Calculating your trust score

Trust influences almost every interaction we have in life with other human beings.  From the service person we meet in a retail store, to our immediate family members, the trust dynamic is always in play.  And as leaders in our firms, it is essential that we know how to build trust with other people. Building Trust is foundational for creating high-performance organizations.

In  “The Trusted Advisor“, author David Maister and colleagues provide an insightful formula about trust.  The formula quantifies trust between two people based on four parameters:

This equation suggests that there are three factors that increase trust (the numerators):

  1. Credibility – the extent to which I have knowledge or experience in the subject matter.
  2. Reliability – the consistency of the way I treat my promises and commitments.
  3. Intimacy – the depth of my personal relationship with the other person.

For these three factors, the higher the score is the higher the level of trust is in the relationship.  But that leaves the final parameter of the equation – the denominator – as having an inverse impact on trust.  The higher the self-orientation the lower the trust will be.

This equation can actually be calculated based on our scoring of the four parameters. For example, my relationship with a key vendor might look something like this:

  1. Credibility 8/10 – my account representative has been working in this industry for 22 years and is continually demonstrating a ‘passion for learning’ about the newest technology in her industry.
  2. Reliability 7/10 – she makes notes in our meetings and generally does a good job of getting back to me on actions in a timely manner.
  3. Intimacy 5/10 – she knows a bit about my family and interests outside of work, but has not gone too far in learning more.
  4. Self-Orientation 2/10 – she wants me to win more than she cares about selling her product for the highest return for herself.
        8 + 7 + 5

---------------------------   = 10.0 Trust Score


Contrast this with the equation I might have with a challenging employee:

  1. Credibility 5/10 – although this person has some background in the industry, they have not been in this specific role in the past.
  2. Reliability 2/10 – repeatedly this individual seems to ‘lose things’ and doesn’t keep track of key actions and dates.
  3. Intimacy 2/10 – almost no effort has been made to build a relationship beyond the day-to-day work requirements.
  4. Self-Orientation 7/10 – this individual seems to be repeatedly bringing up their compensation package and complaining that it is unfair.
       5 + 2 + 2

---------------------------   = 1.3 Trust Score


We don’t need to have high levels of trust with everyone. However, for those key people in our lives – our leadership teams, spouses, good friends – we with be far more successful and happy if we work to maintain a high trust score with these people.

Use the trust equation.  Consider those important relationships in your life, and actually score each element on a scale of 1-10.

Then ask, “what can I do to improve this?”.  Do I need to raise my reliability?  Or maybe lower my self-orientation?

One of the benefits of taking action using the trust equation is that not only will it improve the trust level you have with one person, but could increase your trust with everyone you know.  For example, imagine you wanted to improve your reliability score by taking more careful notes in meetings and committing to moving all your personal commitments to a reliable personal planning system.  If this was executed consistently you would become a more reliable person overall which, in turn, would improve you trustworthiness in all relationships.

Why it matters

In organizations, trust is foundational to having functional teams.  In his book, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team“, Pat Lencioni introduces a pyramid model for dysfunctional teams.

In situations of dysfunction, where there is inattention to results (top of the pyramid), it is the result of several levels of issues in the structure.  At the bottom of the structure is trust, implying that without trust as the foundation, there is little chance of improving the state of improving and achieving better results.

Leaders are accountable to results in their organizations.   To reach high levels of performance, trust is foundational.  And despite the fact that trust is an abstract concept, the trust equation can be an informative tool for identifying specific actions to improve your trust score.

Article by Tim O’Connor