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The Trust Equation

The Trust Equation

The Trust EquationThe Trust Equation is an attempt to highlight the key features of trust in a professional setting. And it does a very good job.

And this is super-helpful to any professional, manager, or team leader, for a simple reason. Trust is your stock-in-trade. If your team, customers, and bosses don’t trust you, you have nothing but a job title. The extent to which you can get things done in a leadership role depends largely on trust.

But how do you inspire that trust? This is what the Trust Equation will show you.

Why build a Trust Equation?

‘My client knows I am credible and reliable, so why doesn’t my client trust me?’

This is a typical question that David Maister, Charles Green, and Robert Galford put into the mouth of a typical professional, in their fantastic book, ‘The Trusted Advisor’ (US|UK).

They use their trust equation to illustrate how you can figure out the answer.

And, whilst only a fool would believe the precise numbers their equation gives are an accurate measurement of trust, the general pattern the equation creates seems just right. It is a powerful tool for evaluating your strengths and weaknesses in your quest to earn the trust you want.

What is the Trust Equation?

The Trust Equation T=(C+R+I)/S

The Trust equation says that the level of trust people will invest in you (T) is equal to your:

  • Credibility, plus
  • Reliability, plus
  • Intimacy with them, all divided by your
  • Self-orientation

Let’s unpack what these terms mean.


This is your expertise. It’s the extent to which they believe you have good knowledge and are capable of giving sound advice. For a professional, this is, of course, the part you earned through your training.


Do you keep your promises, deliver results when you say you will, and keep people informed of what you are up to? All of these add up to a sense that people can rely upon you.


Here is where relationship building comes in. On the face of it, if you can give cold-hard advice and be reliable, and people should trust you. But trust is a human thing, and we make emotional judgments even when emotions ought not matter.


One thing that will erode trust is where people assess that you may be acting out of self interest. So the extent to which you exhibit self-orientation will diminish the trust people feel.

Calculating Trust

In assessing your trustworthiness, the authors calculate a score by grading each element out of ten. Clearly, zero self-orientation would yield a nonsensical infinite trust score. But be realistic: who could claim to have absolutely no self-orientation?

What matters is seeing the impact of where one or more parameters score low. And here’s an important factor: if you want to understand how I perceive your trustworthiness, you have to be honest about how I may assess each of your credibility, reliability, intimacy with me, and self-orientation. For each relationship, your trust score will be different, based on the history of that relationship.

The Realms of Trust

The authors have a neat table that summarises where trust manifests for each of the four elements:

  • Credibility manifests in the things you say (words)
  • Reliability manifests in what you do (actions)
  • Intimacy manifests in what people feel comfortable sharing with you (emotions)
  • Self-orientation manifests in what people think you care about (motives)

And when any of these breakdown, people will characterise you using a familiar stereotype. Poor:

  • Credibility and you’re labelled a windbag
  • Reliability and you’re labelled irresponsible
  • Intimacy and you’re labelled a technocrat
  • Self-orientation and you’re labelled devious

How to Build Trust

Five Stages of Developing Trust

I’ll finish with the authors’ five-stage process for building trust:

  1. Engage with the person
  2. Listen to them – this is more important, by far, than being heard by them. In principle, it should be easier too – if only you can keep your mouth shut!
  3. Frame their concern in a way that demonstrates you understand the core of the issue at hand
  4. Envision what you can accomplish by working together
  5. Commit to your part in what you both need to do

What is Your experience of Trust?

We’d love to hear your experiences, ideas, and questions. Please leave them in the comments below.

To learn more…

The Working Relationships Pocketbook is full of tips and techniques to create, develop, and sustain effective working relationships.

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