Trust and the Standard Deviation

Those of you who regularly read Trust Matters have probably heard something about the Trust Equation, a formula for figuring out your own individual trustworthiness.

It looks like this:


T = Trustworthiness
C = Credibility (words)
R = Reliability (actions)
I = Intimacy (safety)
S = Self-orientation (whose agenda are you working?)

You can read more about it in this article:

From this equation, Charlie Green developed the Trust Quotient assessment–20 questions which yield powerful information on not only a person’s overall TQ, but also her or his areas of strength and – let’s be forthright – weakness when it comes to creating trust.

And the Trust Quotient Assessment Says…

Over the past two years more than 10,000 people have taken the TQ quiz. And what a rich and delicious trove of aggregated data that has given us – the largest study of its kind ever done on personal trustworthiness.

One of the key findings is this: in building trust, consistency matters.

The data show that the more consistent a person is across all four areas of the TQ (credibility, reliability, intimacy and low self-orientation) the higher that person’s overall TQ score will be.

Put another way, the higher the standard deviation among the four components’ scores, the lower will be the overall Trust Quotient number. Science has now shown what intuition has always told us. We trust people more when they display all four key factors evenly, when they act consistently. In some ways, this is what we mean when we say ‘integrity’—a sense that we are seeing a whole, that this person walks the talk, there are no secrets, what we see is what we get.

In less mathematical terms …

Imagine that you scored very well on credibility (you really know your stuff), on intimacy (you relate to others on a human level, and are open with them), and on self-orientation (you really listen to other people and want to understand how you can help, not just how you can make a sale.)

BUT–with all of this going for you, if you miss deadlines, show up late or not at all for meetings, and fail to get your part of the project done, no one is going to trust you.

Will they tolerate you? Maybe, if you are the super-expert they need on the job, or the total charmer who makes even wacky excuses sound plausible. But trust you? No. You’re a brilliant or charming flake. You can’t be relied upon.

Does the TQ Contradict Strengths-based Management?

On the face of it, this may appear to contradict the strengths-based approach to management championed by Marcus Buckingham, who argues you’re generally better off working from your strengths than fixing your weaknesses. Because if a charming flake can improve her or his score on reliability, she or he can improve their TQ trust score.

In fact, we don’t think it contradicts Buckingham’s basic proposition; if your natural strength lies in intimacy, for example, you’d do well to use it.  But what if people can’t see it for the strength it is?  What is your flakiness obscures it?

As is true so often, trust may be a bit of a special case. If the appearance of dis-integrity (flakiness, perhaps) is keeping people from seeing your natural strength in intimacy, then improving reliability is a way of enhancing your strength, rather than just shoring up your weakness.

This is just a peek into the tent of our findings from the survey data. Stay tuned to read more in future blogposts.

4 replies
  1. Alex Toddd
    Alex Toddd says:

    Impressive sample size!

    I belive trust is contextual.  I trust my mother to have my best interests at heart, but not to drive my car.  Likewize, I can trust a mad scientist to give me the right answer to a science question, but perhaps not to deliver on commitments.  As long as he is not in a delivery role, I shouldn’t care about his ability to deliver.  To quote the title of one of my favourite books "Do What You Are".

    Is my mother trust worthy?  What about the mad scientist?  It depends on what it is you are relying on from them.

    The same can be said for self-trust.  Do you trust yourself?  I trust myself to behave according to my intentions most of the time.  However, if I am sick, hungry, upset, hormonal, drunk, stoned, tired, etc. I can’t trust myself to behave in accordance with  my intentions.  Hence, I may want to consider not driving a car of flying a plane under these circumstances.  In fact, I should not trust mysefl to fly a plane any time, since I don’t have that competency.  Am I trustworthy to myself?  Again, it depends on the context of the circumstances and areas in which I choose to make myself vulnerable.

    My point is that absolute or generalized trust are misnomers.  "A" trusts (or relies on) "B" for a specific "C".  If I can’t even trust myself absolutely, then how can I possibly trust someone else in a general sense?

  2. Sandy Styer
    Sandy Styer says:


    Thanks for your comments. More and more we are coming to believe that trust is, indeed, contextual. I trust my dog with my life, but not my lunch. (I would probably trust your mom with my lunch, but not my life — if she’s driving.)

    That having been said, there are different factors which lead us to being more or less trustworthy, and I believe that it’s worthwhile to look at them because it helps us get our arms around that big and not-easily-defined concept of "trust." By working to improve my lowest score and reduce the standard deviation among my four scores, I can become more trustworthy in more contexts.

    You’ve sparked a new thought for me: perhaps a big part of being trustworthy is helping others understand when they should and shouldn’t trust us. "I’ve never actually flown a plane before, so I shouldn’t be in the cockpit, especially since I’m dead drunk right now." or a simple: ""I don’t know the answer to that." Thank you!

  3. John
    John says:



    Really like this post. It resonates as it reflects conversations I have with teams.  Over the years i have worked with a number of teams who are committed to doing good work and they do; just not always on time. As I try to remind them if you promise a deadline and miss, intentionally or not they have broken a promise and hence they have broken trust.

    It is simple under promise and over deliver. And if you are going to miss a deadline due to a mistake, own up to it quickly. When people know how you handle problems your trust can go up (or down) exponentially.

    Keep up the good work,




  4. Sandy Styer
    Sandy Styer says:


    Thanks for your comment.  I think you’ve hit the nail on the head when you say: "When people know how you handle problems, your trust can go up (or down) exponentially."  It’s actually easy to build trust by handling a problem quickly and openly.

    One minor point I’d like to argue.  I’m not a fan of under-promising and over-delivering as a regular thing, because it makes you a bit of a liar.  Just promising and delivering seems to be the strongest way to build trust.


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