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How to measure trust

25-March-2013 0:00
in General
by Dr. Jenny King

 “Trust me, I’m a doctor” – but can doctors expect the unconditional trust that they once enjoyed? Doctors remain the most trusted profession, according to a poll of more than 1,000 British adults conducted earlier this year by Ipsos MORI. This poll revealed that 89% of the 1,018 adults surveyed trust doctors to tell the truth, 9% said they didn’t trust them to tell the truth and a further 2% said they didn’t know.


In stark contrast, only 21% said they’d trust bankers to tell the truth and 18% said they’d trust politicians to tell the truth.


Trust and the reputations that depend on it can take many years to build and re-build but just moments to destroy. Trust can be wiped out with one ill-advised remark – Gerald Ratner declared the earrings sold in his jewellery stores to be "cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich but probably wouldn't last as long” (thus causing the demise of him and his organisation). Other breaches of trust have been vast in scale and repercussions: phone hacking, the BP oil spill; Bernie Madoff;  and the many banking fiascos.  


So what makes people or organisations trustworthy?  How do you measure trust? A new study by Victor Dulewicz published this month in Assessment and Development Matters (the journal published by the British Psychological Society) studied trust in the doctor-patient relationship. He identified three factors of “perceived trustworthiness” – Ability(competence), Benevolence, Integrity, and Risk-Averse(considers risks carefully).


Dulewicz points out the importance of these qualities for many other professions where trust is central to their reputation and performance. Widening this out still further, should we now be assessing anyone in a leadership or senior management position for their potential trustworthiness? Should we be looking at relevant personality traits from measures such as the Big Five (Agreeableness, conscientiousness) together with an integrity test (of which there are several on the market)?


In healthcare, trust is now a major issue at every level. However we measure it, we cannot ignore it as a core competence. Doctors have retained their position as the most trusted professionals but sadly the same cannot be said for many healthcare managers. We can do something about this when selecting the next generation.



Dulewicz, V.  Trust: so important but can we measure it? Assessment and Development Matters Vol.5 No.1 Spring 2013, p13-16 (available through the British Psychological Society www.bps.org.uk)

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