Esther Derby has a good post this morning about how trust is embedded in a context. She writes, “The sort of trust that you need for a productive working relationship is different from the trust you need for a healthy marriage.” She gives some good examples of what trust means on a work team.

I believe trust always comes down to this: I believe that you’re not going to do me harm. What kind of harm depends on the context in which we have a relationship. On a work team with me, you can harm me by not doing your work or by complaining about me behind my back, as Esther describes.

My belief that you’re not going to do me harm comes from the accumulation of everything I know and have experienced of you. Everything that happens in our relationship either builds or undermines trust. Nothing is neutral.

Because of that, one of the best ways to build trust in a relationship is to simply be aware of it. A good tool I’ve found for that is cultural anthropologist Marvin Mayers’s prior question of trust (or PQT for short): “Is what I’m doing, thinking, or saying building trust or undermining trust?” Of course, you can never be sure what effect a given action will have on trust—people aren’t that predictable. But asking the PQT in your head before acting can point you in the right direction.


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Richard Lawrence

Is co-owner of Agile For All. He trains and coaches people to collaborate more effectively with other people to solve complex, meaningful problems. He draws on a diverse background in software development, engineering, anthropology, and political science. Richard is a Scrum Alliance Certified Enterprise Coach and Certified Scrum Trainer, as well as a certified trainer of the accelerated learning method, Training from the Back of the Room. His book, Behavior-Driven Development with Cucumber, was published by Addison-Wesley in 2019 (for more information, visit

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