Understanding Signals and Building Trust

Understanding and evaluating signals are fundamental to building trust in various contexts. By focusing on clarity when sending signals and assessing the power of signals we receive, we can make more informed judgments about the trustworthiness of others and establish stronger connections based on reliability and authenticity.

Josh Ether

12/6/20192 min read

When it comes to trust, one important aspect to consider is the reliability of the signals we receive from others and the signals we send to them. In our daily interactions, we often need to assess unobservable information about someone's commitment, interests, intelligence, or confidence in a particular matter. Trusting these signals is crucial, but how can we determine their authenticity, and how can we send signals that others find trustworthy?

Let's delve into the concept of signals along two critical dimensions: clarity and power. Clarity refers to how well a signal conveys its intended message. A clear signal leaves little room for misinterpretation. Take, for example, the act of giving gifts to signal commitment in a relationship. While a dozen red roses can communicate care and dedication, it may not be as clear or powerful as, let's say, an exquisite piece of jewelry or a diamond ring. The more substantial the investment, the stronger the signal of commitment. Spending a significant amount of money on a diamond ring indicates a deeper level of commitment, especially when the amount spent aligns with the person's resources. This principle holds true for other areas as well.

Consider someone's dedication to a particular career. An unpaid internship or sacrificing limited summer opportunities for career-related experiences demonstrates a high level of interest and commitment. Although reading articles about a company before an interview is a clear signal of interest, it lacks the power of investing time through internships or other substantial commitments.

Likewise, intelligence can be signaled through education. Pursuing higher education involves significant costs, such as investing time in studying, watching educational videos, reading books, and taking exams. These investments demonstrate the ability to afford the expenses associated with education and the commitment to acquiring knowledge.

Moreover, when it comes to assessing someone's confidence in the success of a product, guarantees and warranties serve as powerful signals. These assurances indicate a belief in the product's quality and reliability, which can foster trust among potential customers.

When sending signals, clarity is crucial. The message should be explicit and easily understandable by the recipient. For instance, presenting someone with a bouquet of lilies might not effectively convey the desired message, as lilies are not commonly associated with romantic intentions. It is essential to ensure that the signals we send are clear and leave no room for ambiguity.

On the other hand, as recipients, we should evaluate the power of the signals we receive. Powerful signals are costly and challenging to fake. For instance, a company may send flowers and a heartfelt note to an employee on their work anniversary, expressing appreciation and commitment. However, the true power of that signal lies in whether the company can afford to send such gestures genuinely. If the company later terminates the employee, it raises doubts about the sincerity and power of the initial signal.

To navigate signals effectively, both as senders and receivers, we need to consider these guidelines. As senders, we should strive for clarity, ensuring that our messages effectively communicate the intended information. As receivers, we should trust signals that possess power, indicating a significant investment of resources, be it time or money. When signals are powerful, they carry a higher degree of authenticity and provide a stronger basis for trust.