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  • Writer's pictureYoram Solomon, PhD

The 3 Principles of Trustworthiness: Relativity, Empathy, and NoBS

Trust is an essential component of personal and professional relationships. It's not just a desirable quality but a fundamental necessity for meaningful interactions and collaborations. However, trust is not a simple, universal concept; it is influenced by various factors and manifests differently in different contexts. This article explores three crucial principles of trustworthiness: relativity, empathy, and a no-nonsense approach.


Trust is inherently relative. It varies from person to person and situation to situation. What one individual perceives as trustworthy behavior, another might view with suspicion. This variation stems from different cultural backgrounds, personal experiences, and individual values. For example, in some cultures, direct communication is seen as a sign of honesty and integrity, while in others, it might be perceived as rude or aggressive.

One of the fundamental aspects of relativity in trust is understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all checklist for being trustworthy. The same behavior that builds trust in one context may erode it in another. For instance, a leader who takes calculated risks may be trusted by an innovation-driven team but viewed as reckless by a risk-averse group. Therefore, to build trust effectively, it is essential to understand and respect these differences.

Relativity in trust also extends to the notion of truth-telling. While honesty is generally valued, there are situations where a more nuanced approach is necessary. Consider the example of a loved one asking for an opinion on their appearance. A bluntly honest response might be hurtful, whereas a more considerate answer that takes their feelings into account can build trust. Hence, trustworthiness requires a balance between honesty and empathy.


Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings of others. It is a critical component of trustworthiness because it helps bridge the gap between different perspectives. Empathy involves seeing the world through another person's eyes and understanding their motivations, fears, and desires.

To be trustworthy, it is not enough to adhere to one's standards and expectations. One must also consider the standards and expectations of others. This involves active listening, where the focus is not only on the words spoken but also on the emotions and intentions behind them. By demonstrating empathy, we show others that we value their feelings and perspectives, which in turn fosters trust.

Empathy is particularly important in our increasingly individualistic society, where people often prioritize their own needs and desires over those of others. This trend can lead to a lack of understanding and reduced trust. To counteract this, we must make a conscious effort to see things from others' viewpoints and respond with compassion and understanding. One practical way to practice empathy is to consider Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Recognizing that others may be operating from different levels of need can help us tailor our interactions to be more supportive and understanding. For example, while one person might be striving for self-actualization, another might be focused on basic security needs. Understanding these differences can help us build more meaningful and trustful relationships.


A no-nonsense, or no-BS, approach is about being straightforward, transparent, and honest in our interactions. It means avoiding unnecessary jargon, obfuscation, and deceit. People appreciate and trust those who communicate clearly and honestly, even when the truth is difficult to hear.


In today’s world, where deception and manipulation are rampant, a no-BS approach stands out. It involves admitting when we don’t know something, acknowledging our mistakes, and being transparent about our intentions. This level of honesty builds a reputation for reliability and integrity.

For example, in a business context, if a project is behind schedule, a no-BS approach would involve openly discussing the challenges and setting realistic expectations. This transparency helps manage expectations and builds trust, as opposed to vague assurances that may later be proven false.

Moreover, avoiding BS means recognizing that others are not easily fooled. People have built-in BS detectors that can sense when they are being misled. By being authentic and maintaining high ethical standards, we can avoid triggering these detectors and build genuine trust.


Building trust is a complex and nuanced process. It requires understanding the relative nature of trust, practicing empathy to appreciate different perspectives, and adopting a no-nonsense approach to communication. By embracing these principles, we can create stronger, more meaningful relationships both personally and professionally. Trust is not an absolute or universal trait but a dynamic quality that we must continuously cultivate through our actions and interactions.

Dr. Yoram Solomon

Dr. Yoram Solomon is an expert in trust, employee engagement, teamwork, organizational culture, and leadership. He is the author of The Book of Trust, host of The Trust Show podcast, a three-time TEDx speaker, and facilitator of the Trust Habits workshop and masterclass that explains what trust is and how to build trust in organizations. He is a frequent speaker at SHRM events and a contributor to magazine.


The Book of Trust®, The Innovation Culture Institute®, and Trust Habits® are registered trademarks of Yoram Solomon. Trust Premium™, the Relative Trust Inventory™, and The Trust Show™ are trademarks of Yoram Solomon.

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