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Geoghegan on: The 5 levels of trust

I’ve been thinking about the different levels of trust you give to people over the past year or so, and I thought I’d do a blog post on what I consider to be the five different levels or types of trust. I might make more of these musings over the next few weeks and months, and I’ve been putting off this blog post for some time thinking that it would be perceived as preachy, egotistical, or not appropriate for a predominantly tech and humour focused blog. I’ve not found anything similar to this online, although it probably does exist in some form of psychological text book or theory – of which I have no training at all.

The five levels of trust

  • Explicit trust
  • Implicit trust
  • Neutral
  • Implicit distrust
  • Explicit distrust

Explicit trust

This level of trust is, what I consider, the best type of trust. To reach this level, you have had to do a lot of work to have your friends, colleagues, family, or community trust you. It is not based on your job role or function, hierarchy in the family unit, or any other factor – however it can be helped by various other factors such as your job role automatically putting you in the implicit trust level. Examples of this level of trust would be – close friends, work colleagues you know are “good”, your spouse or partner in a loving relationship, or your parents when you are an adult.

This level is also the easiest to fall out of. As an employee, if you fucked something up horribly you can move from explicitly trusted to explicitly distrusted… bypassing all the levels in between. Just because you reached this level doesn’t mean that you stop working on making people explicitly trust you. This level is entirely based on your actions as a person or the actions of the person you have assigned this level to.

Implicit trust

This level is instantly given to people based on their job function, in most cases. You implicitly trust a firefighter, doctor, paramedic, social worker, the IT person in your company, etc. Something about the person, other than their actions, makes you trust them. In practise, this is usually based on their job function or role in society.

In this level, you can move up to explicit trust or, like all the other levels of trust, straight down to explicit distrust based on your actions. You don’t need to “work” to maintain this level, as it has been granted to you by others morals automatically.

It is detrimental to society in general to abuse this level – for example a cop who beats a protester has now tarnished (even if only for a short while) societies implicit trust in all cops.


Without knowing anything about a person – for example you met them on the street for the first time – this is the trust level you will give them. If, for example, I met a person on the street and started chatting to them, I can move them to either implicit trust or implicit distrust easily as soon as they mention their job title, role in society, or feelings about a topic I feel strongly about. This is the default level for all people you will ever meet without knowing anything else about them.

It is rare for someone to “move” into this level from another, as this level is only associated with first contact before the person speaks or does an action that moves them out of this level.

Implicit distrust

The classical example of this is a used car salesman. You implicitly distrust this person because their job is to “fuck you over” to better their gains in selling a car and making more of a profit. Most sales people or recruiters can be put into this category automatically based solely on their job function. Without opening their mouth, you implicitly distrust them. Over time, you can move them up to explicit trust (which requires a lot of work), or down to explicit distrust.

Explicit distrust

This is the worst possible level to ever be in. You put people into this level who have repeatedly fucked you over in the past or, in a work environment, have made so many mistakes that you cannot trust their work without double checking. It is very difficult to move out of this level, even if your job function allows you to be implicitly trusted. The worst possible way of entering this level is moving from explicit trust, as it takes a considerable amount of work and effort to go all the way back to the top level.

The oversimplification

These levels are a vast oversimplification of how we trust – the levels are boiled down to their bare essentials with stereotypical examples. They are building blocks. For example, your spouse is likely to be a higher level of explicit trust than your best friend.  So if your spouse went from an explicit trust to an explicit distrust that would likely end your relationship. However, if that was a friend or a work colleague, it may not – either because there is still value in the friendship or you are forced to continue working with people you explicitly distrust.

Trust is complex and nuanced. Everyone is different and has different sub-levels of trust or outlooks on life when it comes to trust. You have the tinfoil hat person, who implicitly distrusts everyone or the naive / optimistic person who implicitly trusts everyone – both bypass the neutral level entirely. Perhaps the neutral level doesn’t exist at all outside of an objective view of the levels. I believe it does, so it’s included here for completeness.