When we don't know someone, when we're in a new situation, a primal "flee or fight" and "friend or foe" response kicks in. We are built this way, all of us. New people get our attention because we wonder whether we'll get along with them, be able to work with them, form mutually-beneficial relationships with them. New people trigger a mixture of hope and fear. The flipside of trust is fear -- fear says "flee" -- and it often keeps perfectly nice people from even engaging with one another. It can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. We need each other, but too many people are islands.
Engaging with others, especially people we may not know, is always risky, a triumph of hope tempered by experience. To build trust, we need to believe that others are worthy of our trust -- we actually need to trust them first and see if that triggers reciprocity and thus builds mutual trust. The best way to get people to like you is to like them first, to be curious about them, and listen. People don't care about you unless they believe you care about them first.
We remain rightfully wary of any relationships that may lack reciprocity, but someone needs to trigger reciprocity to test the viability of the relationship. Care first. Trust first. Then observe. When you wait, they wait, and nothing good happens. We can't build anything unless we trust others and create communities of trust.
Will "trusting people first" create tremendous business and personal opportunities for you, will it make your life more interesting and colorful? Yes and yes. Will "trusting people first" result in your getting burned by people who are takers, not givers -- will it force you to set boundries with "challenging personality types" (read "jerks, a**holes, bullies, idiots, etc.")? Yes, and yes. The cost of not trusting people is self-imposed isolation and missing out on everything that matters in life -- emotion, friendship, learning, compassion, joy, pain, loss, and love.
And yes, you can and will sometimes trust too much, but better to err on the side of trusting too much than too little. Learning how to set appropriate boundaries with people can also build trust while keeping you sane. You can't be a trusting person without having good skills at negotiation and navigating among difficult people. That takes work but is worth learning. As the poet Robert Frost wisely observed, "good fences make good neighbors." If those neighbors are jerks, I agree: life is too short to get sidetracked by jerks when we're seeking to create positive, sustaining communities based on trust. Let people into your circle of trust, but not everyone.
We need to be humans willing to trust one another, because the alternative is chaos and living in constant fear. These are choices we make as individuals and societies. Now let's turn to business and marketing, which are human activities.
What shocks people nowadays, because it so rarely happens, is when marketers and businesses talk to people as if they were human beings with emotions and the capacity to trust. Trust builds customer loyalty like nothing else, and helps business thrive, but trust is more violated than fostered. Treating me like an idiot doesn't build trust, but that's the norm in marketing.
When an airline like United has security drag a customer across the floor and tossed out of a plane, a process that United hilariously defined as "voluntary deboarding," then we have a trust problem that becomes a business crisis. Even Merriam-Webster dictionary tweeted out the definition of "voluntary" after United had used the term in a head-slappingly dishonest way. Bravo to Merriam-Webster for reminding us all that, yes indeed, voluntary means we have some choice in the matter of being dragged off a plane.
United's CEO sent a letter to staff the day after the passenger drag-and-drop "incident," explaining that United had no idea why the passenger chose to resist being "re-accommodated." Really? This Orwellian staff letter was even worse than the viral video that had United's stock valuation dropping by $250 million -- and still falling. If United had treated its passenger like a human being worthy of dignity, perhaps negotiating with him some more to deboard the plane, they wouldn't have lost hundreds of millions of dollars. They might have lost $300. In retrospect, does United think it did the right thing by "voluntarily deboarding" that passenger?
Being human is complicated and messy, and so is trusting people. Using your size, your authority, following procedures or asserting your power over someone is NOT the way to go, not in the long-run. Any 10-year old kid with a smartphone can, as the United debacle shows, cost you hundreds of millions of dollars in the time it takes to upload a video. Businesses can't hide anymore.
I have a simple rule in life -- I don't give my money or create value with my work for people and businesses I don't like, not for long. Values, and by values I mean respect, humility, kindness, inclusion, listening, etc., are as important as the size of the business or the fame of the person. When someone signals that they don't care about me, I believe them and act accordingly.
And so I always want to trust, because it's so important as an evolutionary matter, which doesn't mean I always trust. We have hearts and emotions, but we have eyes and ears too. People show you who they are by their actions, and you should probably believe your eyes as much as your heart. The next time United's CEO jabbers on about their "organizational commitment to customer service," you can bet people will be thinking of "voluntary deboarding." We all have eyes and video cameras, dude. People and businesses pay a price when they violate the trust we place in them. Yet we have to try to keep on trusting in order to build a better world, and that's a choice each of us needs to make for ourselves as individuals and as businesses too.