Trust Building — Part 1: The 4R’s of Building Trust

Dr Amjad Mohamed-Saleem
18 min readNov 28, 2021


This is the first part of a two part series looking at Trust and Dialogue.

Trust is in short supply

This blog is prompted by the feeling that currently global trust is in short supply. With many people across the world increasingly being anti vaccine and being susceptible to the misinformation that is being spread, a reluctance to take the covid vaccine and adhere to safety protocols signals a lack of trust in the system and those enforcing the system. This lack of trust is symptomatic of a wider global malaise where there is a massive trust deficit in society, with old institutions and positions such as bankers, journalists and politicians facing the brunt of this.

The 2021Edelman Trust Barometer has revealed that there is a trust paradox that despite an era of strong economic performance and nearly full employment (over the past two decades, more than a billion people around the world have lifted themselves out of poverty), the 4 major societal institutions — government, business, NGOs and media — are not trusted at all. This has been further exacerbated by a year of unprecedented disaster and turbulence brought on by the triple crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic , the economic crisis and the resulting social crisis that has been made worse by the global outcry over systemic racism and political instability. The infodemic around covid 19 has also contributed to this failing trust ecosystem.

the role of globalisation

The trust paradox is also worsened and defined by the process of globalisation which has disrupted the social fabric that helps individuals define themselves and assess their social roles. The shifts of the 21st century as a result of globalisation have upended traditional structures of authority, relocated centres of power and allowed a flood of perspectives on how life should be lived. These shifts have unanchored lives, challenging the traditional structures and networks that guided peoples’ behaviour in society, such as learning from the teachings of our forefathers, by trial and error and following the models of others. In times of rapid social change these networks are erased or shifted to a degree that they become unrecognisable. This frantic pace has unsettled people to such an extent that they yearn for agents of constancy to provide an oasis in the shifting sands of today. This unsettling has also led to a decrease in trust in the institutions that have traditionally played that role of an agent of constancy, mainly because they have failed to keep up the pace to address (Jurgensmeyer, Griego and Soboslai 2015).:

  • A Search for Social Identity — the increasing mobility of people and the ease of global communications seems almost to make it possible for everyone to live everywhere. As a result, huge new multicultural populations are emerging around the world that have mixed identities- grounded in their new homelands but in touch with countries of heritage. Thus today one’s social identity is fluid and often determined by changing global circumstances and remains a paradox.
  • Accountability — there is a global issue of authority. As the concept of the nation-state becomes diluted with globalisation, it is no longer clear who is in charge. This phenomenon is further exacerbated by disaffected nationalist regimes and movements that claim — but have seemingly lost — moral bearings.
  • Security — we see mass disillusionment with the system of sovereign, secular states. National unities have been challenged by division based on religious and tribal identities and new ideologies of nationalism have emerged based on the sectarian interests of religion.

This loss of trust means that we can also lose hope in imagined realities with public belief in many core aspects of “the system” disappearing around the world. The current COVID-19 pandemic is showing a new form of this loss of trust. As people reject official sources of information, they are increasingly turning to search engines and social media to inform themselves. This rising tide of misinformation and mistrust is threatening Covid-19 recovery, as people are deeply suspicious and hesitant about the Covid-19 vaccine. In fact, among those who practice poor information hygiene — in that they do not check their sources and/or ensure credible and factual information is shared — there is substantially less willingness to get the vaccine within the year of its first availability (59 percent versus 70 percent for people with good information hygiene)

four horsemen

In the absence of accepted referees of truth, new imagined realities can easily form in the algorithmic echo chambers, that fly in the face of facts rather than building on them, sometimes based on who is shouting loudest (Mahmood 2020). The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called this global wave of mistrust one of the “four horsemen” that “endanger 21st-century progress and imperil 21st-century possibilities.” (Guterres 2020)

This trust deficit also caused by a deficit in leadership has led to a wider trust within society, with a large portion of the rhetoric of distrust being deflected to immigrants or people who appear to be the ‘Other’. In America a large portion of the distrust against the ‘other’ has led to the #BlackLivesMatter movement which has exposed the fear against the Afro Caribbean community (Kendi 2020) and the distrust that the community has in the public institutions to be fair and just. It is this distrust of the public institutions like law enforcement that reinforces a vicious cycle whereby both sides are not confident in each other.

