Trust Me

“That’s just fake news”

“I thought I knew her.  But when I saw what she wrote on my page, I unfriended her.”

“I got food from the Bistro. I’ve always ordered from there but this time it was terrible.”

What do all of these situations have in common? They’re all about trust. Who can we trust? Should we trust them? What happens when someone or something we trust lets us down?

An interesting article published a few years back in the Harvard Business Review discussed the issue of trust.   Luis F. Martinez of the Nova School of Business and Economics, together with his research partner Marcel Zeelenberg of Tilburg University, created an experiment, using an economic game, to measure levels of future collaboration when research subjects are let down.  These researchers designed their experiment to study the negative emotions that a breach of trust may cause.

It’s a fascinating examination. Professor Martinez divided test subjects into three groups: those who were primed to feel regret from their trust not being rewarded, those who were primed to feel disappointment from that situation, and a third control group. What Martinez and Zeelenberg discovered is that although disappointment and regret are both negative emotions, they differ.  Regret makes us want to avoid those situations in the future. We become fearful, distrusting, and don’t want to interact with that person, business or situation again. However disappointment, although a similar emotion, is distinct from regret. Regret is where we view ourselves as at fault for the interaction. It is more about our bad decisions, things that we think we’ve done wrong. Disappointment on the other hand is where our hopes and expectations aren’t met but it doesn’t seem like it’s our fault.   Perhaps it was fate, bad luck or simple circumstances beyond our control.

What happens thereafter is that you may feel negatively towards a person or business that disappoints you, but you will not necessarily stop interacting with them. In other words, if the food from the Bistro disappoints you, you may order there again. But if you regret getting the sandwich that from there that turned out to be a gooey, chewy mess, you will probably go elsewhere for your next carry out.

One thing not discussed in the article about Professor Martinez’s study is whether allowing yourself to manage these negative emotions can allow you to affect the outcomes. For example, what if you try to shift your expectations. You don’t necessarily need to lower them. In other words, you’re not going to assume that the Bistro is going to bring you bad food. But rather, you view situations more neutrally or, with equanimity. If you do this, does it help you avoid feeling regret?  The only thing that regret seems to teach is to avoid that person, place or situation.  Nevertheless, if instead you felt disappointment, can you use the positive traits associated with this emotion to learn and move forward?

In this era of the big, impersonal businesses that rarely interact with the customer personally, the amazing amount of distrust that our polarized population feels with specific media outlets, or the fact that social media could really be renamed anti-social media, perhaps managing expectations, with respect to who and what we trust, and understanding the difference between disappointment and regret, might be an insightful practice to undertake. Who should you trust? No one can answer that question for you.   Nonetheless, perhaps having a different perspective in those interactions might help you understand the results a little better.

Haas, Sam, Disappointment Makes You More Trusting: An Interview with Luis Martinez, The Harvard Business Review, October, 2015, retrieved on October 6, 2020 from


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