Build Back Better Trust

An image illustrating the concept of the need to build better trust.

The Paine of Measurement—

Happy late winter, measurement fans:

Thanks to Hallmark and Valentine’s Day, February has become the month of love. For us here at The Measurement Advisor, it has always been the month when we talk about how to measure all the warm fuzzy stuff like relationships, trust, and empathy.

Valentine’s Day: Roses and animal sacrifice?

But the true, ancient origins of the holiday reveal that relationships and love frequently have a more complicated background that we might think, despite all those cupids, hearts and roses.

Our contemporary Valentine’s Day began as the Roman celebration of the feast of Lupercalia, from February 13 to 15. The men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped the women with the hides of the animals they had just slain. I’ve had some pretty miserable Valentine’s Days in my life, but I have to admit that none of my dates ever tried to whip me with a dead animal skin. Still, guys will do some pretty weird things to get the attention of women.

The dark past of our celebration of love seems appropriate to mention in this particular year, one that has turned most everything we think of as “normal” into something altogether different. It’s a time when trust has been turned on its head. Which, of course, has huge ramifications for those of us in the relationship building business.

Trust is just not something we trust in anymore

The history of titles of Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer illustrates how society’s conception of trust has changed over the years:

(Click on this chart if you’d like to see it bigger.)

Note especially:

  • In 2009, after the financial crash, it was of course, “Trust in Business Plummets.”
  • A decade ago it declared that “Business Must Partner with Government to Regain Trust.”
  • Two years later it was the “Fall of Government.”
  • And now this year’s is “Declaring Information Bankruptcy.”

Yes, those headlines do have a bit of a whiff of trolling for clicks. But still, the big point is that whomever or whatever you trust depends on a myriad of things, from your perception of certain media sources to your politics to what pictures a celebrity posted on Instagram. Take me, for instance. I trust a brand not because it offers reliable products, but because it supports my political beliefs.

Remember those days past when the big “Aha!“ was that we trusted our peers, or “a person like me?” Today we often don’t trust our peers, or our neighbors, or our in-laws—because we don’t believe they can tell fact from fiction. Some of my oldest and dearest friends are constantly forwarding news and posts that appear totally untrustworthy to me. It’s a sign of how truly fragile—and thus valuable—trust is today.

Much of this shift in the trust landscape is the result of the past four years of political tumult, during which every norm was questioned, lies became commonplace, and things we perceived as unshakeable truths turned out to be eminently wobbly.

Almost a decade ago I introduced the concept of “transferred trust.” It’s the sort of trust an organization unwittingly earns when its opposition or competition has so frequently resorted to obfuscation, lies, or spin that they take on greater trustworthiness just by comparison. Transferred trust has seen a recent period of wide and unprecedented expansion, after several years during which the President of the United States broke substantial new ground at the bottom of the trust spectrum.

Welcome to our trust issue

So, in this issue of The Measurement Advisor our goal is to turn trust right side up again. We’ll help you figure out how to, as our new president might put it, “Build back better trust.”

Measure on,

Photo by Liquid (Artiste) Arya on Unsplash.

About Author

Katie Paine

I've been called The Queen Of Measurement, but I prefer Seshat, the Goddess.