Start Rebuilding Social Trust

Unlike other established democracies, in the last 50+ years, people in the U.S. have become less likely to trust each other. That means we’re talking about something much bigger than polarization.

It’s called social trust: our faith in other people.

No one can pinpoint the main reason for this change because so many factors play into it. Here are just a few (from The Sanford Social Innovation Review):

  • Public- and private-sector corruption
  • Poisonous public rhetoric
  • Governments’ inability to provide essential security and human services
  • Breakdowns in the rule of law
  • Rising economic inequality
  • Perceptions that neither individual voices nor votes matter
  • The sense that elites and the powerful have rigged the system to benefit themselves
  • A volatile media and social media climate—contributing to the spread of disinformation and polarization—exacerbating divisions and creating a sense of social grievance

Feel like you can’t fix any of that? Here are three simple things you can do.

When social trust is low, people are less likely to do these things (also courtesy of the Sanford Social Innovation Review):

  • Comply with laws and regulations
  • Pay taxes
  • Tolerate different viewpoints or ways of life
  • Contribute to economic vitality
  • Resist the appeals of demagogues
  • Support their neighbors
  • Create and invent

What a lousy world that makes!

It’s true: our brains have a natural negative bent. Because they’re designed to be risk averse, they’re always on the lookout for the bad stuff. And we usually find what we’re looking for.

As a leader, make the conscious effort to 1) hold yourself accountable first (and fess up when you mess up), 2) ask for input and then really listen to it, and 3) identify and support the growth of future leaders.

Especially on the cusp of a new year, let’s find ways to make our corner of the working world better. Remember: moods are contagious, so choose and model better ones!