Leaving Butter on the Bread

I grew up in country Ireland with the saying ‘leave butter on the bread.’

I have been living in Melbourne for the last 16 years and try and get back to Ireland every year. I visited my parents in the old country a few weeks ago and continually felt a sense of community that gives without expecting anything in return: a neighbour dropping in with a gift of some freshly picked vegetables from her garden; another neighbour dropping in a big pot of homemade vegetable soup; my mother making 12 jars of raspberry jam and giving away 11 jars to neighbours.

All done without any fanfare just with a giving heart.

On this trip I had the great pleasure of dropping into New York to visit the TAA merry gang on my way back to Australia.

I encountered two experiences with big corporate institutions where one left ‘plenty of butter on the bread’ and the other left ‘dry bread’. These incidents have been playing on my mind.

I was walking down 6th Avenue between 17th and 19th West and went into a major bank to withdraw cash from the automatic teller machine (ATM). There were two smartly dressed bank officials standing at the entrance to the ATMs. One enquired if I wanted to withdraw cash and on saying yes I was told they were giving out cash prizes today and to be sure to look out for a flashing message. I thought this is wonderful how lucky am I that I walk into a bank that is giving out cash prizes. I proceeded to insert my card into the machine and at the end of the transaction a flash of $125 came on the screen. The lady who had obviously been watching my machine shouted out, “we have a winner!" I immediately thought how wonderful this bank is, New York is AND I was envisioning a new pair of shoes and said to the bank official "the luck of the Irish." The gentleman asked me to follow him into the main bank so that I could receive my prize and escorted me to a formal office. The first question he asked was “do you make many withdrawals”…"yes"  “which bank do you bank with?” “Westpac (Australian Bank) I am just visiting!”  “Oh we have a problem. You need to open a bank account here in order to receive your prize, which needs to be deposited into an account, and this will not work, as you are from overseas. I immediately said "so when anyone inserts a bankcard from another bank the machine says that they are a winner?" He could not look me in the eye and said "No, that is not the case." My trust of this financial giant was suddenly Zero. In my opinion this was misleading and deceptive conduct. He walked me out to the front door probably so that I would not tell others waiting to take cash out. I had been left without ‘butter on the bread.’

Fortunately there is a heart-warming story to tell. I spent my first day shopping at many stores including Macy’s.  I bought 3 pairs of shoes and was pleased that I received 25% off in their sale. By the end of the week I had to buy  an extra suitcase (large) to accommodate all my shopping!  I made another journey to Macy’s and found that the store had a 50% off sale. I chose a quality suitcase and was surprised at the counter to learn that as well as the 50% off I would get an extra 10% off as this was the last suitcase of its kind and had been on the floor. How wonderful.

On my way out of the store I could not resist popping once more into the shoe department. I found that the shoes I had purchased 5 days earlier were now at 50% off. Just as a throw away line I said to the assistant that if I had waited and bought the shoes today I could have saved money. She enquired if I had my receipt and if so I could take it to the counter and get the extra 25% off.  I did and am happy to report I got the refund. Both transactions within Macy’s went way beyond my expectations. Macy’s left butter on the bread and I will tell many, many people this wonderful story.

The bank, however, I never want to set foot in again.

Top Trust Myths: 2 of 2: Trust is Destroyed in Moments

Trust takes a long time to build, and only a few moments to be destroyed. 

In my last blogpost, I suggested this is one of the all time great trust platitudes, and that the first part of it was as often untrue as it is true. 

In this post, I want to tackle the second part: the idea that trust takes only a few moments to be destroyed.

Moments of Trust Destruction

Let’s start with how trust gets built up in the first place. It’s amazing how often we hear both of these contradictory statements—and accept them both as true:

Generally, we trust someone until we’re proven otherwise, starting most relationships with a certain level of trust and building from there.


Relationships don’t begin with trust. Trust must be built day-by-day…conversation by conversation.

