Start of Main Content


CONTRIBUTOR / Sanford Goldberg


Part 1 / When Trust Expectations Clash (0:00)
We have certain expectations of products and of companies. These “normative expectations” are the standards that we hold people and organizations to, and sometimes they are unreasonable. Much of life is about negotiating what counts as a reasonable expectation, and culture is fundamental. Leaders who are not sensitive to culture’s role in shaping expectations will not fully succeed. Similarly, society has institutional ways of ensuring and enforcing trustworthiness—or not.

Part 2 / How Reliable are Reputations? (2:13)
People who live in communities that value trustworthiness have a strong motive to be trustworthy. But culture can also negatively affect the trustworthiness of people—and their perceptions of other people’s trustworthiness—when it is not valued. Our perceptions of reputations are formed by two sources: the information we have collected over time, and society’s institutional ways of enforcing trustworthiness in others.


BUMPER: When Trust Expectations Clash

We expect certain things from our products. We expect companies to behave in certain kinds of ways, both in the production and also in the marketing of these products.

These are what I would call “normative expectations.” They’re expectations that aren’t predictions; they’re more in the vicinity of standards that we impose on the people with whom we interact. And, in that sense, they’re normative rather than predictive.

They certainly can be unreasonable. If you think about, for example, a boss — a boss might normatively expect all sorts of things regarding his or her employees. But if it goes beyond what is reasonable to expect of his or her employees — for example, the amount of hours worked, what can be accomplished in a given day, and so forth — those are what I would call “unreasonable normative expectations.”

It’s a good question how to deal with people who have unreasonable normative expectations. My impression is that a good part of life with other people is negotiating what counts as reasonable in these normative expectations.

And I think what to do will differ depending on the sort of circumstance that you’re in when you’re dealing with somebody with unreasonable normative expectations.

I think they clearly can be influenced, and they frequently do change. This is the stuff of culture; this is what our culture gives us. If you like, it’s our cultural inheritance.

So, depending on what culture you happen to be raised in, that will largely affect the kinds of normative expectations you have of other people and when you have those normative expectations of others.

So, how to influence these? That’s a question for culture management. If you find that there are normative expectations that are not, from your perspective, reasonable, you ought to try to affect those parts of culture that underwrite those expectations, that justify those expectations, and so forth.

After all, these are the sorts of things that are not visible with the naked eye but nevertheless are profound in their impact on how we relate to one another.

So, I can only imagine if a leader isn’t sensitive to these things, he or she is not going to be fully successful.

It’s a very, very complicated and delicate negotiation when two parties come to a situation with different normative expectations. And unfortunately, there’s no simple answer about how to do that; it’s a matter simply of negotiation.

BUMPER: How Reliable are Reputations?

If you think about our perceptions of another’s reputation, that’s really a kind of perception of how trustworthy they are. Do they do what they say they’ll do? When they tell us something, is it reliable, something that can be depended upon?

And I would say that there are two sources of information that we have. One source is whatever information that we happen to have on the particular person or company — the evidence that we’ve collected over time. And that can include evidence of what other people have said about this organization.

But, in addition, I think we’re greatly aided by our society’s institutional ways of ensuring and enforcing trustworthiness in others.

For example, if you happen to live in a community where being trustworthy is extremely highly valued and being untrustworthy is extremely disvalued, that will give individuals with whom you interact a great motive to be trustworthy, whereas if you live in other communities where those sorts of things aren’t valued or perhaps not enforced with the same regularity, that also can affect other people’s trustworthiness, and so have an impact on your perception of their trustworthiness.

So, in addition to your own onboard resources — the evidence that you have — you also have your society and its practices of generating and enforcing trustworthiness in its members.