There is an irony here as trust is often seen as something warm and fuzzy and not quantifiable. Yet trust also makes us feel safe and comfortable. So whilst trust is dismissed from the professional sphere as being something not tangible, from a leadership perspective it is still seen as a much valued trait and value. Leaders who cannot inspire trust cannot lead; there will be no followership.

The reason for there to be some much reluctance to professionally consider this whilst acknowledging its personal trait is that trust can be seen to be a leap of faith. It is based on one’s own worldview and experience that involves taking some risks, because whilst trust takes a long time to build, it can be broken very quickly. When times call for fundamental change, trust is often hard to come by. Yet it is clear that trust is essential to developing relationships with individuals. So the message is clear: To be trusted, one has to be trustworthy!!

Building trust is the essential foundation for building healthy communities. It inspires changes in individual lives and interpersonal relationships which in turn can catalyse social action and legislative changes (Corcoran 2010). Building trust has to start from the individual perspective as the most needed reforms in our communities require levels of political courage and trust based collaboration that can only be achieved by individuals who have the vision, integrity and persistence to call out the best in others and sustain deep and long term effects. Without trust, true collaboration is unattainable. From history, the likes of Mandela, Ghandi and King worked off social capital based on trust.

The Trust Quotient

In this light, it is worth exploring the ‘Trust Quotient’ which has been developed as an online self-assessment tool to measure an individual’s ability to garner ‘Trust’ (Maister, Galford and Green 2000). Whilst the tool is itself useful, what is more useful to consider are the attributes behind the ‘Trust Quotient’: credibility, reliability, intimacy and self-orientation. The equation identified below is thought provoking as it makes the concept of trust more practical and also posits the notion that the idea of trust is very much linked to the individual and dependent on the level of one’s own self-orientation.

The Trust Quotient (Maister, Galford and Green 2000) thus has one variable in the denominator and three in the numerator. The three numerator variables improve trustworthiness, whilst the denominator can reduce trustworthiness. Increasing the value of the factors in the numerator increases the value of trust. Increasing the value of the denominator — self-orientation — decreases the value of trust. The Trust Quotient provides a scientific, analytical and actionable framework for how we help organizations and individuals improve their businesses and lives. Thus, Trust is a consequence of good behaviour, not an ingredient, and while it takes decades to build it can vanish overnight based on the ego and self-orientation

Exploring the attributes in more detail, one sees that:

  • Credibility is about rating “what you say and how believable you are to others.” In other words, you must be and sound credible if you are asking others to follow your lead. Credibility also comes from integrating spirituality and a language of faith into what you say and do.
  • Reliability measures “actions, and how dependable you appear.” The actions need to follow up words. Do you ‘say what you do and do what you say’? So people need to know that you will come through for them.
  • Intimacy considers “how safe people feel in sharing with and being with you.” So often we are emotionally distant from others but we need to create opportunities to ensure that leaders do keep their emotional distance from their followers, but when you are presented with confidential information, you need to keep it so. It is also about keeping trust that God’s Plan for you is the best plan. That no matter if you are facing something positive or negative, it was chosen for you and you can handle it;
  • The fourth characteristic, self-orientation, refers to personal focus, e.g. yourself or others. What the equation shows is that too much self-focus will lower your degree of trustworthiness. It is important to demonstrate a strong ego but if your power is all about you, then few will follow. Self-Orientation refers to the focus of yourself. Self-orientation, which sits alone in the denominator, thus is the most important variable in the Trust Equation. A person with low self-orientation is free to completely and honestly focus on the other person — not for his own sake, but for the sake of the other person. Thus “Lowering self-orientation” can improve trustworthiness. When all you focus on is helping prospects, they trust you more. Ego is a common enemy that is a main impediment to learning and the cultivation of talent. With success, it can blind us to our faults and sow future problems. In failure it magnifies each blow and makes recovery more difficult. At every stage, ego holds us back (Holliday 2016).

Thus the Quotient and understanding its whole attributes may serve as a check on those of us who may think we are trustworthy, but perhaps may not be credible or reliable. Or we may be too self-absorbed to notice our deficiency. Building trust is ultimately about people.

