Let’s not mince words. The answer, pretty much, is yes.
The exception is what the academics call social trust—a generalized inclination to think well or ill of the intentions of strangers in the aggregate. That kind of trust ends up being inherited from your Scandinavian grandparents (or not, from your Italian grandparents).
The rest, let’s break it down. First, enough talk about “trust.” Trust takes two to tango. One to trust, another to be trusted. They are not the same thing.
So let’s start by asking which we want to teach: to trust, or to be trustworthy?
Trusting someone is, paradoxically, often the fastest way to make that other person trustworthy—thereby creating a relationship of trust. People tend to live up, or down, to others’ expectations. So if you can muster the ability to trust another, you’re both likely to reap big returns quickly from the resultant trust.
However: trusting can also be a high risk proposition. The vast majority of business people, on hearing “trust,” will say “that’s too risky.” In other words, they hear “trust” as meaning “trusting,” and they turn off.
On the other hand, there is being trustworthy. If you consistently behave in a trustworthy manner, others will come to trust you, and voila, you have that trusting relationship. Being trustworthy tends to take longer than trusting, but the results are just as good. And, it’s very low risk.
Let me say that again: becoming trustworthy is a low risk, high payoff proposition. This is not a hard concept for people to get, if explained right.
What does it mean to be trustworthy? The trust equation explains it: it’s a combination of credibility, reliability, intimacy, and a low level of self-orientation. You can take a self-assessment test of your own TQ, or Trust Quotient, based on the trust equation.
So the question is: can people be taught to become more credible? More reliable? More capable of emotional connectedness? More other-oriented and less self-oriented?
The answer is yes. Big picture, there are two ways to teach these things. One is to recall Aristotle’s maxim: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit."
People can be taught truth-telling, reliability, even other-orientation to some extent by showing them the behaviors—particularly the language–of trustworthy people.
But the deeper, more powerful approach to building trustworthy people starts the other way around: by working on thoughts to drive action. As the Burnham Rosen group articulates this point "thought drives actions which result in outcomes."
Many disciplines outside of business know the truth and power of this approach: psychology, acting, public speaking, to name a few. Business doesn’t appreciate it enough. But commonsense does.
Trust can be taught: either by teaching trusting, or trustworthiness. The latter is lower risk, hence the most attractive approach for many in business. And trustworthiness can be taught via a mix of skillsets and mindsets
It makes sense.