The Vector View on Trust: How to Build and Maintain It (Part 2 – Reliability)

June 1st, 2015   •   no comments   

Here is Part 2 as promised. The previous Vector View on openness as it relates to trust should be reasonably clear. Without openness, trust is difficult to build and without reliability it is difficult to maintain trust.


“I know I can count on you.” Embodied in this statement is a major component of what trusting someone is all about. Much of our trust in people depends on our assessment of their reliability. If we trust people to come through for us by giving us good information, by making reasonable judgments, and by meeting their commitments to us, then they have gone a long way toward building our trust in them.

To the extent that your behavior causes people to perceive you as being reliable, you will gain these benefits:

• People will be more likely to accept your word on issues.
• You will spend less time defending yourself (or feeling that you need to).
• You will accumulate a “bank” of goodwill that may help you in gaining support when you need it.

Although almost everyone recognizes the importance of reliability, we often have difficulty living up to our own standards. Sometimes we rationalize less-than-reliable behavior by telling ourselves, “things are in such a constant state of change, I’m doing the best I can”. This may be true, but if an impression of unreliability is created, the best-intentioned efforts may be overlooked.

Three major areas affect others’ view of our reliability and thus our perceived trustworthiness:

1. the reliability of the information we provide to others
2. the reliability of our judgments
3. the reliability of our execution on promises or commitments

Let us look at all three.


People want to be able to rely on the information you provide, especially if it affects decisions they make. People seldom deliberately pass on unreliable information, with intent to deceive. More often, unreliable information is a result of carelessness or failure to see the other’s point of view.

Below are some of the issues to consider in deciding whether the information you provide to others is reliable and whether others perceive it as reliable.

Is it accurate and complete?

One way to create distrust is to have others perceive you as a gossip. People who consistently gossip are usually not trusted for two reasons. First, they frequently pass along information of questionable accuracy; and second, others cannot count on these people to maintain a confidence. Passing on speculative or partial information can also affect your reliability. Even though the information is accurate, its incompleteness may mislead people — and cause distrust when they learn the parts you left out.

Good general rules to follow are these:

• Before passing on information, check to see that you tell people everything that is relevant.
• Before you pass on speculative information, let people know that it is speculation.
• Before spreading rumors or gossip, stop.

Do you have hidden motives?

One especially damaging way to erode confidence in the information we provide is to have hidden motives. Being selective in what one passes on may bring a temporary advantage. But most people eventually recognize this, and credibility can suffer badly if others see someone as withholding information or distorting information for their own benefit. People seldom trust information from those they perceive as being “con artists.”

There is nothing wrong with having your own motives; nor is there any reason you should not benefit from the information you pass on. However, when this is the case, it is important to make your motives known beforehand to prevent mistrust later.

A statement like the following is one way to pass on information in which you have some stake: “Tom, I’ve gotten some disturbing information about the Bradley deal. First, I should tell you that if you decide against the Bradley project, my department would definitely benefit. Still, I think you should know what I found out so that you don’t get any unpleasant surprises.” This puts your agenda out in the open so that the other person can choose to consider it as he evaluates your information.

Are you knowledgeable?

Another source of distrust relates to your knowledge level. If you are knowledgeable of the facts, then your credibility is high. If you are not knowledgeable of a particular situation, it is important not to fall into the trap of thinking that you must tell people something. A simple “I know” seldom damages credibility, and often enhances it. It also allows one to follow up with something like, “I’ll check into that and get back to you later.”

Before providing information to others, make sure your sources are accurate. Test them out, if necessary, to be sure that the information you relay is correct. Let people know if you have suspicions about the accuracy of your source.

Do you provide filtered or biased information?

We know that “information never organizes itself”. We typically interpret information, as we present it, and that interpretation biases the way people perceive it. If this bias becomes excessive, people begin to question our objectivity.

One source of bias is our choice of adjectives. For example, after observing the same behavior, one person might refer to someone as an “intelligent buyer,” while another might use the term “crafty customer”. The second term is clearly more “colored” than the first. If your information appears overloaded with such phrases, it can erode trust in it. Try to keep your interpretations at a minimum or clearly identify which are interpretations and which are facts.

Is the information too old?

A final element is delay. Information is perishable and if it is delayed, it can “go bad.” You should provide information on a timely basis. Figures that are outdated or updates that are late may be useless or misleading. Make sure that the information you provide is timely — or that you date it for· people, if it is not.

