Why do I trust someone?

I read The Code of Trust a few years ago. And one line, in particular, stuck out to me. It simply read “Trust is power”. Three words rang so profoundly I started applying this thought to many aspects of my personal and professional life. And there were two questions I kept asking myself, who do I trust and why?

As people we tend to naturally gravitate towards people similar to ourselves. Whether it be a sense of humor, life experience, interests, etc. those common bonds can be powerful. That is only the beginning of a trusting relationship though. For that bond to last, there needs to be a continuing sense of similarity such as a shared purpose. Not only is it easy to see why people like to do business with friends but continue to do business over the long run. People work with those they like.

Some of this may seem obvious. However, there is a distinguishing factor that separates personal and business friendships. That is expertise. Personal relationships are not based on how good a friend is at their job. Therefore, a professional friendship goes beyond trust. In an era where consumers are encouraged to do it yourself, whether it be home repair or trading investments, you can’t be expected to be an expert in everything. There is a limit to everyone’s’ talents.

So, let’s say you meet someone who offers a professional service you need. How do you know someone is an expert? There are plenty of smooth-talking salespeople and cleverly marketed services which give the appearance of quality and knowledge. These are a few things I use to judge expertise.

First is credentials and education. Unfortunately, not all education and credentials are created equally. However, you can do a bit of research to learn more about the university or professional organization. Also, degrees in the sciences or those with significant quantitative requirements are hard to coast through making them more reputable to that community of practice.

The next attribute is experience. Malcom Gladwell discussed the 10,000-hour theory in his book Outliers. Although it has been subject to debate (by who else other than experts), there is some commonsense application here. When you break 10,000 down into 40-hour work weeks, it equals 250. Meaning it takes someone about five years to become an expert if that were their day job.

So, some of you might be questioning these criteria.  And you should. Both can be subjective. However, there is one thing I always do. Make the expert explain the subject matter into everyday language. If someone truly understands the topic, they should be able to translate the complex concept without using industry terminology. Because if you can’t understand the product or service, they might not either.

Finding the right person for a job can be difficult. The information age has produced information overload. And sifting through it can lead to impromptu and irrational decisions. So, find someone you like, friendly and relatable, who doesn’t pressure you, and who can explain whatever it is they do. In the end, you will be happier.

Written by Michael Ell