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The Meaning of Trust

Updated on April 20, 2012

Building Trust

There once was a distinguished businessman who had decided to devote some time to public service. He accepted an appointment to a prestigious commission. He was a wise man, so he knew that he needed some experienced staff to help him learn about government operations. Eventually, he selected a young and accomplished advisor who was eager to help this gentleman. For many months they worked together, sometimes late into the night, because the businessman could get the factual information he needed to make good decisions. During one particularly complex discussion concerning use of public property for a joint venture with another country, the young man presented what he thought had been the most elegant and concise analysis he had ever delivered.

Immediately after the presentation, the businessman looked at the young analyst and said, “You have the benefit of all my doubts.” After what seemed like a full minute of silence, the young advisor stammered and said, “Thank you sir.”

They went on to complete the evening’s work with the advisor barely able to conceal his feelings of guilt at possibly having done a poor job, maybe somehow offending his client. Why else would this usually courteous and worldly gentleman have said such an odd thing, especially right after all the skill and thought evident in the presentation? The advisor went home still thinking about what his client had said to him. He asked himself, “What did he mean by giving me the benefit of his doubts? Didn’t my client trust me anymore?”

Then he took the question down the path of reason, free from initial feelings of shame for possibly having let his client down. When there is a confusing or complex topic, don’t people frequently have many doubts about the answers? If the decision maker cannot find an answer that is clear cut and a decision must be made, she has to rely upon somebody’s advice.

When she makes a decision in reliance of advice of another, she is giving the other person the benefit of her doubts. She trusts that advisor. She has faith in that advisor. What a beautiful definition of trust. What an extraordinary compliment to the advisor.

Many, many years later, the advisor remembers that compliment and he treasures that gift of trust as much as anything he had ever received. It is a gift that has been shared many times by the young advisor who no longer possess youth, but he carries a gift of wisdom that can never be taken away.


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