To ensure trust in the reliability of your information:

• Make sure information you pass on is reliable or that you inform the person of just how reliable it is.
• Avoid “sitting on” information; pass it on as soon as possible so that others might benefit from it.
• Provide people with an “information bath.” Give them all you think they need and a little bit more.
• State up front what your interests and motives are. Try to eliminate any feeling that you may have a “hidden motive”.
• Keep facts and interpretations separate. Clearly identify what is fact and what is inference.


“She always makes the right decision” is a statement of trust. In practice, no one’s decisions are always successful, and no reasonable person expects him or her to be. In fact, no one whose decisions are 100% correct is probably doing a good job, because it would indicate unwillingness to take any kind of risk. What we usually mean by statement like the above is that the person tends to make what appear to be reasonable decisions, given circumstances.

Below are some of the factors that enter into people’s perception of the reliability of another’s judgment.

Clarity of the decision-making Process

If decisions seem well thought out, they create an impression of reliability. This means that for people to trust our judgment they may need to know something about how we arrive at decisions: What criteria did we use? What information did we base the decisions on? All too often, when people announce decisions, very little of the thinking that went into making them gets passed along. This can breed distrust if the decisions appear arbitrary to those not involved in them.

It is extremely important, therefore, that announcements of decisions made at higher levels should include the reasons behind the decisions and the criteria on which they were based. We sometimes refer to this as an “audit trail.” This is a clear and reasonable path between data about a situation and the resulting decision from that data.

This need for an audit trail can create problems for people who are highly intuitive, because they often arrive at decisions using what appears to be very little information (often they have enough information to reveal an underlying pattern). It can be valuable for people who are highly intuitive to develop a case for decisions reached through intuition. In effect, this involves creating an audit trail “backwards” — beginning with the decision and working back to the data, rather than vice versa. This process can build a rationale that will help support the decision, and can help the decision-maker see ways to improve it.

Political basis for decisions

If people always seem to make decisions that are “politically right” rather than “business right,” this throws their judgment into question. One must take the political realities of the organization into consideration if a decision is to have a good chance of being accepted. Nevertheless, if politics seems to be the major factor in decision-making, doubts as to the soundness of the judgment will arise.

Short-term or narrowly focused decisions

Consistently taking a short-term view on important issues can influence the view others have of the quality of your judgment. The appearance of having a short-term focus, or narrow viewpoint, will cause people to question the reliability of one’s judgment. It is important to clarify the link between decisions and the overall mission or long-term strategy.


The appearance of uncertainty influences other’s trust in our judgments. If a person seems to move back and forth between positions, first making a decision and then quickly reversing it, how can one have confidence in decisions?

Politicians are very aware of this problem and sometimes go to great lengths to avoid saying they changed their position on anything. This “solves” the problem of appearing to vacillate by substituting an impression of rigidity, however. The key to avoiding both vacillation and over-rigidity is to tie one’s decisions to information. If you change your position, be able to cite information or reasoning that led you to do so.

Oversights or “blind spots”

All of us have some blind spots. There will be things we overlook in making decisions, and sometimes these things appear obvious to others. If these are consistent, we can take steps to overcome them. We can make it a practice to remind ourselves of the potential blind spot before making decisions, or make it a habit to consult with others. The latter is a good general practice, in any case.

Occasionally, any of us might make an obvious error in decision-making. When this occurs, we increase credibility by quickly acknowledging the mistake, than by being defensive. Attempts to justify mistakes will call reliability into question much more than a simple correction of the decision.

As a quick test of how reliable your judgment appears to others, decide how others would answer the following questions about you.

1. Do your decisions seem arbitrary to others, with no supporting information or criteria?
2. Do you usually base your decisions on what is politically expedient?
3. Do you base most of your decisions on narrow considerations or short-term needs?
4. Do you seem to change your mind frequently, with no apparent good reason?

It is important to remember that appearance can affect your reliability, “reality” to other people. Appearances are, in fact, real. If you feel your judgment is reliable, take a little time to let others in on your reasoning. It can both contribute to your credibility and be valuable to others.


Below are some of the key factors that affect others’ view of your reliability of execution.

Keeping Commitments

A saying that originated among 19th century businesspeople was “My word is my bond.” This implies a one-to-one correspondence between what we say and what we do. When we create that link, we build a strong bond of trust.

