Should We Even Strive to be Trusted?

Great post yesterday by Gerald Baron. He brought up something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: trust. So many of our trusted figureheads have failed us in that charge or have been smeared enough that we question whether our trust in them is deserved anymore.

As someone still new to the communications and public information fields, I try to read everything I can about succeeding and have found that every single tip starts with, “establish and maintain trust.” I question whether that’s even possible anymore, though. No matter how above board we are, how saintly, how deserving of people’s trust we are, what’s to stop someone from smearing that trustworthiness in order to score a cheap political point. I’m sure you can think of dozens of examples demonstrating just that.

And I think that’s an important point. We caution young folks like myself that trust takes a lifetime to build and a second to lose. Like the only way our trustworthiness can be affected is by our personal failures, and not by some competing agency, government regulator, political interest group or other interested party.

Earlier I talked about how people today are influenced, increasingly by their personal networks, not by those trusted talking heads and government folks. Not by us. Increasingly, the public is becoming even hostile to government communications.

Given how vital trust is to our work, how easy it is to lose it, and how it’s less and less effective, how much effort should we spend to build that trust? Mind you, I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive to be a trustful source of information, but given how critical it seems to be to what we do, and how difficult to impossible it is to do well… It just seems like this is a place where a devil’s advocate might be helpful.

So, I ask you, are we moving into an age where government communicators can no longer count on trust as a part of our toolbox? Should that matter to us? What should we do to take the place of trust in this new world?


One thought on “Should We Even Strive to be Trusted?

  1. Jim, another thoughtful and intriguing post from you. A couple of comments. You mention how people are influenced by their personal networks. Completely agree and I think this is a much overlooked phenomenon. It is not new. C.S. Lewis, probably my favorite thinker, wrote about “inner circles” and how we evaluate our own thoughts and actions in relation to how we think our inner circle will respond. Very powerful influence. I happen to believe our orientation toward right or left, liberal or conservative is more dependent on our inner circles than anything. How else can I explain my uncle, a retired college professor, being rabidly liberal while my father, a retired successful entrepreneur, being equally rabidly conservative. Both are very bright, well-read men.

    Your final question: what will take the place of trust? is a real thought provoker. But I have to say that I don’t think anything can. Trust is essential in human relations, at work, in our communities. I believe it is a crisis of sorts that there is so much loss of trust. Steven M. R. Covey wrote “The Speed of Trust” and talked about how when trust is lacking everything slows down. I believe he is right and that means our economy, our relationships, our way of life is bogged down and much less efficient because of this. Certainly, emergency managers need to be concerned because if people don’t believe them, don’t trust their motives or their competence or their good will, the impact on messages relating to evacuation, to taking action for protection, etc. all will be minimized because of it. My own view is that we have to work to identify those elements in our society that are at work to destroy trust and fight against them. While, above all, making certain that we ourselves do nothing to give people a reason not to trust us.

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