by Guest Author

Relationships are tricky and getting trickier. Trust is built on familiarity, which feeds
our need for control and predictability in our relationships. But as our
society and relationships become more complex, it’s becoming hard to
measure how accurately you know someone – is your sense of familiarity just
a ruse?

As my clients will tell you, I often bring these complicated relationship
questions back to the fact that we’re basically primates and tribal. We
size people up based on rudimentary cognitive shortcuts, heuristics that
help us deal with the enormous amounts of social information we process on
a daily basis.

These shortcuts were more useful when we lived in small groups of people
that looked, dressed, and spoke like us. Fast forward to a modern
metropolitan city and the heuristics fail big time. You can’t judge a book
by its cover and that can be nerve-wracking.

Example: You start a new job and are instantly comfortable around a team
member who is always well dressed, smiling, and confident. He gets tasked
with leading a new project and assigns you an odd task. You do it because
you sense you can trust him, but the project ends up failing miserably –
where did you go wrong?

Here are the two primary reasons our strategies are ineffective:

1. We don’t know our own cognitive shortcuts. You absolutely must figure
out what values and preconceptions you have around – at minimum – the
following areas: social class (rich vs. poor people), gender, and race. If
you’re spending less time scrutinizing what someone says because they look
like you or remind you of yourself, you’re in danger of being duped by

2. We’re responding to hunches versus observable evidence. Hunches rarely
hold water. If you’re not sure why you trust someone, it might be worth
connecting that feeling to observable evidence or data: what have you seen
in that person’s actions that makes you think they actually should be

Bottom Line: Our cognitive shortcuts are adaptive but many times off the
mark. Whether you’re sizing up how well you actually know someone, make
sure to identify concrete facts that support your assessment. You can’t do
this with everyone you interact with but it’s worth practicing with those
closest to you.

If you want to get in the habit of assessing the validity of your thoughts
or don’t want to make investments in the wrong person again, let’s talk about learning new skills that will

*Stay tuned for the next installation of this series about maximizing trust
and empathy in your relationships and business. Miss the first one? *Check
it out!

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