The Trust Equation

The Trust Equation

Trust is the foundation for all relationships, and the trust equation describes the factors that drive trust in any personal or professional relationship.

Sometimes, or oftentimes actually, it is worthwhile thinking about how to improve the quality of a relationship. At those times, the trust equation is very helpful. It disaggregates what drives, and what detracts from, trust, making it easier to figure out if any single factor is missing, and to focus on that factor.

The trust equation states that Trust = Credibility * Reliability * Intimacy ÷ Self-orientation

  • Credibility is based on status and words being used. It is for example what makes you trust a doctor, or a subject matter expert. To drive trust with this, appearances matter, and what words you use matter. It can be incredibly valuable to generate trust in the initial phase of a relationship. It can also be leveraged to some extent by continuing to be mindful of words being used and careful about not undermining the trust gained in this way.
  • Reliability is built over time by continually keeping one's word and delivering on what has been promised. Being truthful and managing expectations can help drive trust this way, but the most of the trust here comes from actually doing the work. This is hard earned trust.
  • Intimacy is the trust gained from the emotional bond. Listening, sharing, and being vulnerable can help to drive trust in this way, and also just hanging out and doing fun stuff together.
  • Self-orientation is what detracts from trust. Whenever it is clear that you are prioritizing yourself over the other person, that will erode trust. To avoid this, it is important to be mindful about one's own motives. To some extent appearances matter here, and so some trust erosion can be avoided by not talking to much in terms of your own interest. But the most important thing is to actually think about and act to the benefit of the other person, and not just prioritize yourself.

Building trust is a core part of people leadership, a critical product management skill, and is related to the Leadership part of the product management process 🔎.

Below are some slides adapted from our training program The Outcome Driven Product Leader:

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