Key Factors That Impact Trust

In my last blog on trust we considered an excellent question raised by a young professional who is in her 20’s. She raised a good question: How do we build trust in an environment that seems to have a lot of turnover?

In that article, I referenced 3 key questions to consider, drawn from Hurley’s (2006) article in the Harvard Business Review. He explains that for the truster (the person choosing to trust another) there are three Decision-Maker Factors posed in these initial questions:

  1. How risk-tolerant is the Truster?
  2. How well-adjusted is the Truster?
  3. How much relative power does the Truster have in the situation?

If you missed that article, you can get the full text at:

Continuing with Hurley’s concepts, this time we begin to look at some of the situational factors that impact our willingness to trust others. These are: Security, Number of Similarities, Alignment of Interests

“What’s the worst that can happen?” Hurley suggests that if the answer to this question isn’t too scary, you probably have a pretty solid sense of security in your workplace. However, if layoffs are going on and you are wondering if you are next, maybe not so much. On the other hand, your organization may be viewed as a “good place to start” a young career but not necessarily something everyone wants to do for the next decade or more. That may take a unique passion and even a sense of calling.

Having a number of similarities seems to help our sense of trust. Things like shared values, membership in a group, or similar personality traits, or backgrounds, give us a better sense of security in trusting. We tend to feel like the similarities give us some familiarity and a sense of perhaps understanding each other sooner. Whether bad or good, we tend to tally up similarities and differences when choosing who we will trust. Of course, we can learn to trust and embrace those who are very different from us (and we should!). Embedded in the consideration of similarities, is also the topic of alignment of interests.

“When people’s interests are completely aligned, trust is a reasonable response” (para 17). When organizations conduct decision making in an open and thorough way, the likely outcome is stronger trust than those who veil key details, tell partial truths (which can be partial lies) or hide them altogether. Affinity groups, or activity groups outside of work and our professions can also be a place where we find it easier to build trust. Shared experiences among runners, triathletes, cyclists, swimmers, golfers, etc. can connect us informally with others who have a common interest.

Let’s be honest; we all have some occasions where we feel a little uncomfortable or out of our familiar space. In the beginning of new interactions or friendships, we do seek to figure out if the group or company has a safe and secure culture or not, and if we share similarities and alignment. Those can be core values, worldviews, causes we care about, or problems we can solve together. When we can identify those situational factors we have a good starting point for establishing trust.

In the next article on trust, we will finish looking at the four remaining situational factors that impact our willingness to trust others. Those are: Benevolent Concern, Capability, Predictability & Integrity, Level of Communication. Trust is complicated, challenging to establish, and can be lost or broken in seconds.


Hurley, R. (2006). The Decision to Trust. Harvard Business Review. September: