Is Trustworthiness a Moral Value?

Every day, I’m a little blessed by the interest and thoughtfulness of our readers. Here’s an excerpted email I received this week that got me thinking.

The Email

Dear Charlie,

I took your free Trust Quotient (TQ) assessment. As I read it, the survey is presented as an evaluation of individual trustworthiness based on, among other things, credentials and one’s certitude in advancing a position based on one’s special knowledge.

To me, that’s not a measure of trustworthiness, but of perceived self-worth as measured by credentials and salesmanship.

I think of trustworthiness as a moral value.  I sense the value being measured in this test is not trustworthiness per se, but how deeply we identify with the importance of expertise and credentials, and how well we convince others of our personal trustworthiness by those same tokens.

Reader X

My Response (partial)

Dear Reader X,

Thanks so much for taking the time to express your thoughts. I suspect you and I are in complete agreement about trustworthiness as a moral virtue.

However, I think you misunderstand the TQ in a couple of ways―regarding the use of the quiz and regarding the idea of credibility.

Trusting the TQ

The TQ is first and foremost a self-assessment. If the results were used by third parties, for example for hiring or aptitude testing, it would render them useless, because it’s simple to skew the answers so that others would see it in a way the test-taker wanted to be seen.

However, if no one else sees it, then test-takers would only be fooling themselves and destroying a chance to build self-awareness.

Salesmanship Does Not Drive Trust

You suggest that the TQ assessment is “not a measure of trustworthiness, but of perceived self-worth as measured by credentials and salesmanship.”

A look at any recent survey shows trust has gone down. I suspect you might agree, however, that what passes for “salesmanship” has probably gone up. That, I suggest, is prima facie evidence that people perfectly well know the difference.

Does excessive “salesmanship” drive down trust? Of course it does.  You can see it in every factor of the Trust Equation, the theoretical model underlying the Trust Quotient.

When you run into a hustler or con artist:

with respect to Credibility―

    •     you don’t believe his words
    •     you don’t believe his sincerity
    •     you doubt his expertise and credentials

with respect to Reliability―

    •     you want to see outside verification: “Show me the CarFax!”
    •     you require legal contracts
    •     you examine track records

with respect to Intimacy―

    •     you hesitate to trust him with your private information
    •     you suspect his motives in trying to get close to you

with respect to Self-Orientation―

    •     you suspect he’s entirely in it for himself
    •     you see that when he pretends to be focused on you, he’s faking it.

Every part of the Trust Equation works in that case to show precisely how we do NOT trust such a person. This equation doesn’t suggest untrustworthy behavior—on the contrary, it provides the diagnostic tool to describe and identify such behavior.

Trustworthiness and Morals

I don’t think you can have morals without relationships. And just as the least trustworthy people are those who violate relationships by lying, bullying, and trying to hustle people for their own ends, so likewise are the most trustworthy people those who honor the Other in their relationships.

That means those who:

  • are honest about what they know and about what they don’t know
  • put their knowledge in service to the Other rather than to just looking good
  • can keep confidences
  • play in the long-run relationships game, not in the short-run transactions game.

Your comments fascinated and engaged me. I thank you for your passion, and hope you’ll forgive my reacting passionately as well.


This particular reader chose to opt out after the free portion of the TQ because she felt it was contrary to her view of trustworthiness and morals. Too bad, because I think if anything, the opposite is probably true. As a result she missed out on the really cool stuff about the TQ:

  • The Trust Temperaments—the six psychological categories that describe how you go about being trusted
  • Most importantly, very practical, extensive suggestions about how you can improve your trustworthiness.

So let me ask the rest of you—how could we have written the free portion of the TQ test more attractively so that Reader X would have stuck around to find out the Good Stuff? Your suggestions are welcome.

1 reply
  1. John
    John says:


    I agree Trustworthiness and Trust are about morals. I like the notion that you can’t have morals with out relationship. (although I have to think a little longer on it as it is said character is what you do when no one is looking.–Probably still thinking or acting in relation to others)

    I found the TQ to be insightful to me in spotlighting my strong trustworthy areas as well as where I have opportunities to improve. 

    With respect to your question on how can you improve the free TQ. I just went back and looked at it again. From where I sit (in relation to the TA organization, yourself and the other readers of this blog and tweets, and my own interest in the subject) I found it to revelatory as I was taking the test. I could see how I answered each question pointed to how I behave in relation to trust and trustworthiness.

    Your reader my have been coming from a different position. I remember dating a journalism major in college. We got into it about the integrity of the sales profession. She felt we were manipulators, and lacking in integrity. She saw the profession of sales as untrustworthy. (I of course pointed out the examples of where media was less than forth right and that was the end of that relationship 🙂 Long way of saying how we view the TQ depends in large part on where we are coming from.

    Keep banging the drum


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