A few weeks ago I was sitting next to a campfire with a high school student who had just confessed to participating in some horrific activities. Worst of all, his dad had put him up to those activities.
His mom and dad divorced when he was 7, so the family has been divided for quite some time. The kid informed me that mom had no clue about the types of things he had done.
For the past 3 years I have taken a group of students to Winter Camp at Forest Home, and each year I have had opportunities to connect with students. But in this case, the student had only confessed his darkest deeds to one other person: his girlfriend. She’s also in our ministry. In fact, she brought him to the camp.
I had never met this guy before he came to our camp, and this conversation was the 2nd conversation I had ever had with him. The first was on the bus ride up to the mountains 12 hours earlier.
I shared with him some action steps he could take including the acceptance of grace and the fact that he need to forgive himself. But then I asked him the question that kept popping up in my mind as he had confessed: “Why me?”
I explained my question more in depth to him.
“Why did you choose to tell me the things you did? There’s only one other person in the world with whom you’ve shared these details. Your mom doesn’t even know. You haven’t known me for more than 12 hours… so why open up to me?”
His response gave me chills.
“Matt, my girlfriend has told me about all the conversations you’ve had with her in your ministry. She’s told you some pretty hard things, but you’ve helped her a lot. She really trusts you. If she trusts you, then so do I.”
It occurred to me in that moment that trust is contagious. When other people can trust you, their trust of you rubs off on others.
I have seen this with other students as well, especially with incoming freshmen who are new to the high school ministry where I lead. Other students who have been around me for a longer period of time have had the time and opportunity to get to know me on a personal level, whereas new students don’t know me from any other adult.
However, I have heard comments from new freshmen about how they respect me or how they don’t want to disappoint me, not based on interacting with me, but based on what they have heard from the other students I know on a deeper level. The older students have developed a trust for me that has positively impacted my relationship with the younger students.
Here are 3 areas that you can use contagious trust to your advantage:
1) Job References
Potential employers want to hear from credible sources whether you are a trustworthy candidate for the position. If someone else gives a glowing review of you and your character, the interviewer feels much more at ease about who you are.
However, about a year ago, I had an interviewer call me to get a reference for a former student who was a troublemaker who not only had made my life difficult, but he had broken his word and promises on multiple occasions to me over the course of several years.
When the interviewer informed me that he had listed me as a reference, I was shocked. Why in the world would he have listed me as a reference when he had proven to me on so many occasions that he was NOT trustworthy?
While to some it may seem obvious that you should only list references who can attest that you are in fact a trustworthy person, I want to challenge you in a much bigger way: choose to be trustworthy to everyone.
This way you don’t have to be selective as to who can vouch for your trustworthiness, but instead you can choose to be selective based on who has been around you the most to attest to the several examples of your integrity.
Maybe you have taken advantage of contagious trust to score a date. You may have unintentionally done this if you have ever said something like:
“Hey, you should introduce me to your cute friend!”
If you find out that someone you’re interested in has a mutual friend, ask your friend to break the ice and use contagious trust to give you more of a chance than you otherwise would have had.
Part of the reason I pursued my wife in a dating relationship was based on the fact that my sister already knew Ashten. Shortly after I met Ashten at a summer camp in 2008, I called my sister and said, “What do you know about a girl named Ashten?”
My sister was genuinely excited that I asked! She said, “Matt, if you don’t marry Ashten, I hope you marry someone just like her.” That’s a pretty good character reference. I’m glad my sister knew Ashten, because the trust Meg had for Ashten was pretty contagious and gave me more of a desire to pursue Ashten.
Thankfully, Ashten had several sources she could trust who were able to vouch for me as someone worth dating as well!
3) Authentic Friendships
Good friendships are hard to find. If you do have a good friend, ask that person what other good friends they already have. This may sound weird and feel a bit awkward, but try to work it into your conversations. More than likely you will also have things in common with their other good friends, which simply gives you the ability to develop more authentic friendships as well.
My bottom line for you in this post is to be someone OTHERS trust.
By being consistent, loyal and dependable, you will earn trust from others. When others trust you, their trust of you will become contagious to others. That contagious trust will help you build your reputation and your platform for leading others.
If/when you fail and betray someone’s trust, go back to that person as quickly as possible to repair the damage you have done. If you do not repair that broken trust and opt out of the hard work of earning it back again, your untrustworthiness will become contagious instead.
Choose to be someone others can consistently trust and start to pay attention to how your earned trust impacts new relationships for the better.
Join the Discussion: Share an example of an opportunity someone gave you based on trust you already had from someone else. (Example: You were invited to speak at an event because someone said you were a trusted source on the topic.)