March 2014 – Who Can You Trust?

Trust is a big issue in city planning and government. But, who do you trust? The following is abstracted from a March 2014 Harvard Business Review article by David DeSteno. He suggests that there are four points to keep in mind in deciding to trust.

  1. Integrity Can Vary
    Contrary to common belief, integrity isn’t a stable trait: Someone who has been fair and honest in the past won’t necessarily be fair and honest in the future. Think about short-term and long-term gains. It’s the trade-off between them that typically dictates integrity at any given moment. Even morally upstanding people may act dishonestly to benefit themselves, if they believe they won’t get caught. (Remind you of anyone in Washington or even your local elected officials?) The upshot is clear. Trustworthiness depends on circumstances.
  2. Power Does Corrupt
    Which man do you expect to be more honest: the one wearing an Armani suit or the one wearing a sport coat from Men’s Warehouse? It turn out that increasing status and power go hand in hand with decreasing honesty and reliability. However, a person’s honesty depends on his or her relative feelings of power-or vulnerability-not how much he or she has in the bank.
  3. Confidence Often Masks Incompetence
    Confidence is so alluring that we’re often willing to trust anyone who expresses it, especially when money or other resources are at stake. Too often we mistake people’s self-confidence for true ability. If someone can back up his or her bravado with consistent performance, there’s no harm done. So when you perceive confidence in a company’s leaders, talk to current and previous employees and customers to verify that it is warranted.
  4. It’s OK to Trust Your Gut
    Researchers in the academic, business and military communities have spent years trying to uncover a few simple methods for detecting trustworthiness, but despite their best efforts, continue to come up short. So trusting your gut is important. There are at least four signals as shown in the illustrations below that may be of help, but be careful; each can be misleading. However, the more frequently an individual expresses all four the more potentially reliable.


The Management Doctor

Four Signals That Someone Can’t Be Trusted 


Leaning Away image2 image3 image4



Reader Response

I do not agree with your rash generalization of derogatory body language. Those can all be behavioral habit signals.

Scott H. Morgan, Director
Cumming Department of Planning & Zoning