March 13, 2019 by

“Trust is like the air we breathe. When it is present, no one notices. When it’s absent, everyone notices.”—Warren Buffett

Warren has it right, especially when it comes to business. There is a comfort and ease when we can do business on a handshake. This can lull us into an expectation that everyone is honorable, keeps their word, and works responsibly.

But then it happens…someone takes advantage of us…and distrust jumps into our minds. The worst part is that a sense of distrust also begins driving our future actions and dealings.

Business is easier, and better, when we can trust and depend on trustworthiness. So, let us take a moment to examine two forms of trust, and the opportunities that arise from them that can drive successful business transactions.

First, there is swift trust. It is an immediate confidence that others will not take advantage of us. It happens quickly because of small cues and adherence to accepted norms. Think of what happens when our house furnace quits working and we don’t have a preferred heating and air company. We call three or four companies on the phone and talk to receptionists or technicians. Someone on the other end of the phone tells a joke that makes us laugh, and we connect; they say something about furnaces that sounds like they know our system and why it might be broken. Based on these initial interactions, we pick a company with which to continue the conversation. We respond with swift trust. It can happen between a business and a client, between businesses, and in teams. Once we recognize the existence of swift trust, we can train ourselves to quickly, and appropriately, prompt it.

Second, there is slow trust. This is an expectation that builds over time. Because someone treats us in a consistent, considerate way, we develop a confident attitude that they can be trusted to watch out for us and to even put our benefit above their own. Going back to the heating and air company example, slow trust evolves as a customer is serviced by a company over the years. Over and over again, the company is always available to answer questions and to attend to problems that arise. So, it is not surprising that when the furnace quits working at midnight on a freezing winter evening, the customer trusts that the company will send a technician to fix the problem. Once we recognize this phenomenon of slow trust, we are sure to develop business systems to maintain it.

Companies that earn awards such as “Best of,” “Company of the Year,” etc., are prime examples of organizations that prompt swift trust and maintain slow trust. And the trust they imbue becomes like the air we breathe, something we do not even notice, that is pure, and fresh, and clean. In a real sense, the institution of business can’t exist without it.


This column was printed in the April/May 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Beverly Kracher

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Business Ethics Alliance and the Daugherty Chair in Business Ethics and Society at Creighton University.