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  • Writer's pictureYoram Solomon, PhD

TRUST without Respect? Respect without TRUST?

Updated: 12 hours ago

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Like almost every podcast episode I record or article I write, the trigger is a question someone asked me. This time, it was a definitive statement: "To trust someone, I must respect them first. I will never trust someone I don't respect!" Sounds like a reasonable assertion, doesn’t it? But as I went through my Relative Trust™ model in my head, it didn't sit well with me. So, I decided to do some thinking, some researching, and some analysis, and wrote this article.


What is Trust?

Trust is a multi-faceted concept central to all forms of human interaction and essential for the stability and smooth functioning of relationships and societies. According to "The Book of Trust," trust is defined as the willingness to accept the possibility of negative consequences in giving control over something valuable to another person or entity, with the expectation that they will minimize these possible consequences. This definition emphasizes the risk inherent in trust—the risk that arises from dependence and vulnerability when one party relies on another. Trust is not just about believing that someone will not harm you; it’s about believing that they will actively work to prevent harm, demonstrating both capability and intention. Trust enables cooperation, reduces complexity in interpersonal transactions, and is foundational to both personal bonds and professional collaborations.


What is Respect?

Respect is an acknowledgment of the value and virtues of another individual or entity. It involves recognizing and appreciating another's qualities, achievements, and abilities, often leading to admiration. Respect can be both felt and shown, manifesting in behaviors that honor the dignity of others regardless of their utility to oneself. It encompasses recognizing others' rights to think and express themselves independently, supporting a foundational principle for ethical interaction and communication.


How are Trust and Respect Similar?

Both trust and respect are essential for healthy interpersonal relationships and are intertwined with how we connect and interact within social frameworks. They each enhance cooperation, ease communication, and build community cohesion. Both require a recognition and appreciation of the other's qualities and involve a decision to engage positively. Each can also be built or eroded over time, depending on actions and experiences.


How are Trust and Respect Different?

Despite their similarities, trust and respect diverge significantly in their essence and application. Trust is dynamic and situational, heavily reliant on past interactions to predict future behavior, making it inherently risk-related. It involves an element of dependence, where one party may rely on another for some outcome or behavior, often expecting a specific action or response. Respect, in contrast, is more about esteem and acknowledgment, not necessarily linked to direct personal benefit or risk, and does not inherently involve reliance or expectations of specific outcomes. Respect is broader, yet shallower. Trust is narrower but deeper. Respect is backward-looking (past accomplishments), whereas trust is forward-looking (what will you do tomorrow?). Respect is more personal and requires firsthand knowledge, whereas trust could be transferrable.


Can You Respect Someone You Don't Trust?

Yes, it is entirely possible to respect someone you don't trust. Respect can be based on one’s abilities, achievements, or qualities without necessarily needing to rely on or trust that person. For instance, one may respect a colleague's professional expertise or a public figure's accomplishments without trusting them on a personal level or in contexts outside their expertise. You can respect someone for their competence, but don’t feel a personality compability with them enough to trust them that they will have the willingness to minimize negative consequences for you. You may respect a 90-year-old Vietnam fighter pilot, but will you trust them to fly the plane you just boarded? In that respect, respect could be considered a subset of the components required for trust. We must also remember that trust and respect are both relative and contextual. You may respect someone for one thing, but not trust them in another. You may respect someone as a world-class surgeoun, but would you trust them to fly your plane?


Can You Trust Someone You Don't Respect?

Conversely, trusting someone you don’t respect is also feasible, though potentially problematic. Trust in this context might be situational, such as trusting a person to perform a task effectively despite not respecting them for other aspects of their character. This form of trust is usually limited and specific, reflecting a reliance based on necessity rather than genuine personal connection. Trust may not require a firsthand familiarity with the person you trust, and can be transferrable. For example, do you trust the pilot flying the plane you just boarded? Probably. How come? Because you trust the airline to not put an incompetent pilot in the cockpit. But do you respect them? Heck, you don’t even know their name until the flight attendant reads the pilots’ names, and you don’t remember them ten seconds later. How can you respect them?

 

In conclusion, while trust and respect are closely linked and often coexist, they are distinct concepts that can exist independently. Understanding and navigating these differences is crucial for maintaining personal and professional relationships, contributing to both individual growth and broader social harmony. And the answer to the top question: While this is not always the case, you can trust someone you don’t respect, and you can respect someone you don’t trust.

 

 
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 HR.com 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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