Why trust is a company’s most valuable asset

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Illustration of a women in a thinking pose with two thought bubbles over her head. One with an alert symbol and one with a heart icon.

Why trust is a company’s most valuable asset

14 milliseconds. That’s all it takes for our subconscious brains to categorise and react to visual information. We form judgments in less time than it takes to blink. We see, we perceive and then we make rapid comparisons against the immense back catalog of our life experiences. Friend or foe? Desirable or undesirable? Useful or harmful?

If enough of these comparative experiences prove positive over time, we begin to trust that they will always be so. In the same way we trust ourselves to step into the road when the light turns green, we trust that the other human beings driving their vehicles will stop at the red light and wait their turn; even though we’re alert to the slim possibility that they might actually hit the accelerator.

An emotional state of breakeven

By choosing to trust, our threat-averse brains are not only able to navigate the world successfully when times are good, but to conserve energy. When we establish trust, we no longer have to agonise over every decision. When we trust we decide that, even if something goes wrong or a relationship breaks down, the overall outcome of an imperfect situation will leave us if not advantaged then at least in an emotional state of breakeven. 

Take, for example, when your favourite restaurant mixes up your order - you see the error not as an affront, but as a statistical anomaly, and one which - under a different set of circumstances - could equally have materialised itself in the form of an extra portion of onion rings. 

Beware the breach yonder

When we’re faced with a breach of trust however, recovery requires nothing less than a monumental shift in how we perceive the world around us. Rather than conserving energy as our neurons fire down well-trodden pathways, we are faced with building entirely new neural connections altogether and it hurts.

As a species wired for survival, bad experiences once formed as neural structures are particularly robust and resistant to amendment. They are added to our back catalogue and how we interpret the world is never quite the same again.

Even a perceived breach of trust is an unwelcome betrayal while we’re experiencing it. It is the trigger that forces us to question everything about our world view, as we spend vast amounts of emotional energy recategorising our assumptions. 

Driven by our desires to come out on top, to acquire what’s owed to us or to secure allies, we then begin to calculate, to strategise and - when we’re ready - to talk. We revisit the situation over and over again in order to learn from it, conjuring scenarios in which we morph from victim to victor.

Whether in twenty minutes or twenty years, the guilty party, perceived or not, will likely have to face the consequences of a breach in trust; at the very least in the form of lost opportunity due to damaged reputation.

Trusting you, trusting me

When it comes to disgruntled customers then, any clumsy or insensitive attempts to make amends or to contradict their perceived experience may only serve to reinforce their newly constructed world view: that you and your company are at fault. So how can a brand or company avoid these pitfalls, if we’re all only humans and capable of making genuine mistakes? 

Well you can’t entirely, but you can reduce the likelihood significantly by treating the trust of your employees and your customers as your most valuable asset; by considering the impact of every decision you make on others and by always acting with integrity and in good faith. Rather than getting defensive, trust that if someone has a problem with what you’re doing, even if it’s unjustified, it’s within your power to help them change their world view for the better.