Do You Trust the Taxi-Driver? Or Not?

I spent last week in Denmark, 40 miles outside of Copenhagen. While nearly every Dane speaks near-perfect English, I of course stand out as an American.

I took a taxi from a resort hotel venue to the local train station. The fare was 70 kroner (about 15 dollars). I gave the driver a 200-kroner note. He gave me back 30 kroner change.

So here’s the question: If it were you in that situation, what would you instantly assume about what is going on?

Trusting vs. Being Trustworthy

Much of what we usually talk about on Trust Matters is trustworthiness, as opposed to trusting. They are not the same thing; in fact they are quite distinct.

The ability to trust strangers (as will be described in this week’s Trust Quotes interview with Eric Uslaner—tune in Wednesday) is instilled in us when we were young, and does not change easily. Trustworthiness, on the other hand, feels less risky and is more teachable.

The taxi driver incident is about trusting, not trustworthiness: and it offers a quick litmus test of your propensity to trust. Which do you instinctively assume:

  1. You assume that obviously the taxi-driver made a mental slip, thinking you had given him a 100-kroner note, rather than a 200-kroner note. It is early in the morning, perhaps he hasn’t had his coffee. You politely point out you had given him 200.
  2. You momentarily think, “What is going on here? Why did he do that?” and then just as quickly assume he probably just had a momentarily lapse. Since the 200-kroner note is still in his hand, you are comfortable pointing at it and smiling, so that he will notice his error.
  3. You are mildly annoyed: you think, “He can’t be pulling this move, can he?” You quickly realize, however, there is no risk here; you simply point out the 200-kroner note still in his hand, somewhat clumsily sitting on his lap. “I gave you 200,” you firmly point out, realizing also he had plausible deniability—if pressed, he’d almost certainly insist it was an honest mistake.
  4. Adrenaline rises in you instantly: you think, “What do you take me for, some naïve foreigner you can hustle? No way, Jose, are you getting away with this crap—not with me, you don’t.” You point directly at his hand, still guiltily holding on the to the 200-note, and say grimly with clenched teeth, “You’re short, buddy; give me the other 100, and you can forget about a tip.”

There is no right or wrong answer here, there are simply degrees of propensity to trust. Whether your answer is ‘smart’ is also situational; you may answer differently in rural Denmark at 9AM than you would in downtown Hamburg or Detroit at 2AM (and if not, you’re naïve).

Given that, if your answer is:

  1. You are very trusting, more so than the average person in the world. Depending on the situation, you may be too trusting, in fact, for your own good.
  2. You make a distinct choice to note your suspicions, but to act as if you do not have them; people read you as responding from trust, though you haven’t given up your objectivity about risk.
  3. You’re a bit suspicious. While most would not take offense at your response, neither are you likely to take advantage of some opportunities presented in life. Your basic response to life is one of caution.
  4. You believe you don’t have much control over your life, and that others know it and are out to get you before you get them. You expect little of others, and are rarely disappointed.

The interesting thing about trusting-ness is that it is catching. The way you behave toward others influences the way they respond back to you.

Whether you expect the worst of people, or the best of people, you’ll pretty much be right.

Act accordingly.

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