The Trust Equation

Not sure I trust this fish

Have you ever heard of the trust equation? I learnt it from a coach of mine last year and have been leaning on it heavily as I learn about my new employer, meet my colleagues and build my network.

Here’s the equation:

\[ T = \frac{C+R+I}{S} \]


With self-orientation as the denominator, it’s clear that if others perceive you as always acting in your own interest it doesn’t matter how smart (capable) or predictable (reliable) you are, nor how ‘nice’. A high self-orientation degrades the value of the variables above the line.

When we interview for a role, all we can really demonstrate is capability: ask me a question about knowledge graphs and I’ll (hopefully) give you a thoughtful answer. Ask me about oil rigs and you’ll quickly realize that I know nothing. I’m not capable in that domain.

However, at interview we cannot really dive into the other variables. Reliability, intimacy and self-orientation are aspects that others learn over time. As a new starter, where should we focus?

Reliability and self-orientation surely can only be demonstrated with time. That leaves intimacy. There is a fine line here, complicated by culture and generation. We don’t want to come across as creeps. But, taking a few moments to ask how people are, what they’re doing for the weekend, helps to build connections that make us more than automata: human. Over time others will make their judgements about how reliable and self-orientated we are.

Reading the Econoomist’s interview with Volodymyr Zelensky this weekend, I was struck by how Zelensky’s actions demonstrate the trust equation. In chosing not to leave Kyiv at the start of the invasion, he shows minimal self orientation. He freely admits he is no military man, his own form of credibility:

“If you don’t know how to do something this way or that way, be honest and that’s it. You have to be honest, so that people believe you. You don’t need to try. You need to be yourself… And it’s important not to show that you are better than who you are.”

I trust that Zelensky will continue to receive the trust of the Ukranian people.