The 4R’s

Living the four Trust Values is the best way to increase your trustworthiness. So how would one work to build those 4 trust values? How can we develop trust through building credibility, intimacy and reliability and reducing self orientation?

In my opinion, this can be done with building the 4 R’s of Trust building:

Take Responsibility

The first concept on ensuring trust and developing credibility is about taking personal responsibility and recognising that we individually need to work on, contributing towards the 4 trust attributes. The individual step will be to begin with ourselves with a values integration to model the change and be the catalyst for change we want to see. Change comes from taking courage to challenge the status quo and those that perpetuate fear and distrust. Taking responsibility is not just for the select few but for everyone (men and women) to step forward to take the lead in overcoming division.

Taking personal responsibility also means moving beyond victimhood to overcome burdens that can destroy them in order to give them a new lease of life. The concept of victimhood is extremely important for many who due to historical / colonial perspectives as well as the experiences of migrants to the west is one of being under siege (Hussain 2014).

The historian Yuval Harari has explained that the shift of human beings’ from small family social units, to nations and ideologies gathering millions owes a great deal to our ability to invent and then believe in stories (Harari 2020). In other words, having common “imagined realities” — that allow us to believe in invisible constructs as a way of organising ourselves. Hence there is a need to reconstruct the narrative of the community that is one that moves away from victimhood and takes responsibility for addressing social change to address concrete cause-and-effect relations (Harari 2018)

Build Relationships

How can we expect the people we serve to trust us, if we are not willing to trust them? How can we trust them if there is no engagement with them? The second pillar is about engagement and outreach. Studies conducted in Sri Lanka after the end of the conflict by the Asian Foundation, found that there was a lot of mistrust between the various faiths largely because there was no day to day engagement between the various members of the communities (The Asia Foundation 2011).

Thus it all starts with getting to know the other. In some cases it is about breaking bread or having a cup of tea with the other. It is about getting to know the ‘other’, lean their culture and traditions and share a meal with them. This requires the practice of humility, because it involves listening to what they have to say.

Building trust has to be about reaching out to ‘the other’ to include everyone and listen to everyone, to dispel the misinformation now infinitely magnified and exaggerated by the Internet. So we all need to do more to build those bridges and relationships with people. There is no magic formula to build those bridges rather just to be humble, with an ability to listen, build relationships with diverse communities, learn and understand from the others. Building relationships is hence about dialogue. Dialogue to understand, respect and accept has to be the intention.

Dialogue is a responsibility. Dialogue is a process of exploration and coming to know the other, as much as it is an example of clarifying one’s own positions. Therefore, when one dialogues with others, what is desired is to explore their ways of thinking, so as to correct misconceptions in our own minds and arrive at common ground. This common ground is the desideratum of all dialogue, and lays the groundwork for mutual cooperation based on the principles of faith in God and good relations with neighbours.

Ensure Respect

Building relationships is about ensuring respect for others. One of the key components of this is to ensure a space for dialogue that is safe is built where what is discussed is not only kept confidential, but more importantly that the spaces are kept welcoming. For example, if there is a need to build trust with religious leaders or representatives from other faiths, one should not shy away from integrating an intentional space for prayer or other rituals.

It means that there should be a clarity about the agenda. Respect is earned by standing firmly to our principles and not compromising.

Respect is also about doing what you say and following through. We need to be true and honest about what can be done and not done which also means following through on promises.

Always Reflect

Self-reflection and self-assessment are very important to understand where you go wrong and as well to acknowledge the past to learn from it. An Arab emperor once said ‘Take account of yourself before you are taken account of’. Acknowledging the past can only be done if a safe space is created, an outreach is done and people are treated with respect.

So where does this leave us with trust?

Living the Trust Values

Trust should not be second-best to accountability. It’s not good enough to say, “Trust us”. It’s not about corruption, political influence, paternalism and hypocrisy but there is a need to put in place the checks and balances that are visibly functioning and that give people a reason to trust you. If you want to reduce your self-interest, you need to put a check on those human and organisational tendencies. This requires self-reflection and humble correction.

