Trust me: I’m good enough, smart enough, and doggoneit, people like me

In my first post, I focused on some of the good and bad aspects of relying on ESN technology in the area of learning and development. Generally, exposure to ideas is good, but there could be trouble in properly assessing/improving the quality of that data. As I mentioned then, one of the barriers to quality interaction relates to the sense of safety necessary for knowledge sharing and learning. I’ve been doing some further thinking in this area, and it seems necessary to expand the topic somewhat to look at the issue of trust more generally. Some level of trust is necessary to promote a safe learning environment. But why is that so difficult? And what makes for a good trusting relationship.


I was watching some recent news coverage of a speech made by a current Minnesota senator. As will happen at times, his particular mannerisms and delivery style brought back memories It also inspired the title of this blog post and got me thinking more about the concept of trust.  It is easier to trust someone when they are “good enough, smart enough, and (when) people like (them).”

It is true that we trust someone more easily when we find the person good/likable, and interpersonal trust is necessary in the learning process. This is one of the key insights in the literature describing Communities of Practice as described by Rob Cross. In a prior class discussion post, I had written about how interpersonal trust develops more reliably when individuals have a strong sense of community. Interpersonal trust makes it possible learners/teachers or learners/learners to approach each other without fear of judgement. They are not concerned about having all the facts, but can work together to make sense of a particular learning challenge.  If they have a particular gap or deficit in their knowledge, they do not worry that the other person will take advantage of them in some way.

More than interpersonal, trust also relates to the perception that the knowledge source itself is trustworthy, or is the person “smart enough?” That is, you may find another person warm and caring. He may engage with you openly and genuinely attempt to share knowledge and learning with you; however, his ultimate competence is in question.  This competency trust was described in Newell and Swan’s typology of trust (Hislop, 178). For a more current/local take on this concept, I’ve explored the material in the trust project at Northwestern , which has been interesting. For example, Sanford Goldberg’s overview of how the world of philosophy looks at the concept of trust described the concept of epistemic trust. He makes a point to distinguish the importance of trust if one is primarily looking for truth (starting at 2:53). Considering this idea, it is important that the right level of interpersonal trust is present, but one also needs to trust in the competency/truth of the source of knowledge as well.


Moving beyond the individual relationship to others, group/organizational trust is also important when fostering a space where learning is possible. As described in Hislop chapter 14, organizational trust is critical for knowledge workers. At a basic level, it’s necessary for individuals to trust their organization to support learning. In the business world, there are competing interests, so an individual must also trust his/her coworkers. In the third blog in this series, I will dive deeper into the nature of power in relation to knowledge. I’ll explore how power, knowledge, and trust may be interrelated in the organizational context.



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