“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” says Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part II(1974, Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola.) Debating over who said it first – Sun Tzu? Niccolò Machiavelli? Petrarch? – may make for lively cocktail party chit-chat. But, the question of who can – and can’t – be trusted goes straight to the heart of everything you do. Nothing happens alone; doing business means doing business with others.
So how do you know who can be trusted? You can’t, at least not all of the time, but you can improve your odds.
First, do you know what your default is? It might seem strange but some of us automatically trust people until they prove us wrong, and some of us need more time to trust. The more cautious among us may have spent way too much time with untrustworthy people because, the fact is, as a society, we know more about how to destroy trust than we know how to build it.
Most of us start out life by trusting others, so we grow up and expect to be trusted. Then we crash into someone who neither respects nor returns our trust, and we have our first experience of disenchantment. Just keep in mind, if you enter a relationship expecting to be disappointed, you probably will be. (If it seems like you are easily disappointed, ask yourself if your expectations are impossibly high.)
Second, how does the other person compare to others you have, and have had, relationships with? While you can’t see into them, you can look at what’s happening in the space between the two of you. Assuming you’re having a conversation, ask yourself about what’s actually being transmitted back and forth. Does the other person listen to you in a way that feels like it’s the right amount of time? If it feels like too little, they probably don’t recognize that other people might have a different view of the world – like you! While that might not make them untrustworthy, they’re less likely to consider you in anything they’re thinking of. If it feels like it’s too much listening on their part, it could be that you’re fascinating them – or that they’re looking to manipulate you and are ‘collecting data.’ The bottom line is to give consideration to what you are feeling and compare it with what feels right to you. (As your confidence builds, so will your ease with trusting others sooner.)
Finally, keep in mind that like so many other positive things, trust begins with you. You weren’t born to tell the difference at birth. Someone trusted you, you learned to trust them, and the feelings of that relationship became your standard for measuring. Now it is your turn to trust, to be trustworthy, and to be the standard for others. Take the lead and you’ll be one of the usual trustpects!