Trust and Bravery in Market Research

By Pete Cape, Global Knowledge Director

Few research studies reveal the name of the company sponsoring the research, or the purpose of the research and how the results will be used. I wonder if this unwillingness to be transparent isn’t symptomatic of a wider general level of mistrust that researchers have for participants, and I wonder where that comes from. Because an absence of trust is, in the words of Charles Feltman, author of The Thin Book of Trust, a disaster:

“The disaster of distrust in the workplace is that the strategies people use to protect themselves inevitably get in the way of their ability to effectively work with others.”

The strategy researchers use to protect themselves from people they don’t trust is to set quality control questions, designed to find those not paying attention, that do nothing of the sort. That they do not measure attention is well known, but only in other fields, principally Cognitive Psychology. They tend to trap lots of perfect attentive, innocent people, participants trying the do the best they can.

So how should we think about trust? Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, has a definition that provides us useful pointers for behaviors as well as a nice acronym, BRAVING.

BRAVING stands for specific attributes and issues that surrounds trust. And each of them works on the principle of reciprocity:


I trust you if you are clear about your boundaries and you hold them. And you are clear about my boundaries and you respect them.

For us: We’ll just do market research, no tests, no “right answers,” no sugging, no frugging.


I can only trust you if you do what you say you’re going to do, over and over again.

This means we have to be very clear on our limitations, so we don’t take on so much that we come up short and don’t deliver on our commitments.

For us: A dash of honesty on the interview length perhaps?


I can only trust you if when you make a mistake you’re willing to own it, apologize for it and make amends. I can only trust you if when I make a mistake, I’m allowed to own it, apologize and make amends.

For us: Maybe we should put a back button on all our surveys, allow participants to correct any mistakes they might inadvertently make.


What I share with you, you will hold in confidence. What you share with me, I will hold in confidence. The vault is not just about that fact that you hold my confidences, it’s that in our relationship I see you acknowledge confidentiality.

For us: Never be tempted to abuse confidentially, or not get the necessary informed consents


I can’t trust if you don’t act in a place of integrity and encourage me to do the same. Integrity means:

  1.       Choosing courage over comfort
  2.       Choosing what’s right over what’s fun, fast or easy
  3.       Practicing your values, not just professing your values

For us, we have to do the hard work, make the participants life as easy as possible. Take the time to write a great questionnaire, get them translated properly, pilot them etc. etc.


I can fall apart, ask for help and be in struggle without being judged by you. And you can fall apart, and be in struggle and ask for help without being judged by me. Real trust doesn’t exist unless help is reciprocal and non-judgmental.

For us: how can a participant ask for help on a survey if they don’t know who we are?


Our relationship is only a trusting relationship if you can assume the most generous thing about my words, intention and behaviors and then check in with me.

For us: If some data doesn’t seem right check first the questionnaire, assume the participant is telling the truth and try to work out what that truth is! Or just ask them.

Seeing what we see every day with researchers wanting to “toss” 20%, 30%, 40% even 50% of participants on flimsy ‘data quality’ grounds I think we are on a slippery slope. We should start to build some trust, be more BRAVING. Adding your name, company name, and email to the survey is just a start. I do and, guess what?

Nothing bad happens.