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CONTRIBUTOR / J. Keith Murnighan


While every leader wants to be perceived as competent, they should be just as concerned with coming across as warm. And the combination of the two elicits positive responses from both peers and employees. Reciprocity is a powerful force for creating a trusting culture, since people will repay trust with trust. Leaders and smart employees begin building trust right away, though it is natural for people to be guarded until they get a sense of the situation.


Every leader wants to come across as competent. And what a lot of research suggests is every leader should also want to come across as warm — as interpersonally warm and caring.

So, this nice combination of competence and warmth is dynamite for leaders. It gets really positive responses from people who not only think you care about them but also understand that you know what’s going on. And that’s a powerful combination.

And if you’re a leader and have been appointed a leadership position for good reasons, people are going to think you’re smart and they’re going to give you some credit.

And think about this — think about leaders who will tell you, “You must earn my trust” versus leaders who say, “We’re starting out with 100 percent trust. You have a good track record. I’ve seen your reports. I have high expectations from you. You’ve been fantastic. Let’s take it from there” — altogether different from starting at ground zero.

BUMPER: Building Trust within Teams

When I work with companies and with leaders, I’m always focusing on the teams that they lead — the immediate groups of people that they lead. And what I want to have happen is for those teams to coordinate themselves well and trust each other.

And if they can coordinate themselves well and trust each other, they’re going to be able to take advantage of whatever abilities they have.

Add on some training programs where their abilities increase — absolutely tremendous bottom-line impact over the long term.

You can’t predict short-term — internal dynamics and their effect on the bottom line, in the short term, is not always obvious.

But in the long term, a really smoothly functioning team that’s well coordinated and trusts each other and has ability — whew! — fantastic.

BUMPER: Exploring Automatic Trust

Automatic trust is where you encounter someone, and for some reason, things click. And you find and believe that they’re trustworthy right away.

Our brains have all of these connections — interwoven connections in our brain — that activate when you say something like a person’s name or when they’re wearing a pair of glasses that you recognize that, for some reason, you have a positive association about.

So, automatic trust is a situation where you get a cue that all of sudden leads you to be more trusting than you would be otherwise. And there are lots of those cues that are possible.

BUMPER: Automatic Trust and Likeability: Creating Schemas

Liking is one thing, but we also have categories where a very likeable person is not particularly trustworthy. And we all know of them. They’re great to have a party with, but you would never loan them your car.

So, we’re pretty good at creating what we call “schemas” for different kinds of people. And we have schemas for professors; we have schemas for nerds; we have schemas for CEOs.

And we have schemas for people who are likeable but not trustworthy and schemas for people who are trustworthy but not so likeable.

Automatic trust can facilitate a better result, when you encounter one of the many, many people who truly are trustworthy, because if I come on as more trusting of you, you’re more likely to reciprocate and be more trusting of me. And we accelerate a trust-development process to both of our mutual benefit.