Tag Archives: The Harvard Business Review

Can We Trust Too Much?

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Q   Can we trust too much?

A    Yes!

If you think about your life, I expect you can think of a time when you put your trust in a stranger who let you down.

  • Has a salesperson ever made false promises about a product ?
  • Did you fall for that on-line magical diet only to find you’re still 15 lbs more than you want to be?
  • Has a vacation brochure promised sea views from your balcony but here you are looking at a brick wall?

My guess is however that you still believe strangers, buy stuff, sample new diet aids and are persuaded by good ad copy to take distant vacations.

Why do you do that?

How come you knowingly engage in activities that conned you before?

Possibly, like me, you learn from the feedback you receive each time your trust is betrayed.

You’ll probably consult the Better Business Bureau or talk to friends before believing a particular products’ claims.

If you’re in the market for some self-improvement routine for your body or your mind you’ll probably read the testimonials, or maybe talk at length to some people who have tried what you are considering.

And as for those glossy sea-views or cruise-ship brochures? Two words. Due diligence.

In other words, you cultivate discernment. Hopefully you make fewer dumb purchases, and the economy still thrives because there are so many folks who are on their own particular learning curve so shoddy products, fake diets and ghastly vacations still sell like hotcakes!

Let’s go deeper.

I expect you can think of times when you put your trust in someone you love who then let you down.

  • Did your parents ever say “I’ll be at your game!” only to never show up?
  • Did your partner swear to live within the budget you both agreed to, only to squander $1000s gambling and rack it up as unanticipated debt?
  • Did your spouse promise to be monogamous, only to cheat on you?

Now what?

  1. Did you stop inviting your parents to your events so you’d not feel let down?
  2. Did you invite your parents, give them dozens of chances to redeem themselves, and ride that roller coaster between hope and despair in your childhood home?
  3. Or did you invite your parents, but manage your expectations so whether they came or not you’d be OK?

What about your gambling partner?

  1. Do you file for divorce immediately and unravel your joint finances so you can regain control over your life?
  2. Do you have another budget conversation and trust them to “never gamble again, I swear…”
  3. Or do you create some accountability with a firm-but-fair response that connects your spouse with some version of Gamblers Anonymous and you with resources to help rather than enable the behaviors?

What about an unfaithful spouse?

  1. Do you immediately file for divorce without exploring any of the circumstances because it’s just too darn painful and you feel irreparably betrayed and righteous as in “How could s/he do this to me?”
  2. Do you so fear being abandoned that you put up a modest fight, but let them know you forgive them if they just won’t ever do it again?
  3. Do you insist on clarity, and invite both of you to therapy to explore what led to this affair, to understand what your relationship needs now, begin to heal and renegotiate the contract each of you wants going forward?

It’s not black and white is it?

And while it might seem as if I biased the answers above to favor option 3 in each case, the truth is that how we respond depends upon a whole other layer of trust. We can only end up more or less in alignment with the option 3 responses to the extent we trust ourselves.

We experience our world as predictable enough, as trustworthy enough to the extent three factors are in play:

NATURE – there is mounting evidence that people are born with different predispositions around trust. Don’t take my words for it! Here’s

NURTURE – Since John Bowlby’s work on attachment in the 1950s we’ve understood that parenting matters. Here’s

NOURISHMENT – Is the term I’m giving for this third factor in ones ability to trust. It’s the only one over which you have control, and it’s never too late to begin. Summed up by one of my favorite aphorisms:

“Trust in Allah, but tether your camel first.”

it’s about cultivating conscious awareness for all the factors in play before deciding whether, and how much, to trust.

As Frank Crane puts it ~

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We need that Goldilocks zone of trust.

Believe me, if a couple comes to me so burdened by one partner’s inability to ever trust again after a painful betrayal it greatly reduces the likelihood the relationship will ever recover.

And, if a couple comes to me with one partner totally committed to trusting their sweetie in the face of overwhelming evidence that this is unwise (refusing to recognize when addictions are present for example) it will bring about their mutual assured destruction.

More and more I find I’m working to help individuals learn how to trust themselves enough to be able to make heart-centered yet informed decisions.

This means helping a person learn how to nourish their own feedback systems so they can ~

  1. manage their natural inclination to be either more or less trusting, this Alphabet helps;
  2. manage their attachment wounds, if present, so that the fear of abandonment or abuse is recognized and healed;
  3. cultivate a clear-eyed, robust sense of self so they can wisely discern what level of trust this or that person or situation safely warrants.

What does this look like in practice? Come back NEXT WEEK where I’ll be writing about how to trust yourself more accurately


This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity


SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality


SKILL NINE ~ Build (or rebuild) trust.