It is interesting to note that even bitter enemies in war, politics, and business sometimes
develop strong mutual trust because they can count on the other to deliver what they commit to. This element of trust is so powerful that it can override fear of another’s ability to do you great harm. The use of the “flag of truce” in a military situation is an example of this. Here, people literally put their lives in the hands of enemies because of a belief that they will honor a bond of trust.

Keeping one’s commitments is one of the most important factors in building trust. Few of us deliberately -intend to violate commitments. More often, we find ourselves “caught” despite good intentions. Here are some guidelines for avoiding situations that erode trust in our execution of commitments.

• Never commit to do something just to end a discussion. Make a vow to yourself that “I will never commit to an action if I don’t really intend to give it my full effort.”
• Genuinely try to meet all your commitments. Avoid letting things slip because “it really doesn’t matter a lot.”
• Do not overload yourself so that you are forcing you to reschedule deliverables.
• If unforeseen circumstances affect your delivery on a commitment, notify the other party as soon as you become aware of the problem.
• Never unilaterally decide to break or change a commitment without first discussing it
with the other party.
• To maintain trust you may sometimes find that you will be greatly inconvenienced to
meet a commitment. Do so, if at all possible — and review the guidelines above, to avoid getting yourself in that situation again.

Interesting enough, a lack of delivering on the little commitments often erodes people’s trust of our execution. It’s not returning phone calls because it’s almost time to go home or it’s turning a report in the morning after it was due because it was just too much trouble to deliver it on time. Each event may be trivial but the impression they make when accumulated over time can be huge.

Maintaining Confidentiality

Another component in reliability of execution deals with pledges of confidentiality. Oscar Wilde once said, “I can keep a secret. It’s the people I tell it to that can’t.” One problem with a pledge of confidentiality is that each of us may have our own definition of what it means. For example: Can we tell our closest friends, selected business associates, our spouses? The apparent flexibility of a pledge of confidentiality raises problems of the trust, The best policy would be “no exceptions, ever.” But that seems impossible for many people.

Confidentiality can be a powerful factor in trust. The law recognizes this in the right of confidentiality between lawyer and client. If you want to be seen as trustworthy, don’t betray a confidence, even to your best friend. If you feel you must tell someone else, you have an obligation to let the other person know immediately so that they can take any action necessary. Clearly, the pledge of confidentiality is somewhat incompatible with the need for openness.

Providing Support as Promised

When people agree to support each other on an issue and then fail to come through, serious trust problems can occur. Failures to provide promised support usually occur for one of two reasons.

First, people sometimes decide, on thinking things over, that the issue is too risky. Second, they may get new information that causes a change in their position. When either occurs, we have a responsibility to let others know of the change immediately, so that they can decide how to proceed. Few things are as uncomfortable as marching into the fray, secure in the support of others, only to find that you are all alone.

The two simple rules below are useful in helping a void some of the pitfalls of building and maintaining trust in reliability of execution.

• Think before you agree; make sure you genuinely believe you can follow through.
• If something happens to change, your position (e.g., the risk is now too high), let others know immediately.

Potential Problems in Maintaining Reliability

• Over-commitment of your time and/or resources to multiple projects
• A pattern of crisis management and firefighting that interferes with what you plan to do.
• “LIFO” management, (Last In – First Out) and working on those things which have been most recently called to your attention while forgetting about earlier requests and commitments.
• Lack of empowerment or authority to complete your commitment

Positive Practices
• Following through and doing what you say you will do.
• If something interferes, notifying others prior to the failure to deliver.
• Sharing information on how decisions were reached.
• Clearly labeling speculative information as such and refraining from gossip.
• Clearly stating when a particular course of action meets self-interests.
• Strictly maintaining confidences

Things to Avoid

• Assuming people will “just understand” when your workload interferes with meeting your commitments.
• Over-committing your time and resources, or committing when you are unsure if you will be able to follow through.
• Hoarding information and/or the rationale for decisions

©Vector Group, Inc., 2015



Gary W. Craig is Managing Partner and COO for Vector Group, Inc. You may reach him at Vector Group is a global consulting firm specializing in systematic organizational diagnosis and interventions to ensure that corporate strategy, culture, and infrastructure all align to achieve breakthrough success. Please visit our website at or call us at (800) 566-0877.

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