“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”
(W. Shakespeare, All’s Well That Ends Well – Act 1, Scene 1)
“I often find it difficult to become acquainted with new people. Because in the beginning there is no established mutual trust I can build upon...”
That’s what a friend said to me the other day when we talked about multiple relationships.
And although this sounds perfectly understandable at first, there are two types of trust that are already available to us in such a case at any given time.
Yes, that’s right.
And today I like to start off with the yet rather unknown type which is called “Swift Trust” in the first place:
The “Swift Trust Theory” was drafted for the first time in 1995 by the neuropsychologist D. Meyerson, the organization theorist K.E. Weick and the social psychologist R.M. Kramer in the essay collection “Trust in Organizations: Frontiers of Theory and Research” (published by Sage-Publications, London).
Technically speaking, they described a human dynamic that they had observed in business contexts, notably when strangers were assembled into a task force and had to work together as a team. And therefore at a starting point when no criterion for true trust was fulfilled – either in terms of time spent together nor on the basis of an already existing acquaintance.
Although “Swift Trust” was thus originally a feature concerning buisness-relationships, I am quite sure that several of its characteristics are applicable on any process where people are beginning to get to know each other or even fall in love (check with yourself!):
- Orientation: Since everyone is new and the situation can not really be overseen or assessed, this very uncertainty actually arises as “common ground”. In addition, in such a stressed situation, adrenaline is released in all involved – as in the famous “Bridge experiment“¹, which provides an extra incentive for cooperation “amidst tension”.
- Normativity: Uncertainty causes most people to switch back to adapted or normalised behaviors as a “crisis mode”, much like a “safety net”. Those participants are the most successful who are able to avoid extreme actions or statements and can thus position themselves as reliable or predictable.
- Expectations: Yes, it’s proven: The reciprocal expectations concerning a successful outcome create another virtual “common ground” (although the details of what qualifies as “success”, can vary greatly individually).
- Similar activities and joint reward(s): These are initial “amplifiers”, which allow the parties involved to experience the possibility of synchronization (Therefore, for example, animals court and croon in complex coordinated patterns in order to allow more and more closeness [to an otherwisely competitive being]).
- The idea of strong mutual relatedness: As far as our brains are concerned, sometimes “to do” means “to be”. Accordingly, If we initially apply our attention intensively to somebody, our brain gladly registers this behaviour as “the whole thing” – and supports the impression that there is already a common basis with a lot of mutual familiarity (which, realistically, can not yet be established at all).
- Scant time: Many first meetings are situational or short-termed, and often far from mundane. Similar to the bridge experiment¹ in such situations our perception/cognition focuses only on the most obvious (selfish or unproductive activities, which could show us in bad light are rarely displayed at this early stage).
- Sufficient resources (tangible or psychic): You met at a concert, in a pub or at a seminar? All these are in a way “feel-good environments” for us, in which we experience ourselves – albeit not completely “safe” – as “in abundance” or in any case in a “preferential situation”. Thus, we’re probably going to act more generously and with less concern.
- Intense process orientation: Personal problems or individual criticism are usually postponed during this phase. The general priority is “… that things get on the road as smoothly as possible“.
Criticism – thereby including voices from the world of scientific – concerning the “Swift Trust Theory” is sounding like friendly advice: Swift Trust represents above all a human mechanism for reducing complexity in an unfamiliar situation. As a result, it meets many criteria that are also displayed in crisis management models.
And even our mothers already told us that: “No one can play pretend much longer than 14 days.” Concerning “Swift Trust” they would have been right one more time, because closer research revealed that in regard to longer-term cooperation, the element of “communication” became evermore important. However, good communication (or rather the absence of it) turned out to be the real Achilles’ heel of the “Swift Trust Theory”, since its kind of initial (pre-)trust is admittedly essential concerning the display of trustworthiness, but it is not sufficient at all to constitute a stable relationship.
But I wrote of “two”
kinds of trust, which are available to us without any prior knowledge
regarding our counterpart. So is there a more solid version available
than the aforementioned “swift (pre)trust”?
Yes – But it is not accessible to all of us in the same quantity and quality. I’m talking about
Being self-confident is a great advantage in unfamiliar situations, especially with regard to other people. After all, this means nothing less than trusting in our competence to deal with any challenge or even with difficulties which might arise – e.g. in our interpersonal relationships. If we are predominantly convinced that we can cope with most of our issues – come what may – in that case we are overall less afraid, and that is a very important precondition for true mutual trust.
With sufficient self-confidence, we also able to perceive other people as “heroes in their own life’s movie” (as in Entry 11) – who may act occasionally unluckily, but basically, like us, have good intentions.
