It’s widely acknowledged that trust is hugely important for businesses. This seems to hold for companies large and small, across all sectors. What is less clear, and not well understood, are the basic differences between trust and distrust and how these can be gained or lost.
The philosophy of trust, my area of expertise, can help business owners here. Philosophers aim to reflect back to us, with greater clarity, concepts we deal with every day. These include notions that involve different types of trust: the difference between trust and distrust, and the difference between trust and other related concepts, such as reliance and confidence.
There are at least two ways that we use the word ‘trust’. For example, I might say ‘I trust your company to deliver on time’. But I mean something rather different to when I say (about an IT server) ‘I trust it to store the data’. This difference between trust and mere reliance is normally taken to turn on some moral considerations.
According to research, one reason that employees will choose to work at an SME is to be trusted to complete work with less oversight than they might be permitted at a larger firm. Communicate clearly the scope and goals of a task and make it clear to staff that they are being trusted to fulfil their responsibilities.
Clearly communicating a set of governing moral values is important to building trust. A great example of this kind of thing is the bank Monzo, which disclose not only their approach to writing, but also a commitment to transparency and responsibility.
Acting in accordance with those values is crucial to the formation of trust. Again, Monzo is a good example. In 2018 there was a security breach associated with Ticketmaster. Monzo responded, and in fact drew the breach to Ticketmaster’s attention. At all times, Monzo came across as striving for transparency and honesty. As a precaution, they replaced a large number of cards, and came out of the situation looking like a company which puts customer interest first.
Trust is often domain-specific; a company trusted to perform one function need not be trusted to perform others. I might trust Kellogg’s to make my breakfast cereal, but I probably wouldn’t trust them to invest my money. Frame communications and strategies accordingly. Keep them targeted and focused on core business.
Because trust is primarily an interpersonal attitude, it is optimally brought about through interpersonal interaction. If you wish a partner to trust you and your business, there is no substitute for face-time.