It is usually my practice to assume trust from the beginning, but cautiously so. The theory is that eventually people reveal themselves and their true character when they think that they are “safe” or in some unconscious way. I have found that to be true, and it was demonstrated to me as recently as last year with someone that I thought I knew. The thing is, unless one is pathological, dissonance can only be held for so long. There are so many ways in which minor actions work to reveal what we really think.
Many years ago I participated in a diversity workshop held by my employer. The group was about 20 engineers and technicians. This particular discussion was about dealing with others across gender, racial, religious, country of origin, etc. differences. One young woman, who was pretty decent at her job from what I knew, frequently had difficulties with men that she worked with and for. The leader of the discussion did a role play where she played herself and he played her boss. It was based on a situation that she had experienced at work where she felt devalued.
He said: “So I think we understand what the problem is (he was talking about a problem with a production machine). What do you think we should do?”
She explained what she felt should happen going forward, all of which seemed appropriate and logical. But, when she finished talking, the entire room, except for her, burst into laughter! She said “What did I do, What did I do??”. What she did when she stopped talking was lean back on one foot, put her hands on her hips, a tilt of her head and had a defiant smirk on her face. In effect she was daring her boss to do something different. I knew her, but not very well. She had never struck me as unintelligent or hostile. Yet, her unconscious actions worked to undermine her abilities and reflected the treatment that she <span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>thought</span> she would receive. As I said, unless one is pathological, the true feelings will manifest themselves in some way.
Also, we all know of situations where someone appears to be respectful and inclusive, but in a homogeneous situation with peers, tells sexist and racist jokes. If you are a spy, you are trained to ignore the dissonance and function accordingly, but regular people, not so much.
As a kid, I was always good at those “Which one is not like the other one?” challenges. As an adult this translates to noticing the uses of an odd word or phrase, intonation, cadence, body language, etc. and how these can contradict what is being said. Usually I have no idea as to what the issue is, but I know something is “off”. What that says to me is that I should pay closer attention to that person as there may be reasons to not trust them.
Historically, we know that Richard Nixon was as slippery as they come. A psychologist analyzed him during a debate he did with John Kennedy when they were running for the presidency. What he did was watch a recording of Nixon with the sound turned off. Knowing the text of his speech, what he found was that Nixon’s body language indicated that he was not telling the truth.
To me, trust manifests itself in what we think. As humans, we are imperfect and flawed creatures. We will not always get it right. That just does not happen. But, what is important to me is the <span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>desire</span> to do the right thing. That is what I trust because without that, we will never begin to do the right thing…