Trust Intelligence?  Yes, I thought of it yesterday – and now it exists.

Trust can be binary (“I trust him or I do not”) in our most intimate relationships.  However, in most of our professional relationships, trust is more nuanced and balanced on a spectrum between “benefit of the doubt” and “suspicion.”

Admiral Rickover, (God)Father of the Nuclear Navy, quipped “You get what you inspect not what you expect.”

I hate this expression because it has a flavor of assuming the worst in people.  I also hate it, because it so freaking true. However, the pace and density of our professional lives does not allow us to “inspect” everything.   Further, if we did, we would sabotage all of our professional relationships.

Our decisions on what to inspect and what not to is a good measure of our Trust Intelligence.  (As an aside, when I use “inspect” I am not referring only to a physical inspection.  This includes all types of evaluations to validate the truth – questions, reviews, audits, research, etc) 

Trust too little and you demotivate and receive lower quality work.  Trust too much, you damage the organization and/or lose your job.

At the core of our Trust Intelligence is our “gut feel”?

Our “gut feel” can be calibrated through a process of honest reflection that is consistent and deliberate.  Evaluating why there was a mismatch (even a small one) between our gut feel and reality is a step we often (usually) skip.  If we force ourselves to reflect, we may find that:

– We prescribed a level of trust based on attributes, motivation or abilities that we wanted another to possess,

– We assumed others would think/act as we do.

– We overestimated someone’s ability or available time/resources.

– We were duped.

In time our Trust IQ goes up as our “gut feel” is calibrated.

Let’s flip the script.

Do organizations have a collective “Trust Intelligence”?  Not only “yes,” but “hell yes!”

One the most obvious characteristics of an organization’s culture is it’s level of trust in management.

Common in low trust environments are grumbles with healthy doses of references to “they” (They don’t know what they are doing! They are always trying to screw us! . . etc)   Low trust is cancerous to an organization and worse, it rarely is identified as the culprit of the damage. “Low trust” lurks in the shadows.

The level of trust in an organization is critical because our communication sucks.  We learned this truism in kindergarten – “the telephone game.”  I know of no organizational messages or initiatives that are intentionally evil, but I’ve often observed ones that are interpreted as such. When, not if,  the “telephone game phenomena” arises how does the organization react?

“Dammit!  They are always trying to screw us.”  


“I don’t understand this message.  There must be a miscommunication.” 

Suspicion vs. Benefit of the Doubt

To tip the scales to “Benefit of the Doubt,” we must communicate this telephone-game phenomena to all levels of the organization.  Be honest and direct – it will happen but we want to put a mechanism in place to address it.

Share the intentions behind the organization’s decisions. If all members of the organization understand the intentions that drive managerial decisions then it is easier for someone to recognize that a miscommunication has occurred.

Couple this discussion with a direct request for “benefit of the doubt.”  Emphasize the importance of extending this same “benefit of the doubt” in all directions of the organization; otherwise known as mutual respect which resides in the same zip code as trust.

Benefit of the doubt.   The golden ring.