The Relativity of TRUST: My TEDx Talk
Updated: Jun 26, 2022
My first TEDx talk in 2018 happened while I was writing my 8th book: Cause of Death, Political Correctness. But that TEDx talk was not related to TRUST, and I had no TEDx talk about trust. So, I applied to several TEDx organizers and was accepted to speak at the TEDxPlanoSeniorHS event in May. If you ask me to talk about trust, I could do it for three days straight without taking any breaks. Still, a TEDx talk is about “ideas worth sharing,” it must be shorter than 18 minutes, include one simple idea, and be actionable, giving the audience something they can do tomorrow based on it.
When I think about what differentiates my work on trust from others, one of those differentiators is that I see trust as a relative term. Based on the 8 laws of trust I observed over more than a decade, and most specifically trust law #3 (trust is personal), I decided that my “idea worth sharing” in this TEDx talk would be that the same thing you will do could cause one person to trust you and another to distrust you. As a result, the actionable item is that I proposed for you to evaluate your trustworthiness one relationship at a time.
The best TEDx talks make the content very personal, so I included the story of being on the receiving end of the SCUD missiles fired on Israel from west Iraq, starting operation Desert Storm. Kevin Sweeney, a friend of mine and the pilot of a USAF KC135, allowed me to use his amazing and heroic story that took place on February 6, 1991 and gave me pictures that I used there.
So, without further ado, here is the actual script of my TEDxPlanoSeniorHS 2022 talk: The Relativity of Trust. At the end of this article, you can find a link to the video on the TED.com website.
I'm going to take you to January 18 1991, back in Israel. It's just after 2am, and I woke up to hear this, [sound of an air-raid siren] An air raid siren.
And then, [sound of an explosion] an explosion. And another one, and another one. Israel was under attack by SCUD missiles from West Iraq. That was the beginning of Operation Desert Storm. And we knew that those rocket launchers they had to be taken out, they had to be taken out right now. And as a young 26 year old member of the Israeli Defense Forces 35th airborne, we wanted to get that job. But we didn't. And instead, it was the US Air Force who got the job. Except that fighter planes could not make it all the way from coalition bases in Saudi Arabia to West Iraq. They needed to somehow get fuel. And this is where my friend, Kevin, comes in. Major Kevin Sweeney, US Air Force, was the pilot of a KC135. Now, a KC135 is really a Boeing 707 with four engines and 200,000 pounds of Jet-A fuel. And on February 6, his job, just like everyday before that, was to refuel fighter planes as they're attacking rocket launchers in Western Iraq. Except that the flight on February 6 was not usual. See, 24 minutes after takeoff, his plane flew right into the jet wash of the plane in front of him. And he was starting to lose control over that plane. You remember Top Gun? The first one? When Maverick and Goose flew into the jet wash of another airplane, they lost control, they eventually crashed the plane? Same thing, except Kevin is not flying an F14. He's flying a KC135 with 200,000 pounds of jet fuel. The plane became very hard to control, and all of a sudden, two red lights in the cockpit. Fire in engines one and two. Kevin asked the boom operator to go and eyeball the engines. The boom operator went and looked and came back and said: “good news and bad news. The good news, there is no fire. The bad news, there are no engines under the left wing.” Now, if you lose two engines on a four-engine plane, as long as they were one under each wing, you can control that plane. Not so much if you lose them under the same wing. The boom operator looked at Kevin and asked him, “should we bail out?” See, a KC135 actually has a hatch near the cockpit and the crew has parachutes. They can jump out of that plane. Not the jumping over Iraq during Desert Storm is ideal, but neither is crashing with the plane.
“Should we bail out?”
Now, every time Kevin told me that story, he was telling me about the noise in the cockpit. But I'm willing to guarantee that at that moment, you could hear a pin drop. And everybody on the crew looked at Kevin and Kevin said,
“Stick with me, we'll be fine.”
Now, every member of that crew had to make a decision, and the window of opportunity for that decision was getting pretty, pretty small. Do we trust him to land that plane? Would you have trusted him with your lives?
I'm going to get back to Kevin's story at the end of my talk today. But I want to make sure that you understand that trust is very important not only in the cockpit of a KC135 that lost two engines. Trust is important in the workplace. A workplace with high trust, employees are 76% more engaged, 74% less stressed, 29% more satisfied with their jobs, 50% more likely to tell another friend to come work for this company. The projects in this company are 45% more on time and on budget. The company is 50 to 64% more innovative and productive and delivers 286% More shareholder returns. Trust is important.
But trust is a two-person game. See, the level of trust that I have in you is the product of my trustability, my willingness to trust other people, and your trustworthiness, and there's almost nothing that you can do about the former and everything you can do about the latter, your trustworthiness.
In 2018, I decided to do a survey, and I asked a very simple question: What is the most important quality for you in other people? And I asked about your boss, your employee, your peers, a salesperson trying to sell you something, your government representative, and your spouse. Three out of 363 people, just under 1%, said that the most important quality for them in another person is, wait for it, good looks… I know, right?
