Why is it that we can look at one person and instinctively trust them yet look at another and feel uncomfortable?

It turns out that the answer is in the way our brains work.

In 2008 researchers created an experiment called the trust game.  They found that “oxytocin, a hormone and neurochemical, enhances an individual’s propensity to trust a stranger when that person exhibits non-threatening signals.”

Oxytocin is created in the hypothalamus and released into the bloodstream and throughout the central nervous system.  It is the chemical that relates to social bonding and connection, and it also seems to help reduce anxiety and the feeling of being stressed.  Psychology Today says “When we hug or kiss a loved one, oxytocin levels drive up. It also acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. In fact, the hormone plays a huge role in pair bonding.”


So this powerful hormone is at work when we interact with people – even with strangers – and it is oxytocin which helps us make an instant judgement about who we trust and who we don’t.

Leaders need their teams to trust them and they can do that by boosting their oxytocin levels.  How?  By exhibiting non-threatening signals. Touch is, not surprisingly, a great way to boost oxytocin and show that you are not to be feared.  You don’t have to hug everyone you meet, but consider how powerful that initial handshake could be.

Openness, communicating in a caring and honest manner, showing the same style of behaviour and dress as the people you are working with are all signals that you are not a threat.  You can be trusted.

Interestingly, the research showed that many group activities of a social nature caused the release of oxytocin and boosted connection between group members.  Leaders can use this principle to help build trust amongst members of their own teams.  There is truth in the saying that the team which plays together stays together.  Now we know why that is so.

Bu understanding how the brain recognizes trustworthiness we can teach leaders how to gain and Building Trust of their teams.

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