Lack of self-confidence, on the other hand, causes us to become anxious, accordingly we are prone to turn to a defensive posture or become even belligerent – because we believe that we are “not up to” the others, or we constantly assess ourselves as “weak”.
In this way, self-confidence, unfortunately, has a lot to do with our attitude towards other people. And this attitude in turn has been strongly influenced by our experiences as we grew up.
“Negative” parental attachment styles, as I described in Entry 14, haunt us deep into our adult lives.
A “fearful” attachment-style e.g. undermined our belief concerning our self-efficacy, most likely by being overprotected – which resulted in a lack of opportunities to gain own experiences.
A “preoccupying” attachment-style imposed high demands on us, and we experienced ourselves as constantly failing or “insufficient”.
Or we were exposed to a rather “dismissive” attachment-style, where we almost never received assistance – not even in emergency situations – and promises were broken regularly.
Such learning experiences, however, teach people that they can not really trust their own abilities, nor other persons, nor life itself.
Unfortunately, both the social as well as the psychological research of the past 25 years have shown that not only are we ourselves are the victims of such a “learned” attitude, but that all the people we interact with sense this attitude – maybe only on a subconscious level – because there is always some kind of inner detachment or personal reservedness in us.
In the worst case, this can lead to the phenomenon of “self-fulfilling prophecy,” in which our inner attitude exactly evokes those results and responses regarding other people which we fear. Because our very attitude of reservation – or at least of reluctance – turn us into “shaky candidates” for the other parties, since then we are quite difficult to assess and for the others it becomes challenging to muster the courage to invest such a relationship.
Concerning Wikipedia, trust is described as follows: “One party (trustor) is willing to rely on the actions of another party (trustee); the situation is directed to the future. In addition, the trustor abandons control over the actions performed by the trustee. As a consequence, the trustor is uncertain about the outcome of the other’s actions; they can only develop and evaluate expectations. The uncertainty involves the risk of failure or harm to the trustor if the trustee will not behave as desired.”
Thereby it becomes rather obvious that trust is distinctly linked to confidence and self-esteem.
Since stunted self-confidence and crippled trust have deep causes that can not be overcome with simple positive thinking or a 14-day behavioural change program, I as an author – mainly writing about a world of committed-sustainable (multiple)relationships – would like to propose three suggestions, which have worked to some extent quite well for myself:
- I browse on the internet with an active adblocker and in social networks I block undesired content. Real life “out there” sometimes seems to be like a huge internet as well – nevertheless I have a choice, which “presetting” I choose to interact with my surroundings. The protective stance “assume the worst, so at least you’re not going to be disappointed” is almost never useful in encounters with real people, because in the worst case it provides a rather fragile protection – and even in the best cases most likely nothing at all will happen. Because only if I open up at least a little bit and deactivate my “protective shield” temporarily, I get a chance to experience any amicable meeting. And such a meeting can only turn out prosperous if my “deactivated shielding” signals the other person that in turn their future expectations concerning me are in any way promising.
- As I have shown in Entry 11 “Hero in our own movie”, my own attitude is a direct contribution to a more approachable and caring world. For again the things I do affect the things I have on my mind: If I choose a distrustful attitude the chances are very high that I will also experience distrust.
In such cases sometimes some purposeful idealism actually helps: E.g. the thought that “out there” are lovable and trustworthy people enables me to feel more peaceful myself. As a result, I am virtually my own contribution to a “better world”. In this way I can already experience self-efficacy in a first small dimension, which definitely provides a first basis for any further development of healthy self-confidence.
- (Advanced): If I still feel disappointed because (in my opinion) other people might take advantage of me or possibly reject me, I will try to communicate my disappointment and my wishes concerning this matter. If the other party continues its behaviour, I gain a moment of great clarity that the other person(s) do(es) not want to contribute to my well-being at this particular moment. Since I can not know what their motivations are (and in such a configuration I’m predominantly preoccupied with myself and self-empathy often enough – so I seldom have resources for resolution) I can nevertheless move away from the situation or limit the contact to this person to the necessary extent.
But that is already a huge progress, because it is a situationally adapted reaction of mine. Because this way, I can react in a appropriate and self-efficacious way instead of falling into a total attitude of avoidance with a preset “blocker” that tarnishes from the outset any possibility of potential joie de vivre.
Already in 1974, American psychologists Donald Dutton and Art Aron published an experiment in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which they conducted on two pedestrian (suspension) bridges over Capilano Canyon in North Vancouver. Thereby they demonstrated an increased “confidentiality probability” under precarious external circumstances.
Thanks to the psychotherapists Doris Wolf and Rolf Merkle and their book “Prescriptions for Happiness” (pAl-Verlagsgesellschaft 2017), in which they outline brief accounts on the topics of trust and self-esteem.
And thanks to Purnomo Capunk on Unsplash.com for the wonderful photo.