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Fagerlin: Trust is given not earned

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

“To improve trust in the agriculture industry, we have to be accept that trust is given not earned,” says Richard Fagerlin, founder of Peak Solutions and author of Trustology. 

“To build trust, we have to start with ourselves,” says Fagerlin. “We have to have an open mind when it comes to building trust and closing the gap between consumers and producers.”


He notes the Chinese Proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, and the second-best time is right now,” is a good analogy for how farmers and ranchers need to relate to non-ag members of the public. 

“We are in the people business whether we like it or not,” Fagerlin says. “We have to have an open mind about how we go about communicating with people. If not we will be left behind.” 

While he applauded the efforts of educational programs, he believes they are targeting the wrong audience. 

“These programs are really great in theory,” he says. “But they target rural kids who are likely already being exposed to agriculture. We need to be getting out there and talking to urban publics who have never experienced agriculture.” 

He comments the Peterson Brothers Farm in Kansas is going about the issue the correct way. By involving non-ag members of the public, they are creating a relationship of trust between producer and consumer.  

“We have to think of our relationship with consumers as that – a relationship,” he says. “Building relationships takes effort and time, but we have to learn how to properly trust each other before it will ever get any better.”


“We define trust as confidence in our relationship with others,” according to Fagerlin.

He explains the problem with framing trust in a black-and-white fashion is everyone approaches trust from different angles. 

“Trust is not a game where there’s a winner or a loser,” says Fagerlin. “We can’t do that because, when we have a winner, there will also be a loser, which doesn’t harbor healthy relationships.” 

“I like to think of trust as an if-then statement,” he explains. “If we have high trust, then certain things happen within the relationship.” 

He described the impact of having trust as a more transparent, productive and creative team that is able to communicate more effectively. 

“When we are working in a low-trust environment, we see high turnover amongst the team and no one claiming blame for their wrongdoings,” says Fagerlin. 

The big lie

“The fact of the matter is some of us just come out of the womb naturally trusting everyone we come in contact with, and some people are the opposite,” Fagerlin says. “Sometimes things might happen that make us trust people less or not trust people at all.”

“There are two major lies about trust that we have to understand, the first being that trust is earned,” he says. “The second biggest lie is the old adage that trust takes a lifetime to build a second to break.” 

He explains the risk and reward doesn’t make sense in these scenarios. He asked why people would want to dole something out and more or less expect to lose it. 

“To build trust in our teams and with consumers, we can’t take these commonly accepted ideas literally,” Fagerlin says. 

“The concept of trust being earned makes it seem like a scorekeeping game,” he explains. “Under that assumption, each party has to do something worthy to gain the others trust but one misstep could erase all the worthy actions.” 

He explains although it’s human nature to want to meet people in the middle, the definition of what the middle really is could vary wildly between parties. 

“The problem is, halfway isn’t all the way there,” he says. “When we think this way, we are already loading the other person down with expectations.” 

“Halfway to infinity never gets us there,” Fagerlin comments. “Relationships go to die at the halfway point.”

“We have to continue making steps towards each other to close the gap,” Fagerlin says.  

Building boundaries

“If we are unwilling to give trust, we will never receive it,” Fagerlin notes. 

He explains building trust isn’t necessarily about blindly giving everyone trust because that’s simply not constructive.

“We have to understand there will be people who take advantage of our trust,” says Fagerlin. “We don’t want to have eyes-closed, trust-fall type relationships but instead open-eyed, aware trust.” 

He explains, instead of thinking about all the reasons we don’t trust a certain person, to think about the boundaries in which we do trust that person. 

He used his own experience with his first home as an example. The house sat next to a very busy street, and he didn’t trust his kids to play in the front yard in fear they may run into traffic. Instead of distrusting them playing in the entire house, he moved their play to the safety of the fenced backyard. 

“We have to recognize the boundaries in which we trust certain people and build from there,” says Fagerlin. 

He stressed we absolutely cannot let the two percent of people who take advantage of our trust ruin it for the other 98 percent. 

“We build walls and prevent relationships,” he says. “We have to be willing to go all the way instead of halfway.” 

“When I shifted my thinking to this, my entire outlook of trust and relationships changed,” Fagerlin says. 

Fagerlin was a featured speaker at the Beef Improvement Federation Young Producers Conference held in Loveland, Colo. June 20-23. 

Callie Hanson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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