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A modified version of the Trust Equation

Mike Cameron has previously discussed the Trust Equation, and how it plays a significant role in building an organisational culture of belief and confidence. He applies his own variation of the equation to Australian working conditions.

In my article on trust1, I highlighted the Trust Equation, a scientifically-based, deconstructive model offering an analytical, actionable framework for evaluating trustworthiness which was first described in The Trusted Advisor, co-written by Charles H Green and David Maister (2000).  They also introduced the term “Trust Quotient”2 (TQ). 

As a coach and trainer, I’ve used the Green/Maister model, together with a simple story to gain my clients’ understanding of how important and useful this model can be when used appropriately and in a timely fashion. 

However, after feedback, I’ve modified the model to reflect the most common Australian meaning of words associated with trustworthiness, trust and Green/Maister’s own selection of words for their Trust Equation (without, I believe, losing the intention, research and science of their original work).

The modified Trust Equation uses four objective variables which I’ve described as: 

  • Believability. 
  • Dependability.
  • Relatability. 
  • Self-interest.

These are combined to create the following equation – the TQ (see Figure 1) – which evaluates an individual’s trustworthiness with four variables:

  1. Believability (Credibility*), ie your having confidence in the truth, the existence, or the reliability of something (although without absolute proof that you are right in so doing). 
  2. Dependability (Reliability*), ie on the other person’s actions and their displaying honesty, economy, faithfulness and a capacity for finishing what has been started. 
  3. Relatability (Intimacy*), ie your feeling connected to the other person, appreciating their ease of communication, identifying with their ability to understand and be understood, and recognising/appreciating when they display empathy towards you and others. 
  4. Self-interest (Self-orientation*), ie the other person’s focus. Are they focused on themselves, or on you when making decisions and advising on what is best for you? 

* Note: The asterisked words are the formal terms used by Green and Maister.

What is important to remember is that the meaning of the words I’ve selected are almost entirely personal, not organisational. People rarely give over their trust to a company or business but they tend to assess the situation when, right or wrong, they decide to either trust or not trust other people. 

While people within a company make it what it is, a company (or its marketing image) may be described as “Believable” and “Dependable” (the first two components of my revised model). However, “Relatability” and “Self-Interest” are solely people-based. Many of us make a quick judgement, based on our “gut feeling”, whereas the assessment of trustworthiness requires an objective, non-emotive rating for each of the four variables, since you are seeking high believability, dependability and relatability, and low self-interest scores to establish a credible TQ.

THE RATING PROCESS

Self-interest, which sits alone, is the most important variable in the Trust Equation because by increasing the number that you apply (one to five, with five being for a person most focused on themselves) it will decrease the value of trust. In other words, the more you trust that person, the lower the rating you will give self-interest (with one being for a person most focused on you).

However, increasing the rating to any of the three variables in the top line of the equation (one to five, with five representing your highest level of confidence) increases the value of trust.  In other words, the more comfortable you feel about these variables the higher the score you will give to each of them.

For example, in a recent TV advert about a couple looking for a home mortgage, the financial advisor initially would have been rated 5 (excellent) + 4 (good) + 3 (fair) = 12 (out of a maximum of 15) on the top line, divided by 2, from the bottom line (showing low self-interest and a keen focus on the couple), giving an overall TQ of six. This means the customers felt reasonably comfortable with this individual, given that it was a commercial transaction.

However, when suddenly he is shown counting a fist full of dollars (his commission), how would they rate his self-interest now?

Let’s assume the couple assessed the financial advisor as a five (showing little or no concern/interest for his clients’ well-being),
a revised TQ of 2.4 would be the result (12 divided by 5 = 2.4).**

**Note: With the highest TQ rating being 15, any score at five or less means questionable to low trustworthiness. The TV couple certainly didn’t want to take up his offer to provide them with additional services having lost their previous feeling of trust for this man!

In conclusion, this model is an important tool that, when used correctly, will assist you to evaluate the “trustworthiness” of individuals rather than relying on your “gut instinct” or less reliable methodologies. 

Mike Cameron is an IQA member and the principal of Strategically Yours. Visit strategically.com.au

ENDNOTES

1 Cameron M. Building and sustaining the environment of trust in business. In: Quarry 28(3); March 2020: 39-41. 

2 Green CH, Founder, Trusted Advisor, Associates LLC.  The trust quotient and the science behind it. https://trustedadvisor.com/why-trust-matters/understanding-trust/the-trust-quotient-and-the-science-behind-it 

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