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The Elements of Trust
What makes you believe someone?
What makes you trust someone?
What instantly arouses your distrust?
Here’s a story.
Last week, I got a call from the boiler technician I sent out to one of my rental properties.
“I got bad news,” he said in a tone that suggested he didn’t feel it was bad news for him. “You know how old your boilers are?”
I told him I did; they were from the 1980s.
“When was the last time you had someone look at them?”
It had been a while, I said. That’s why I had sent him out there.
“Well, they’re busted. One of them has to be red-tagged. I already shut it off. The other one needs a new valve, but for what it’ll cost you, if I were you, I would just replace that one too.”
I took a deep breath.
My other rental needs a new roof.
I put that thought somewhere else.
I asked him the price.
“Oh, for doing two of them, I think we can get you a discount. Let me confirm with the boss. But it should be,” he paused as if solving a trigonometry problem, “$22,000.”
At my stage in life, I have already had more boilers installed than I ever thought possible.
This number, I knew, was high.
I asked if the price would change with a different make of product.
“Yeah, but that one would be more expensive. This one’s more reliable, and it’s made here in Philadelphia.”
His voice had risen. He was now speaking quickly, excitedly.
“I’ll send it over right after this call. If you sign, we can get there Monday, maybe even tomorrow.” Then he added, as if remembering. “It’s getting cold. I know you don’t want your tenants freezing in there.”
No, I agreed, I didn’t.
I asked him to send over the quote.
As soon as we hung up, I called an HVAC guy who lives down the street.
Tom has no website, no digital invoices, no search-engine-optimization. Just word of mouth.
When I told Tom what the other guy quoted, he swore.
“How can they sleep at night? I’ll do it for $12,000. I’m still making money on this job, but what they’re doing is disgusting.”
What Makes Us Trust
Trust is an intangible thing.
It is woven from your experiences and impressions of a person over time.
To understand trust, you can examine at its opposite: why you distrust.
You may distrust someone who seems to be:
So, in turn, you may tend to trust someone who is forthcoming, neutral, casual, unassuming, understated.
While natural, these instincts don’t always serve you well.
Sam Bankman-Fried understood the dynamics of trust.
He used a rumpled appearance and sloppy manners to disarm otherwise intelligent people.
Prince Harry’s ghostwriter, J.R. Moehringer, described how to cultivate belief in writing. When being interviewed by tennis legend Andre Agassi, he put it this way:
[Agassi] hated tennis, he said. He wanted to talk about memoir. He had a list of questions. He asked why my memoir was so confessional. I told him that’s how you know you can trust an author—if he’s willing to get raw.
Writers who share their emotions more easily earn our trust because they seem too transparent to deceive.
Personality, of course, has a large impact on how willing we are to trust.
By nature, I am credulous. I tend (or used to tend) to assume the best about people. The cost is that I have, in the past, occasionally stumbled out of an interaction to discover I’ve been fooled.
By necessity, first as a journalist and, now, a small-time landlord, I’ve had to become more skeptical.
In the case of the boiler salesman, he didn’t give off any clear tells. He was warm and affable. A guy who was trying to help.
If I hadn’t been skeptical, I might have gone with his bid.
When it comes to reality itself, we apply the same framework.
When we hear something that sounds implausible , we get skeptical. We assume whoever is telling us this fact must be lying, or a fool.
But what happens when the truth itself is implausible?
What I’m Working On
A few big projects are in the works.
I want to keep the pressure high—no letting steam out of the kettle—so I’ll leave it at that for now.
Let me know what you’re working on. Have you had any run-ins with people abusing your trust?
Until the next time,