The Fine Line: The Truth About Trust For Business Owners

In everyday life, people are generally advised that trust is incredibly healthy, preferable, and something that we should all seek to establish as a major factor in our lives. Trust can be difficult for some, but for the most part, we offer trust fairly easily; we trust the people we care for, the companies who are responsible for our safety, and the government and legislature to do what’s best for us. This is how life is meant to be.


However, when it comes to running a business, all of the above good advice regarding the importance of trust is… less applicable. In fact, it could be argued that, regarding their professional lives, business owners should actively reject trust.


The reality of being too trusting in business


It would be nice to think that the modern business world is a Utopia; a place where we can trust that others will do the right thing, where deals can be agreed on a handshake, and where trust can thrive.


Unfortunately, we don’t live in such a Utopia.


It only takes a second to glance through the business news and see the truth of the modern business world, and the picture that is painted is ruthless. Companies exploit one another; practice shady tactics; renege on agreements and contracts; and promote the concept of a “dog eat dog” world. While there are some entrepreneurs and companies who seek to do the right thing and change the world for the better, there are twice as many who want to get ahead and profit – no matter what it takes to do so.


In such a landscape, trust could be a considered an obvious weakness. If you trust that an agreement will be adhered to or matters dealt with in an open and even way, then you become vulnerable: you may have every intention of behaving impeccably, but there’s no guarantee regarding the other party. The business world does not encourage this trust; it tells you that you have to be cautious about everything, to use a contract lawyer every time you’re even considering entering into a binding arrangement with another company, and be suspicious of everyone.


And yet…


No entrepreneur can act entirely alone


Reading the above, near-dystopian description of modern business, it may seem somehow safer to be skeptical of everyone, to always suspect ulterior motives, and to minimize your interaction with others.


Yet… that’s not possible either. An entrepreneur has to trust others; it’s the way the business world works. You have to be willing to trust your employees; to trust your B2B partners to be even-handed and respectful – you even have to trust your competitors won’t use underhanded tactics to try and damage your company’s reputation. It’s impossible to run a business without trusting others, at least to a degree.


So where does this leave the matter of trust for business owners?


We have two competing theories:


  • You should trust no one in business!
  • You have to trust others in business!


So which is right? Well, neither: what you need is a middle ground. Let’s amend:


    • You should trust no one in business!


  • Except for when they have proved worthy of trust, or when you have a contract or other legal protections in place to ensure your company’s security.


    • You have to trust others in business!


  • But you don’t have to trust them blindly; you should seek to protect yourself, and your company, with additional measures.



When it comes to finding the right level of trust in business, there’s no denying it’s a fine line – but it’s one that every entrepreneur has to learn to walk.

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