[book review] The Truth About Trust: How It Determines Success in Life, Love, Learning, and More

A well researched book with experiments to back it all up, The Truth About Trust distills trust in it’s basic form. Such a complex part of our lives and yet we leave it all to our gut, The Truth About Trust gives us a better understanding on what trust is and how much we should know about it.  A must read.

My past few books are disappointments and I’m finally happy again after reading The Truth About Trust (TTAT). It has been a long time since my thoughts has been challenge and my common beliefs questioned, and happily answered by a book. DeSteno does a great job of dividing trust in it’s pure essence and getting us interested on the things we use, or rely on, and trust the most.

What is trust? The first chapter sets his hypothesis on what trust is. A few key takeaways that are established in this chapter:

  1. Trust is short term versus long term gains
  2. Trust should be contextual. This means that past behavior cannot determine future outcome. Just because somebody was worthy of your trust before, doesn’t mean you should trust them in the future
  3. Likability and competence are two big factors in trusting someone and being trusted

DeSteno relies on these three premise throughout the whole book and it’s a good guide on understanding his theories and how these three hypothesis and the building blocks on his whole research.

Trust is short term versus long term gains

Why is it that we want to be trust worthy on certain situations with certain people and not with others? Given a situation to steal without consequence, will we do it? Given a situation that we can exploit while hurting other who trusted us, what will we do? These situations mainly do have short versus long term consequences and gains.

DeSteno goes in the book saying that in some situations, we would rather be trust worthy as we can see a potential future with a situation, person, relationship, friendship, or something that will have gains in the future rather than the “now”. In business, relationships, and just everyday “humanness”, we are forced to trust and be trusted by strangers in the premise that we are going to get or give something of value. This transaction is how we have been living for generations that we are forced to trust that the person will keep their end of the bargain. What makes us trust that person? DeSteno presents his first point that trusting is a battle between short and long term gains. How, as a person, I can build your trust by producing results or being a good worker, because I want to stay in the same company where I will be compensated for the amount of work that I perform. However, I don’t know if you are only there for short term gains where you’ll disappear or pay me less than agreed after a certain project. This balance of short and long term gains can then be applied in various situations where we trust other people. Are they worthy of gaining my long term trust or are they just turning in a quick buck? Distilled in this essence, trusting then becomes a much easier premise than relying on our gut instinct. But of course, something this complex, can’t be translated as easily.

Context in Trust

Another great point of DeSteno is how we should not rely on past behavior in trusting people. His experiments has proven that people change depending on what context they will be trusted on. This reminds me of a saying that “If I can’t trust you with an egg, how can I trust you with a chicken?”. Of course this talks more about responsibility than trust, but given a situation in the past, then a similar situation arises in the future, the context greatly plays a role on how much trust should we put on the person as situations changes a person. His various experiments show again and again, how when a person rises in rank, so does his lack of trust worthiness. There is something in how when you have the resources, you lose a certain connection as you won’t need others anymore to survive. He shares the possible evolutionary reasoning behind how fundamentally, trust is about survival. How we are geared in trusting when we need people, when we are vulnerable and need help. No matter what the background of the people in the experiment were, the results were always the same, they lose connection and they become less trust worthy.

This raised a great point for me on how situation changes people. All of us can reinvent ourselves and success or failure can definitely change us. This is why people in the movies when losing their money suddenly become really nice and trusting. Their vulnerability has made them trust others more. Since they have nothing to lose and needs all the help they can get, trusting becomes their only means of survival while being on the top is the complete opposite.

Likability and competence

It is easy to gain short term trust. There are tons of tips out there on how we can be easily trusted by people. Mirroring, smiling, etc. are just a few ways on how we can get the immediate trust of others. However, maintaining this trust once situations calls for it is where our trust will be tested. DeSteno mentions two main points on how we can be trusted, likability and competence. Experiments done with children showed that likability alone doesn’t necessarily mean that we will be trusted automatically. Competence has to be balanced with this likability and depending on the situation, these two traits will be measured.

Certain situations and relationships call for different traits. Maybe in a professional environment, I don’t need everybody to be likable, but everybody has to be competent to do their job. While in a social gathering, we won’t be looking for people who can fix a car, but more on how likable and enjoyable spending time with a person is. This balance was tested in DeSteno’s experiments and it shows that we have evolved not only to like likable people but to trust competent people when the situation calls for it. This made me think on how friendships are created and what we look for in people when making friends or professional connections. On why it’s wrong to ask advice to friends we know to well just because they might not give the right advice or we already know what to expect them to say when we trust them with our most intimate problems.

These two words, likability and competence, made me think on how are relationships are shaped by factors that are both totally in and out of control. How we decide on who to trust with what. Luckily these two traits are not mutually exclusive. The challenging part is finding someone that is both likable and competent for you as these values are not universal for everyone.

Juicy Bits

Equipped with his three points, DeSteno goes on to discuss situations about trust. Trust in romantic relationships, at work, online, and most importantly ourselves. He uses the three points and more in discussing these topics and I think he did a great job of, again, distilling it to the basics. No point in the book did I feel lost, rather I felt that every chapter was a discovery towards something that I should’ve known ages ago. I appreciate how each chapter summarizes the main parts just so you won’t forget.
I won’t go into all of the chapters like I do in my previous reviews, rather, I would like you to focus on the three main points when thinking about being trusted and trusting someone.
  • Short term vs long term goals. Gaining now with the potential lost or going through the long haul
  • Context in trust means that you can’t judge people based on their past performance
  • Likability and competence should be balanced and again depends on the context.
I haven’t entered a book and left with much insight in a long time. “The Truth About Trust” sounds like a huge endeavor especially for analyzing a part of us that is so vague and yet it does a great job of actually making it more understandable. For all the times we trusted our gut and got conned, for all the times we wished we were more vulnerable towards someone, remember what trust is all about…
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