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6/1/2021: "I Believe You!"​: How to build trust at work

Who do you believe?

In turbulent times, those we believe and trust can make or break careers, teams, products, brands or companies. Below is a list of five human traits that tend to nudge us towards believing, or not, others.

It's not an exhaustive list but it summarizes key insights from neuroscience, anthropology, evolutionary biology, psychology and philosophy (check the formal names of the approaches used at the very end of the article). I have avoided repeating verbatim theories of needs, which we discuss in our book Advanced Marketing Management, and persuasion models, which we analyze in our book Neuroscience for Leaders

Five Human Traits Leading to Belief

  1. Attachment: We are hardwired to gravitate towards loving and caring people, starting from a very early age with our parents and caretakers. It’s warmth, rather than competence, that creates deep emotional connections. Sensing that our wellbeing is someone else’s top priority makes us more receptive to their viewpoints. We tend to believe people that "get us” and empathize with us. Active support and compassion go a long way in persuasion and trust. Because… all we need is love!
  2. Morality: Our senses of fairness and justice are also hardwired in our brains through millennia of evolution. We come to this world morality-ready with culture accentuating or silencing some of our 'factory settings' of how it’s OK to treat others. We do not believe freeloaders: it’s unfair that they take advantage of the system (always taking, never giving) and not playing by accepted social rules. We tend to believe those who share specific moral values with us while we feel disgust towards those that do not respect our values. Because… what’s fair is fair!   
  3. Pattern-seeking: Our brains are pattern-seeking, predictive engines that strive to control the environment in order to efficiently exploit opportunities and avoid threats. Uncertainty creates fear and anxiety, and this is why we look for the best insights, explanations and models that can reliably help us navigate better the murky waters of life. Here, competence (skills, experience, past successes) is more important than warmth. We tend to believe people that have provided us in the past with information that has proven accurate, useful, easily understandable, actionable and timely. Because… seeing is believing!  
  4. In-Groups: Humans are a social species, meaning that we do better when associated with people in groups with common goals, language and habits. 'Us vs. them' is a powerful motivational state that helps us focus, coordinate, act and ultimately succeed. We tend to believe people in our own reference groups since these are the ones who will protect us the most when needed and reciprocate more reliably. Because… united we stand!
  5. Existence: Our ability to think about thinking (our meta-cognition) and to self-reflect about our experiences has a serious side-effect. The awareness of our own mortality, the fact that we know that we, and those around us, will die characterizes humans and maybe only a handful of other species on this planet. This existential pain, our fear of death, drives our thirst for meaning and purpose. It pushes us to search for a big picture, a grand story that will make everything sensible, integrated and worth living for. We believe those that help us find meaning and/or empower us to actualize our life’s purpose. Because…. we are the world!
And here are some practical recommendations:

  • Attachment = Friendship. Are you a true friend (if not parent) to your team and your customers? Or are you there just to manage and sell? A true friend is caring, supporting and actively empathizing. A true friend is constantly cheerleading for you BUT also is the first to be critical and to correct you when you are about to do wrong.
  • Morality = Guardianship. This might sound harsh, but core values should not be easily negotiable. Being an active guardian to what the team holds dear to its collective heart and mind creates strong ties that last longer. Freeloaders should be ostracized while fairness, as appreciated by the team, should reign supreme.
  • Pattern-seeking = Scholarship. As scholars constantly revise their methods when searching for new insights to explain better the world, leaders should make sure that information, assumptions and predictions are shared transparently, debated fiercely and adopted responsibly. Biases, desires and past learnings should be honestly and openly discussed.  
  • In-Groups = Companionship. Are you empowering true companionship within your team and even with your customers? Constructive bonding requires shared goals, a common language and interlocked behaviors. Stories of high effective teams from around the world are always stories of great companionship. And great companionship almost never leads to groupthink. True companions constantly challenge each other for better performance.         
  • Existence = Fellowship. As in ‘Lord of the Rings’, a fellowship is more than a team: it’s a living organism with a strong sense of deep meaning and truth driving all behavior. Each person is going above and beyond to help the group in fulfilling its ultimate purpose by overcoming obstacles, staying true to the cause and doing good to the world.
In the end it’s all about human-centric Leadership! Both inside and outside the company. Do you want people to believe in themselves, in each other, in you, in the brand or in the mission? Use these human traits wisely and responsibly. In tough times, we need to believe more than ever in order to achieve greatness!

Approaches used as the foundations of this article: Attachment Theory, Social Cognition Universal Dimensions, Social Brain Theory, Moral Foundations Theory, Moral Psychology of Obligation, Threat Management System of the Brain, Bayesian Brain Theory or Predictive Processing Framework Theory, Terror Management Theory... and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy!

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