But the overwhelming majority said, with 61.2%, the most important quality for me in another person is their trustworthiness. More than their willingness to work hard, more than their willingness to take risk, more than their intelligence, and their good looks. In fact, with 61.2%, it was more than the next four qualities combined. This is how important your trustworthiness is to other people.
But what is it that makes you trustworthy?
And this is where I'm going to say something you're not expecting.
Up until now, we thought that there was a list of things that makes you trustworthy. Check every box in that list, and you're going to be trustworthy. Don't check every box, and you're not trustworthy.
I agree, competence is important. Would you ever board of plane when the pilot is not very competent in, oh, I don't know, landing? Would you go under surgery with a surgeon who has a higher than average patient mortality rate in their operating room? Would you trust a Navy SEAL Team sniper who can't hit anything with his rifle beyond 300 yards? Not so much.
How about the truth? Would you ever trust somebody who intentionally and knowingly lies to you? Not really.
But other than these two, trust is really relative. I'm gonna give you an example.
Anybody here ever heard of a website called ratemyprofessors.com? When you go to college, you will hear about that. Shira, my younger daughter, who's now a senior in college, one day I saw her signing up for classes. And as she signs up for classes, I noticed that she goes to that website that’s called ratemyprofessors.com, and I looked at what's in that website, and what's there is anonymous reviews by students of their professors in their classes. And I thought, this is brilliant! But, wait a minute! I'm a professor at SMU, do I have a page on rate by professors? So we looked, and I do. And I looked at the first review [showing the first review] and the first review gave me five out of five. “Professors Solomon is awesome. I really enjoyed his class and lectures, he gave us good feedback and his lectures apply to the assignment. He's very clear and gives good direction.” Five out of five—I am awesome... Now, you think I'm showing you this to brag? Well, actually, that was my first reason. But I can show you this to recruit you to my class at SMU. But no, seriously, the reason I'm showing you this is because I want to show you the next review. Get ready for some vulnerability. Mine. [showing the next review] “This course is mostly about his own accomplishments rather than a broader view of peer-reviewed techniques of success. His attitude was condescending, arrogant, but he's an easy grader,” which is really what's important, right?
Why am I showing you these? Because if I put them side by side, and both of them are in 2019, before COVID, and I only teach one class per semester, these two students, and I don't know who they are because this is anonymous, they posted five out of five and one on a five for the same class. I was doing the same thing, I was being the same person. How come? Because two different people can see the same things that I'm doing, and consider them five out of five, or one out of five.
Trust these that way, too. Trust is relative. In fact, the same thing that you will do, the same behavior that would cause one person to trust you could cause another person to distrust you.
I’ll give you an example. Is procrastination good or bad? Any procrastinators here? Nobody ever raises their hand because we think it's bad. Procrastination is not necessarily bad. One of the things that annoy me the most is when I give my students six days to submit an assignment, and you know when they submit it? In the last nine minutes, even though they know that when you miss the deadline, you get a zero, and I'm pretty critical about that. So is procrastination good or bad? And before you say it's bad: When you procrastinate, when you wait, you get more ideas. Ideas get to incubate in your head. You get to ask more people, and get more advice. You get information that didn't exist when you got the assignment in the first place. So is procrastination good or bad?
It's neither. But if you're a procrastinator, another procrastinator would trust you, because they're the same. But someone who stresses over deadlines will not. They will not trust you because you cause them stress. And because trust is relative.
How about risk-taking? If you're a risk-taker, another risk-taker would not have a problem with you. They will trust you. They're the same. But somebody who stresses over risk, someone who does everything in their power to avoid taking risk, will think that you're irresponsible and reckless and not to trust you.
Why is that? Because we are all different. We're different in our DNA. We're different in where we were born, where we were raised, where we went to school, where we live, and where we work. We're different, and because we're different, we see things differently. Because we're different, one student gave me five out of five and one gave me one out of five. Because we're different, the same behavior could cause one person to trust me and another person to distrust me, because trust is relative.
I owe you the end of Kevin's story. When Kevin said, “stick with me, we'll be fine,” every member of his crew decided that they trust him, and they stayed with him. And he needed every one of them to do their job so they can land the plane, and land the plane they did, without two engines under the left wing.
And if you want to know more about that, you can find it in the Smithsonian channel Air Disasters show, season 16, episode 7, or on Kevin's website, and Kevin loves to tell the story, because he is a hero.
Here's what I want you to get out of today's talk: Trust is the foundation for everything. The answer to this question will have the biggest impact on your personal or professional success or failure: Are you trustworthy? And I want you to also remember that it's the same thing and the same behavior that can cause one person to trust you and another person to distrust you. Because trust is not absolute or universal. Trust is relative, and because of that you need to assess your trustworthiness, one relationship at a time.
May trust to be with you.
Link to the TEDx talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/yoram_solomon_the_relativity_of_trust
Dr. Yoram Solomon is a trust expert, author of The Book of Trust, host of The Trust Show podcast, a two-time TEDx speaker, and facilitator of the Trust Habits workshop that helps building trust in organizations.