character. This is their reputation. When they say something, the listener(s) can depend that it is accurate; that it is the truth.

Separate from honesty, is being open. Being open about information is strategic. Will sharing this information help the situation? If information is shared, the negotiator expects some information in return: information exchange. The approach is reciprocity. The more trust, the more openness and the easier is the negotiation. Complete sharing creates an ideal negotiating environment.

Who is Trustworthy?***

Northeastern University of MIT conducted a fascinating study outlining how we intuitively determine trustworthiness. Many folks point to certain nonverbal gestures that may convey trustworthiness. This study determined that there is a combination of 4 gestures that together lead to feelings of untrustworthiness. They are,

-Leaning away

-Crossing arms in a blocking fashion

-Touching, rubbing or grasping hands together, and

-Touching oneself on the face, stomach or elsewhere.

Based on simulations, the researchers discovered that generally that 22% of folks are completely trustworthy; 13%, not trustworthy and 65%, in between.

Negotiation Experts Agree on the Important of Trust:

-Author Brian Tracy, Negotiation, declares that the beginning of negotiation is establishing a trusting relationship. He asserts that the best business relationships are where people are happy and continuing.

-Author and Management Guru Stephen M. R. Covey writes in The Speed of Trust-The One Thing That Changes Everything the cores of credibility (honesty) is integrity, intent, capabilities and results. He list 13 trusting behaviors including,

-Confronting reality

-Clarifying expectations and

-Listening first.

Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People calls trust “the highest form of human motivation.”

-Author Larry L. Teply writing Legal Negotiation ( in a nutshell): “Just as one’s reputation for effectiveness (ineffectiveness) will often precede a negotiator a reputation for honesty, trustworthiness and integrity will precede a negotiator.”

Persuasion and Trust Scale (anonymous).

The persuasion scale below indicates the importance of trust in the persuasion process. On the vertical is how the Persuadee feels about the Persuader: don’t like, neutral, like, trust. On the horizontal is how one presents the information:

-Do you tell?

-Do you show?

-Do you tell and show?

-Do you involve the Persuadee?

The Persuader wants to be in the top right: being trusted and involving the Persuader. The worse place for the Persuader to be is in the bottom left; that is, the Persuadee does not like the Persuader and the Persuader merely tells or lectures. So, it is clear from this scale that one wants to be effective in persuading, one wants to be at least, liked, if not trusted.

Conclusion: Quoting Author and Management Leader John Maxwell*:

“Trust begins with you.

Trust cannot be compartmentalized.

Trust works like a bank account.”

Many Negotiation experts talk about “the four corners of trust” that seem to vary with the author. Generally the four corners are competence, credibility, communication and care.

New York Times Reporter Janny Scott**** presents an excellent trust summary:

-“Trust is created through small steps.

-Trust is fragile.

-Trust grows through risks.

-A single betrayal can shatter trust.

-Suspicion hardens into distrust.

-Trust is rebuilt by taking more risks.”


**These list of behaviors is a recording of my class at George Washington School of Law 2019 when we did this exercise of “Trust Questions.”

*** Who’s Trustworthy (NYT 9/12/12) by Tara Parker-Pope



Larry Ray

Larry Ray aspired to be a history professor but under the influence of Muskingum University Dr. Robert Munkres (Political Science/Pre-Law Professor), he attended law school. Not that enamored by the large lecture classes, Ray discovered an experimental program: The Night Prosecutors Mediation Program, funded by the US Department of Justice.… MORE >

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