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  • Pauline Hoffmann


What is trust and who or what do you trust? Why does it matter?

Why am I focused on trust? Well, it’s a new year. I was going to do a recap of 2021 – or even 2020 - and it would be just one word – Covid. Why am I thinking about trust and Covid together? I feel as though who we trust or what we trust has just completely broken down. I see this in words and actions. I see this in what I read in the paper or on social media and in what I hear people say and do – myself included. I started the podcast to address our collective move away from science and reason and to help people understand how to find accurate information. How to trust what's out there and weed through the rhetoric of disinformation.

What is trust? Whether we can define trust or not, we probably each have an idea of what it is. We can think of specific examples such as I trust my sister to not listen to my podcast or read my blog (she admitted as much and it made me sad, but I understand). I trust that the vaccine and booster I’ve gotten will protect me from a serious case of Covid. I trust that the red wine I will drink later will turn me into Aristotle, Einstein and Cindy Crawford. Hey, choose your own drunken manifestations. You get the point.

I also trust certain news and other outlets. When I compile information for the podcast and blog, I turn to trusted sources of information. In this post you will see me reference Pew Research (I turn to it again and again). I also reference data from the Edelman Trust Barometer. Yes, Edelman is a public relations firm and I know many people don't trust PR. I worked in PR for several years and still consider myself a practitioner. A few years ago I had a friend - a friend - say to me that all PR is lies. She's dead now because I killed her. (That last part is untrue. I did not kill anyone but I did school her in PR.) Are there some PR practitioners who are less than ethical? Sure. You could restate that question with any field/job and still get the same answer. Examples:

Are there some doctors who are less than ethical? Sure.

Are there some professors who are less than ethical? Sure.

Are there some CEOs who are less than ethical? Sure.

Note the use of the word "some." I did not write "all." There is a difference. It also doesn't mean we shouldn't trust.

Do you trust your professors or other academics (more on this in a second)? I hope so. Michigan State University notes that "people say that trust is the #1 characteristic they want in a partner, and trust is what makes human communities work."

Noted researcher and educator, Brené Brown offers the acronym BRAVING to discuss qualities that contribute to trust:

B = Boundaries – we must set boundaries in all relationships. Understand what that means.
R = Reliability – can I count on you? Do we do this ourselves? I often say yes to things and then realize I’ve screwed myself. I get it done but not as well as I would like.
A = Accountability – own your shit. People like it when you take the blame when you did something wrong.
V = Vault – Do you not share my secrets
I = Integrity – Courage over comfort. Doing what is right. Ethical guidelines.
N = Non-judgment – I can lose my shit and you’ll just pick me back up.
G = Generosity – Assume my intentions – and yours – are good.

We need to establish trust because we can’t do it all. I have no interest whatsoever in doing my own taxes. Could I? I am sure I could figure it out but I’m going to trust someone who actually studied this in school and passed a licensing exam. I would say that person is more qualified than me. Last year I formed an LLC for Data Doyenne. I could have gone online and figured out how to do that but I contacted an attorney who specializes in this. That person again went to school and passed a licensing exam to do what he does. Not everything involves school and a licensing exam. The examples I used do.

I do tend to put more weight on the expertise of people if they have those things or a reasonable facsimile.

On the podcast I reference research around trust. When I think of trust I think of the Edelman Trust Barometer. Edelman is a global public relations firm out of Chicago. This is a survey that is done each year and has been done for the past 21 years. It is an online survey done in 28 countries with 33,000+ respondents. The trust barometer measures trust in business, government, NGOs and media.

The most glaring change in the past year? The eroding trust in government – and that’s worldwide. Anyone who watches or reads the news won’t be surprised by that. Also included in this would be eroding trust in our global leaders.

The Barometer does note the top ten takeaways from the research. Number one: "Distrust is now society’s default emotion."

I encourage you to take a look at the full report and top ten takeaways. I have provided links in the paragraphs above. Also, listen to the podcast for my take on the data.

Pew Research did its own study in 2019 (just ahead of the pandemic - keep that in mind). Note the similarities in the research. What I like about the Pew Study is that it digs into the data to note demographic and psychographic differences in trust. That complete report may be viewed here. Note that this research is for the United Stated while the Edelman Trust Barometer is global.

I find some of the data particularly compelling. For example, our trust in government has eroded considerably:

In addition, interpersonal trust had also eroded. An example:

I also share the following from the study. We don't feel as though others will act responsibly and ethically. We don't trust.

Also, note the generational differences. One might argue young people aren't cynical enough yet!

I encourage you to take a look at the report in more detail as there is so much information that might be of interest. I noted that the Pew Research information is for the United States and we've seen global data. Here is another data point you might find interesting. How do people feel globally about trusting others to act responsibly? Taken from Our World In Data.

The global responses to the study vary by GDP as noted in the graph below:

Again, view the website for additional global data regarding trust.

In the podcast, I also reference the MoCa model in terms of motivating people to action.

How do we go from having a low capacity and low motivation for change to high for each. With limited resources – human, financial, social, etc. – we need to be mindful of our investment. We need to think about what to do to motivate people to action.

For example, given what we’ve seen in the data, if business is most trusted, perhaps messaging should come from businesses? However, we also see that spokespeople aren’t necessarily trusted. What do we do then? Well, we could consider alternate messaging. We need to be really mindful of geography, political affiliation, race/ethnicity, generation, among other demographics and psychographics. This is not an easy fix hence the reason we are where we are. I haven’t solved the problem nor has anyone, but with continued research and focus, we will get there.

We might also consider looking at the Fogg Behavior Grid:

They also designed a behavior wizard which is a fun online tool to play with. Yes, I like online tools, quizzes and games. With each of the 15 behavior types are ways to achieve the goals associated with those behavioral changes. I won’t go into them here, but take a look at links on the site for more information.

Thank you for trusting me to share accurate and interesting information. As you know, each week I also include an ARS (Arbitrary Random Stat) and this week's stat has nothing to do with trust. Well, not really. I trust you trust that I found a compelling ARS to share.

My mother is from Newfoundland. If you listen to Canadian broadcasting at all, you may hear them reference the time and then say "on the half hour in Newfoundland." What does that mean? It means that Newfoundland is in the Atlantic Time Zone (UTC). So if it is noon in the UTC, it is 11:00 a.m. EST. Here's the would be 12:30 p.m. in Newfoundland. Why? According to Time Zone Deviants (and you know I chose this site because of its name - how fabulous!), Newfoundland had a choice prior to joining the Canadian Dominion and since the bulk of its population is in St. John's and St. John's is on the meridian where a half-hour time zone would fall, it was done! Newfoundlanders are also quite unique so this would be in keeping with their brand.

Thank you for reading and listening. I trust you found this information helpful and entertaining.

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