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  • Writer's pictureChris Lundberg

Skill Builder: Determining Trust

What does communication literature tell us about trustworthiness? There is a framework, as old as Aristotle, that has been consistently validated through empirical research. It shows that goodwill, competence, and communicating in a way that demonstrates aligned or authentic motives all help to build the perception of trustworthiness.


We trust people who we believe have goodwill towards us: they want the best for us; they share our values; and they have an empathetic connection towards us. The perception of goodwill (and its associated qualities like shared values and motives) is a significant determiner of trust. Competence is another crucial determinant. While goodwill ensures us that someone has benign motives, perceived competence—especially in the formation and articulation of speech—has proven to be a critical factor in building trust between parties. Finally, aligned or authentic motives also help to determine trustworthiness. The basic dynamic here is that we tend to discount the claims that someone makes if the content of what they say is not aligned with some explicitly displayed affective or emotive correlate. Put simply, we don’t trust people that are, for example, sad about something if their tone and demeanor do not match up with their message. 


Of course, trustworthiness is based on a number of factors that entail more than just communicating well. For example, there may be institutional misalignments of motive or a record of untrustworthy behavior, either of which could undermine trust in a relationship. But increasing the frequency and competence of trustworthy communication tends to lessen the effects of those histories and misalignments. It also brings those issues to forefront, allowing us to identify and more quickly resolve them. Perhaps most importantly, organizational trust improves not only the culture of a business, but also makes that business—as a whole—more nimble and reduces transaction costs across the organization. 


Therefore, our assessment rubric will measure three basic categories of communication behaviors related to trust: those that enhance or detract from perceptions of goodwill; those that enhance or detract from perceptions of competence; and those behaviors which enhance or detract from perceptions of authenticity/alignment.

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