Business strategy

How being either too trusting or too sceptical can cripple your business growth

- March 20, 2024 4 MIN READ
Charlie Brown
Charlie Brown kept trusting Lucy for 20 years. Image: Peanuts/Charles M Schulz
Are you too trusting or too sceptical? Launching and running small businesses and startups have many moving parts to stay in the game and be successful.

So many decisions are at play and risk minimisation is a key. Being too trusting or too sceptical will cause angst. Reaching a beneficial middle requires strong discernment muscles.

Sue Parker

DARE Group founder Sue Parker

Recently I ran a LinkedIn Poll asking ‘Are you too trusting or sceptical’.   Whilst participant numbers were small, the results were widely indicative. Respondents voted: too trusting 30%; too sceptical, 38% and happy middle, 32%.

Voters across all options had diverse professions and sectors with equal gender and generational representation.

Circle of Reference

After a very long time on this planet, many life experiences and a business owner for 20 years, I have a razor sharp BS detector which picks up the disingenuous at five million paces.

As a kid, identifying BS was seared observing the dodgy practices of a friend’s family cladding business which preyed on the vulnerable. Then in my 20’s I saw ‘trusted’ colleagues falsifying sales contracts for monthly commissions.

Fast forward to recent times and I’ve lost track of the number of small businesses duped by snake oil social media and digital charlatans promising the world after banks were spring cleaned.

And I have been saddened by the refusal of a business in need to ever engage a new service provider again due to previous bad experiences.

Everything in life forms a circle of reference.  The more experiences and observations the greater the wisdom of application.

Those who haven’t experienced certain situations will be likely to be too trusting.  And others with broader experiences can build an impenetrable wall around themselves.

The chart below shows the flow and impact:

The psychology of trust & distrust

But why are people set into a pattern of being too trusting or too sceptical? And how can those behaviours that harm be minimised?

Research published in Science Daily from the University of Arizona found that:

“Both trust and distrust are strongly influenced by the individual’s unique environment, but what’s interesting is that trust seems to be significantly influenced by genetics, while distrust is not. Distrust appears to be primarily socialised.

“We all have a stock of past experiences that we draw on to help determine how we are going to behave in different situations, and future research should look at what particular types of life experiences could be the most influential on trust or distrust”.

The yardsticks are distinguished in ‘Finding the Balance between Naivety & Mistrust‘ from Exploring Minds:

“Naïve people naturally tend to see goodness in others. They don’t usually attribute bad intentions to them, even when others around them do. They tend to suffer situations in which others take advantage of them.

“Suspicious people often attribute malicious intent to others. This leads them to refuse them and not be particularly friendly toward them. It often leads to loneliness and a pessimistic style of thinking.”

How too trusting looks

According to an article in Psychologies you are gullible if you are easily fooled or cheated and quick to believe something that is false.

The article reported:

“Experts have long seen a relationship between ‘gullibility’ and ‘credulity’ or ‘trust’, where being gullible means someone is easy to deceive, while being credulous or trusting means they may be a little too quick to believe something ‘but usually aren’t stupid enough to act on it”

Being too trusting in startup and small business land can hurt finances, reputation, investor and client opportunities, attracting staff and contractors along with a dip in self-esteem and confidence.

It grinds my gears no end to see people being taken for a ride and be manipulated.

Tips to minimise

1. Throw out the trope of ‘know, like and trust. There is a big difference between personality and character. People naturally want to trust those they like but a character and likability are not mutually exclusive (think cult leaders).

2. Research and more research.  Apply due diligence and deeper background checks.

3. Tune into your body fully, those knots, icky feeling in the stomach and heaviness

4. Don’t take everything at face value and believe everything you see and hear. Not all that glitters is gold.

5. Don’t be influenced by large social media metrics. Dig below the surface of digital followers and engagement, as many are paid and fake.

6. Learn how to identify good service providers and the tell-tale signs to avoid a dodgy operator.

Having a question and observation compass to determine will save a lot of angst.

How too sceptical looks

Being too sceptical and suspicious poses a real risk to losing relationships and opportunities.

Coming from a place of automatic distrust impacts how you approach and treat others.

Psychologist & UK presenter Dr Ron Yeung shares:

“A research study of over 53,000 people in 29 countries found that cynicism and the experience of disrespect were linked. “Researchers also found that the more cynical individuals became, the more they were likely to behave negatively towards other people.

“Cynicism for some people might be a kind of defensive strategy: being cold or otherwise negative towards others could be a pre-emptive strike. After all, if you expect that others will treat you badly, why not treat them badly first?”

Business relationships, staff, contractors, investors can be negatively impacted.

An unwillingness to delegate or get help manifests in micromanagement and control freak behaviours.

Tips to minimise

1. Gain self-awareness of the origins of your scepticism.  Are insecurities at play also?

2. Be less defensive and lose any ego

3. Look to others to give feedback on how to open your mind more

4. Give partners and staff the freedom to do what they do best to shine

5. Develop a mindset of gratitude and be generous giving compliments

6. Don’t try to do it all yourself, be open to delegate

7. Don’t expect perfection from yourself, or anyone else. Many who are harsh to others, are very  harsh on themselves too.

Humans are just that, human and will err often.

We learn and refine but the stronger the professional discernment muscles are the greater chance the decisions and actions you take will serve your wellbeing and business growth well.



  • Sue Parker is the owner of DARE Group Australia, a communications, executive career and profile marketing agency.