How to Build, Maintain and Predict Trustworthy Relationships

Olin Hyde
March 23, 2016

Photo credit: mikecogh via Visualhunt / CC BY-SA

Trust is the single most important asset of any organization or individual. Trust is empowers humans to accomplish incredible feats. It minimizes risk. It maximizes efficiency. It makes the impossible possible precisely because trust predicts the results of depending upon others. Trust is the essence of teamwork. So why is it so hard to explain and predict?

Such determinism is no small task. Trust is the one human trait that transcends every culture, every relationship aspect every aspect of business and leadership. Given the paramount importance of trust, it is stunning how little consideration society gives to understanding it. No wonder we suffer almost weekly betrayals of trust: Corporations who lie, cheat and steal from customers. Governments that fail to protect our data. Salespeople who lie to us to close the deal.

One of the most influential classes I took in graduate school was on leadership and ethics. One of my favorite professors, Dr. Alex Zak, presented a framework developed by Charles H. Green in his classic book Trust Based Selling. It blew my mind by that there was such a a simple way to quantitatively explain, predict and nurture trust – amounting to a formula purposefully create winning teams by evaluating how others perceive me and vice versa.

As a data-centric analytics company, trust is our most precious asset. For us to create value, our customers must trust us with their data. No, we do not share any customer data with anyone. But such assurances in our privacy policy are insufficient. Rather, we must have a transparent model that allows us to define trust then intentionally nurture it with our behaviors, intentions and beliefs. From our founding, we adopted and modified Green’s “trust equation” to help us build trustworthiness among our team, our vendors and customers. We believe this model is an organizational prerequisite to realize our manifesto for employee engagement. Therefore, we must be able to define, quantify and predict how it evolves.

We modified Green’s equation from being an summation model of four attributes (using addition) to being a product (using multiplication). This is so that if any one component is lacking, trust falls to zero. Our version of Green’s equation is:


Each element of the trust is an inference about how other people will treat us in the future. Evaluating trust is a subjective measure of our social reality where we seek to predict the state of our future relationship with a person or organization. High-trust means a predictable future. We score each component of trust on a scale from 0 to 10:

Reliability is the measure of accuracy. It is the answer to: “Do you fulfill your commitments?” We evaluate the differences between historical performance against our implicit expectations or the explicit promises made by others. For example, I expect a salesperson to give me an accurate description of the cost and specifications of what I am buying. If the salesperson is not accurate then my measure of her reliability diminishes.

Capability is the measure of ability. “Can you do what you say you will do?” It is the probability that you are qualified to do something. Either you have direct experience or credibility through a third-party (such as education). Lacking any other measure, we can assume a salesperson with 20 years of experience solving my problem will be more capable than a fresh recruit out of college.

Intimacy is the measure of familiarity. “Do we share exclusive information?” Humans are attracted to people, ideas and things through mere exposure. Intimacy forms bonds between people that exclude others. Intimacy makes us feel special – a sentiment that is directly related to our ability to act selflessly and collaboratively.

Self-Interest is the measure of egotism. It is the inverse of collaboration and can be simply answered by the question: “How selfish are you?” Completely selfless people (score = 0) are irrational. Similarly, people who are completely preoccupied with themselves (score = 10) are the ones most likely to betray your trust in favor of fulfilling their own agendas.

The perfect trust score (Trust = 1,000) is someone who is exceedingly reliable (10), capable (10) and well-known or intimate with us (10) while acting in an entirely collaborative manner that is scores low in self-interest (1). The product of these scores is:


Any score of zero eliminates all trust.

Trust is the most important skill to build and maintain high-value, long-term relationships. Every CEO talks about trust. And almost every corporate statement about values refers to it. Yet it is exceedingly rare for leaders or organizations to quantitatively define trust in a way that empowers people to take concrete steps to build, maintain and evaluate how our action impact trust.

Just for fun, I challenge you to score four people in your life using this approach. Then ask them to read this blog and do the same. I guarantee that you will have very interesting and honest conversations if you are brave enough to share your results. Please share what happens. I predict that the exercise will foster much more awareness and conscientiousness. And that’s pretty cool.

And now for a little self-interest… 😉

Further Reading

Olin Hyde
June 19, 2020
Lainey Mebust
June 17, 2020
Lainey Mebust
March 30, 2020