Do people really trust you? Why?

A recent road-trip taught me that trust is at an all time low in Australia.

I do a lot of my work in regional Australia. Lately I’ve been doing a heap of stakeholder interviews as part of an industry development plan. It takes a bit of a leap of faith (trust) from interviewees to give up their time and also involves a fair bit of driving.

(Stick with me here – it’s very revealing…)

Late on a Thursday afternoon, I’m driving towards Wagin, where I’ll be staying the night. My wife is on the phone and as I round a bend, I have to interrupt her, “Sorry I have to go, there’s someone who looks like they need a hand.”

I pull up beside a woman who is waving me down at the side of the road. She’s standing about 50 metres from a very tired looking, small silver car (clearly it’s tired – it’s not moving!).

“My car has broken down, can you please give me a lift into the nearest town?”

“No worries”, I answer, wondering if there’s still a roadhouse at the next town and if it will be open when we get there.

I look into the rear mirror as she heads back towards her immobile car. Sitting in the passenger side is a very large man, who looks very unhappy – I can see why he’s not outside waving to cars!

She walks back and gets in my car. The first thing I do is introduce myself. She responds with – “Hi I’m Carly, you’re not going to axe-murder me are you?”

Here I was in my nice work clothes, with my friendly smile on and remembering my manners!

“Of course not – it’s been a long day and I’m just too tired for axe murders,” I respond.

As we head off towards town, I’m wondering what do we talk about –we are total and complete strangers after all.

The trust ‘ah-ha’ moment

“So tell me Carly, how long have you been waiting there?”

“Um, nearly all day…”

I almost run off the road upon hearing this.


“Yep. A carload of wild teens pulled over, followed by a really dodgy looking guy, so I wasn’t getting in with either of them. Apart from that, you’re it.”

It really struck me hard. Here we were in the relative peace and quiet of rural Western Australia and people won’t even pull over to help someone else.

It showed to me that our levels of trust are at an historical low.

It got me thinking about what I can do to help instill trust.How do we build trust

Trust raises questions

We get to the roadhouse and thankfully it’s open. I didn’t have a Plan B, and neither did Carly I suspect. I wait as she goes in and ring my wife to let her know everything is OK.

“Who is this person?” she asks. “What does she look like? What’s she wearing?”

“Um, she’s forty-something I guess, black hair I think. It’s hard to tell now that she’s put on that balaclava inside the roadhouse.” (The response indicated my jokes aren’t always funny – nor timely!)

$200 later Carly gets her gasket fixing kit thingy, radiator fluid and a lot of duct tape. I drop her back at her car, and continue my journey, thinking about this issue of trust.

Where to with trust

Clearly we can no longer assume there’s trust as a starting point in our relationships, be they personal or professional.

How do we establish enough trust for people simply to talk to us?

After several more hours thinking on the road, here are my Top 5 tips for building trust in a professional relationship (btw I’m taking honesty as a base for all of these):

  1. Be responsible for your thoughts, actions and behaviours (and be aware when you’re not)
  2. Try to understand the needs of others – walk in their shoes to better understand their perspectives
  3. Communicate what you really think, rather than what people may want to hear
  4. Listen and be willing to openly receive feedback
  5. Follow up on your commitments

I would love to hear yours!

(And thanks for trusting that there would be some value in this article!)


Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash


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Andrew Huffer

Andrew Huffer has over 25 years experience in working with organisations, businesses, managers and communities and at a state, national and international level. He designs and delivers specialist engagement processes, with a focus on facilitating open decision making processes and skill development of clients. He has delivered presentations and workshops at a number of state, national and international conferences.

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