Which is it? Do we start with high levels of trust? Or do we build it up slowly? The fact that you can understand both points of view is a tipoff; once again, it depends on what kind of trust you’re talking about.

I think when we say things like “trust can be lost in a moment,” we are mostly in the former territory – that is, situations where we grant trust early on as the default position. It might be early in a personal relationship, where one person says something unexpectedly inappropriate. It might be an institutional relationship, such as a “personalized” mass mailing which misspells our name.

I think cases of egregious corporate behavior typically fall into this category, e.g. when BP lost the rig in the Gulf. But one might ask — who exactly trusted BP before the accident? And precisely for what did they trust them?

These cases of trust being destroyed in a moment are more like an electrical short in a traffic light. In a moment, our trust in the dependability of that light is destroyed. But all we had trusted it to do was to maintain switching capability. Its failure is not a wound to the heart.

Sloooowww Trust Destruction

By contrast, let’s look at cases of “rich” trust – situations where we have evidence of credibility, reliability, intimacy-capability, and low self-orientation. What happens when such a relationship is faced with a violation?

What happens to a marriage when one spouse behaves adulterously?   What happens when a Bernie Madoff refuses to answer routine questions about investment behavior to a client? What happens when a parent is informed that their child has committed criminal behavior?

What usually does not happen in those cases is the total destruction of trust. Most spouses first cope with infidelity by denial–and a great many adulterers are ultimately forgiven. Massive numbers of people chose to deny the evidence of Madoff’s malfeasance, and parents routinely insist that “I know my child, and (s)he could not have done that.”

As swindle victim Bobby Lall put it, "People say, ‘Why would you trust somebody like that?’ But your friends are the ones you trust. Pretty much your friends and your family’s about all you’ve got in life."

These are situations of grave betrayal: being cheated on by a spouse hurts worse than finding a new fee charge hidden in the small print on your bank statement. Yet it’s the minor trust transgression that causes us to “lose trust in an instant.”

The real big betrayals? We hang on, and on, and on.   We don’t lose trust in an instant – we are bled dry, very slowly, twisting in the wind.

When Trust is Lost Slowly, When Quickly

As we say over and over in this blog, trust is a complex phenomenon. Trust measurement without context is misleading at best, meaningless at worst. Trust management without context is aimless. Trust platitudes without context dependent on the listener’s tacit intuition of the context.

The speed at which trust is lost is a second- or third-order metric. It is not even driven by the speed at which trust is created. It is more accurate to think of “thin” trust and “rich” trust.

If Amazon incorrectly bills me for a book I never ordered, my loss of trust is quick and thorough. But it was never very rich; I trusted a billing system, not a friend, a lover, or even my dog. I’m annoyed, not destroyed. That’s thin trust.

If I spot my daughter taking money from my wallet without having asked me, I am quick to question her and to be upset; but I do not revise my fundamental assessment of her – I might even still let her use my credit card, albeit not quite so unconsciously.

Dr. Eric Uslaner, a leading academic on the subject of trust, has this to say in an interview I did with him:

CHG: What’s the biggest misconception about trust that you find people have?

EMU: That trust is fragile, or that it can be reestablished easily. Moralistic (or generalized) trust is learned early in life, from your parents, and it remains stable for most people throughout their lives. So you can’t break trust easily.

Again, he’s talking about what he calls generalized, or moralistic, trust. So as usual, it depends.

As if to prove Uslaner’s point, here is the tale of Eric Taylor, an Englishman who was conned and hustled by a real pro on a visit to Washington DC. Not just conned, but double-conned, by someone who knew a trust-sucker when he saw one and was quick to double the ante.

Here’s what Eric Taylor learned from his encounter with the swindler:

When my wife and I were discussing the incident for the hundredth time a few weeks later, she said: "And, if it happened again, I know you would react in exactly the same way, even knowing what you know now. And I would rather you were that way than the other."

Trust lost in an instant? Myth busted. It depends.