The Knowledgebase


Shared understanding

Bringing purpose to life

Building trust and trusted relationships (reciprocity)

We can talk about society having trust in business, but trust starts and is built, within personal relationships and experiences.

  • The minimum level for reciprocal behaviour is to start with basic honesty and integrity – and then go beyond this to a level of mutual benefit that people cannot expect or demand, especially where there are significant asymmetries of information or other types of power imbalance. This promotes the trust that undergirds free and efficient markets.
  • Reciprocity involves generosity but is not altruism – it involves a shared benefit but it is not a deferred contract where one person gives to another today with the implication that they will reimburse or reward the giver in the future. Reciprocity is rather a way of thinking that gives one person joy in being able to contribute to another’s need or development so all have an immediate mutuality of benefit.

This way of thinking about trusted relationships avoids a common pitfall in dicussions about trust. Very easily, “buidling more trust” can turn into an exercise in reputation management. Professor Onora O’Neill has pointed out how simply aiming for “more trust” is a stupid aim – we don’t need more trust in for example people who are able to defraud people precisely because of misplaced trust. As she notes, what we need more of is appropriately placed trust (trustworthiness), which in her view is deserved when people are honest, competent and reliable. This is consistent with Blueprint’s view, but our framing here adds a further dimension which is the desire to create something through the reciprocal relationship which was not there before. People can be trustworthy but indifferent. Building trust and trusted relationships, particuarly in conditions of asymmetic power, or simply as an expression of reciprocal respect rests on an ethic of care and benevolence as well as trustworthiness.

Questions to consider:

The following questions are a way of considering the evolution of habitual practice which this section seeks to describe, from a starting point of self-interest alone to an aspiration:

  • Am I trading my time and knowledge as favours to call in at a later time?
  • Am I providing other people with the information they need?
  • Am I generously sharing my time and knowledge with others?