It requires dialogue which can transform individuals in societies in a way that increases true social cohesion. Dialogue is important because it strengthens trust and understanding, and enables real relationships to be built across differences.

the importance of dialogue

Dialogue is an important tool in the context of outreach and gaining respect and understanding. migrant integration efforts. The two way process of mutual accommodation can only take place if both “sides” have a deeper understanding of the needs, perspectives, desires, fears, and priorities of the other. It is not just about understanding what the other is saying, but what they really mean. Hence dialogue is an effective approach to strengthen social cohesion within culturally and religiously diverse societies because it allows people to maintain their various identities while still finding common ground .

The aim of dialogue is to overcome misunderstandings and dispel stereotypes in order to gain better mutual understanding, to build trust. Rather than necessarily agreeing on a point of view, dialogue is about recognising and developing mutual respect so as to build sustainable relationships. By focusing on common needs, dialogue builds bridges and transforms human relations. It fosters deeper understanding, so that even though disagreements may persist, an appreciation for the perspectives of the other can emerge. I intend to go more deeper on dialogue in the second part of this blog

not a hotline

Trust is not a hotline. Trust is not an auxiliary, There is much to reflect on and also to take responsibility for in terms of creating safe spaces for dialogue and engagement. Whilst there is much that is outside the control of individuals to affect and that remains within a circle of concern, there is still much within the circle of influence where there can be direct impact. Thus individual responsibility is an obligation to respond proactively to the tensions of our world by working actively and methodically to ameliorate them, so as to replace instability with stability, hostility with friendship, and animosity with alliances.

These alliances are about bridging social capital between communities that are a strong enough consensual basis for trust that takes into account cultural difference (Putnam 2000). We need to develop that so-called ‘thin trust’ that binds us to those we do not know and with whom we have limited first hand dealings, to go along with the ‘thick trust’ that develops from personal familiarity. Thus there needs to be more of an opening up of physical and virtual spaces where individuals and communities can come together, free from the restraints imposed by pre-determined (and biased) agendas (Yaqin and Morey 2016). This comes from understanding that multicultural environments are key to celebrating difference in the practices of everyday life.

Trust building through shared endeavour and mutual vulnerability requires a willingness to be open to understanding the lifeworld of another. This most certainly does not mean that one needs to agree with its every detail, nor to, in some way, concede something essential in oneself. It does however need to understand where other ideas are coming from — historically and intellectually. In other words, the doors need to be kept open, not slammed shut. The history of Islamic civilisations is a testimony to this celebration of multiculturalism.

So how do we build the trust that creates the ideas and institutions that will allow us to live together as the global tribe? Using the Trust Quotient buttressed by the 4 R’s of Trustbuilding, one can create a safe space for critical self-reflection that allows one to reach out to treat the other with respect and to understand trust enables communities to move towards a common good of peaceful existence with each other.

rebuilding the shattered mirror

The famous Victorian explorer Sir Richard Burton (Among other exploits, Burton managed in 1853 to gain entry to Mecca and Median as a pilgrim, helping to communicate the complexity and richness of Islamic culture to Victorian Britain.) once wrote that ‘All Faith is false, all Faith is true: Truth is the shattered mirror strown In myriad bits; while each believes his little bit the whole to own’ (The Kasidah of Haji Abdu El-Yezdi). In his mind, he meant that you will find parts of the truth everywhere and the whole truth nowhere. This concept of the ‘shattered mirror concept’ enables us to see that ‘each shard reflects one part of a complex truth from its own particular angle’ (Appiah 2006).

Distrust comes from the fact that we consider that ‘our little shard can reflect the whole’ and that our little truth is the whole truth. Building trust is about understanding that for the common good, each of us (with our faith and spiritual teachings) have a bit of that shard of broken glass. These small shards of glass which, require careful positioning to create a compelling mosaic that will allow us to live together as the global tribe we have become.

Trust building starts with all of us individuals and then grows with the communities in which we live and work. This snowball effect can only come through daily practice of the Trust Quotient and being mindful of the 4 R’s of Trust Building.

A second part of this blog on dialogue will be printed soon

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Dr Amjad Mohamed-Saleem

is an analyst writing on decolonisation,peacebuilding,humanitarian,interfaith,Islam, Sri Lanka & other issues of interest. Have a PhD on ethno politics