Trust pricks up its ears when expectations are not met.

A lack of trust is considered one of the primary factors accountable for the rise of populism. “To be able to understand and conquer the current wave of distrust, we will first have to know what trust actually is. It is, after all, a complex and confusing term”, writes Bart Nooteboom in his recently published book: ‘Vertrouwen. Opening naar een veranderende wereld’ (Uitgeverij Klement), the title of which could be translated as: Trust: an opening to a changing world. The Netherlands Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences, KNAW organised a lecture on this theme on October 2017. Four prominent academics explained how trust is related to objects, people, organisations or larger systems. It was certainly a well-chosen theme, considering that the theatre hall of Amsterdam’s new public library was filled to the rafters!

Trust is taking risks

According to the Dutch Van Dale dictionary, trust is:
1 hoping with certainty: we trust [to have informed you sufficiently] …
2 having faith in someone: He cannot be trusted, he cannot be relied upon
3 believing in someone’s good faith and honesty

The essence of trust is the ability to give another person sufficient freedom (or leeway) in which to act. You yourself determine how much freedom to grant this other person or organisation. This means that you are also taking the risk of having your faith in this person annihilated. The words “hope” and “belief” in the definition provided by the Van Dale dictionary emphasise this risk. After all, if you trust something or someone, your expectations may not be met, and this could lead to disappointment and frustration.

The conclusion drawn by Bart Nooteboom is that the reasons for this disappointment are often not clear and, because of this, transparency is crucial for retaining or restoring trust. I agree with him, but would like nevertheless to add the following notes in the margin. Openness and transparency must become more than merely a buzzword for organisations and institutes. It means that, as an organisation, you must also be open at moments that are not as opportune for you. Additionally, transparency does not, by definition, enhance your trust in an organisation. The ABN/AMRO bank can, for example, communicate quite openly about the bonuses granted their top management, but this does not make these bonuses more acceptable to society in general. This form of more or less incidental openness will therefore not lead to greater trust, or be able to restore trust. Which examples could you add to this?

If you are reliable, you are deserving of trust

Bart Nooteboom believes that we should actually be using the term reliability rather than trust: “Trust is not something that is good merely because it is what it is. It must be earned through reliability. It must be possible to put my faith in you. And if you say that trust must increase, what should grow, above all, is reliability.” The essence of “reliability” lies in the ability to responsibly deal with the freedom to act that you are granted by the other (e.g. your friend, the government, your customers, your shareholders, civilians, colleagues, co-workers). This means that you must be aware of the context in which you operate, that you must know what customers and stakeholders expect from you, and the scope of the freedom you are granted for your actions, and by whom. In short: you must be fully aware of the context in which you operate and understand the changes taking place within this. As an organisation, this is only possible if you are willing to enter into the dialogue and listen.

This post is the first in a series that examines aspects that, according to MonkeyBlue, determine the “Contextual Intelligence” of an organisation. We call this TheContextFactor®. This factor is determined according to the research we conduct using our TheContextIndicator® method. The higher TheContextFactor® of an organisation; the stronger its right to exist. Elements that are of crucial importance to this include: Being in connection with your environment – translating this to your core values: your Purpose, your Mission, Vision & Strategy, Culture and, above all, your Actions & Omissions – Being transparent about what is important in your surrounding environment – And being trustworthy to your very core.

If you would like to respond to this blog or discuss this topic with us informally, please don’t hesitate to contact us!