“ Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” ― William Shakespeare
We all know that trust is the basis of any good relationship, whether personal or professional, and that high levels of trust can make these relationships incredibly strong over time. Trust has a way of removing obstacles and shortening time, by allowing others to become more responsible for the things that are most important to us. We trust our children, health, finances and lives into the hands of teachers, doctors, accountants, friends and family, on a daily basis.
Normally we grant this trust to others slowly, based on: our own previous experiences with them in less important matters, or recommendations from other individuals, whom we already trust, or proxies for trust such as organizations, brands or institutions, and finally, on our personal discretion. These approaches are sound and rational, and work most of the time.
The problem is when we lead with our heart, not our heads, and get into the habit of granting trust, rather than letting it be earned. We do this because it is the easy, inoffensive, likeable and expedient way of building relationships with others. We want to accelerate the relationship building process, often so we can be liked or gain some advantage, and move too quickly into granting trust. We skip right over skepticism, ignoring red flags, and can be encouraged by others who have their own trust building agendas aimed squarely at us.
We often bypass any form of verification, since we become overly concerned of what others may think of us, particularly those people who may hold positions of authority or influence, and make us look like fools for even doubting their integrity. For example, how many times have you signed a simple contract without actually reading the entire document because you were told it was “boilerplate” or “our standard agreement”? Or, how often have you received an estimate for contract work (on your house, car, etc), only to find the actual cost to be substantially different than the estimate, and miraculously, almost always higher? Or you trust someone with some work or task, only to find out later that there were additional hidden fees or other unanticipated (or undisclosed) costs and complications.
Developing a healthy level of skepticism or paranoia is a good way to raise your awareness that the risk needs to be mitigated, particularly in high stakes situations involving your health, reputation, family, business or finances. The higher the potential risk, the more paranoid you should become and the greater the need for verification.
Like any good habit, it takes constant awareness, diligence and practice to verify information and, more importantly, skill at assessing when and how much effort to put into verify information, a person or an action. Here are some guidelines that will be helpful to you:
- Assume anything you hear is at best a distortion, if not a down right fabrication, particularly if you are on the receiving end of a request for money, time, or some other form of precious resource.
- Assume much of what you read or even see, may be unreliable or distorted, and not an absolute representation of the truth. Things are not always what they seem.
- Be wary of information being passed onto you, since many people don’t do their own fact checking or independent verification, and inadvertently pass on false or misleading information under their own conviction that they are absolutely correct. Their level of belief in the soundness of this information may influence you to believe it, even though they themselves don’t know its wrong and the underlying premise is incorrect.
- Get into the practice of reading each document you sign in its entirety, and never be rushed into signing something you don’t read. If you are not allowed sufficient time to read it, even if it takes overnight, walk away from the deal. This includes “standard” documents, such a warranty returns, brief contracts, simple terms and conditions. If you sign it, read it!
- When possible, particularly when the stakes are high, go to primary sources of information to verify claims and ask for supporting documentation, and independent, third party sources of verification, or speak directly with primary sources yourself.
- In business, understand how auditing work (financial, safety, quality, etc) and put procedures in place to ensure they effectively manage and secure your assets. Systems like ISO (International Standards Organizations) are great ways of verifying your own business systems.
- Periodically change a habit or routine, particularly if you suspect deception. Many accounting frauds have been exposed when a temporary accountant comes in, or a new auditor appointed.
- Get as close to the primary sources of data as possible, even if you have to do some unconventional things to get the information, such as talking directly to a person doing the job not the supervisor, calling suppliers of primary materials or services, visiting addresses shown on documents or asking for photocopies of documents.
I believe that most people are good, honest and hardworking. However, even good, honest and hardworking people can have poor information themselves and unknowingly pass it on to you. In addition, there are more than a few unsavory people in the world, and you owe it to yourself and family, to take the steps necessary for protection to ensure you do not become a victim, simple because you became too trusting. The closer you are to the truth, the better off you will be and the more trust you can grant in the long run.
Eamonn has a B. Eng. (Electrical) from Lakehead University, MBA (Finance) from University of Toronto, and has completed Executive Education at Stanford University Graduate School of Business. He lives in Vancouver, Canada. Follow him on twitter @EamonnPercy