In a very real sense, trust is something a person gives to someone else. You cannot force another person to trust you. You can, however, develop an environment where that other person is more likely to trust you. You do that by becoming trustworthy. Being trustworthy, however, involves a little more than doing what you say you will do.
As we saw in the article Trust-Towards A Definition, there are two components to trust. One has to do with competence and preparedness. The other has to do with having the other person’s best interests at heart. You can do what you say you will do, or not do what you say you will not do, and still not be trusted. Trustworthiness takes the whole concept beyond that.
One of the blockages to being considered trustworthy is that people will make promises they never intend to keep.
“We must get together next time you are in town.”
“I’ll do that as soon as I get through everything else demanding my attention.”
And perhaps my favourite, “I will pray for you. ”
Now, if there is a common understanding between the people who say these sorts of things all well and good. Taking the first example, if both know it is just a courtesy, and there is no real intention to make the effort to ‘get together’ any time in the foreseeable future, so be it.
But what if one of the people actually takes that at face value? What if his or her expectation is that you will, indeed, ‘get together’? Chances are they will feel disappointed, even betrayed when it does not happen, particularly if they find out you came to town and did not contact them.
So, in order to develop a sense of being trustworthy never make a commitment you don’t intend to honour. Even if it is the polite thing to do, don’t promise to get together if you know it is not going to happen. Those sorts of ‘off the cuff’ promises have the potential to raise the expectations of the other person beyond what you intend, and that is not a good way to gain a reputation for being trustworthy.
One of the reasons why people manage to get away with those sorts of promises is because they are vague and non-committing. So, for example, if you are waiting on something promised by another person ‘when they get through everything else demanding their attention’ you will often find they have the excuse, ‘well I have been too busy’. The second element of trustworthiness is to make your commitments quite specific. If you are really committed to fulfilling a commitment and receiving the kudos associated, you must set boundaries. This requires the development of negotiating skills which is another topic for another time.
To be specific shows you are truly committed to the relationship. So, rather than ‘when I get around to it’ negotiate a specific deadline which is both acceptable and realistic. By pinning down the detail you achieve two things:
(a) You are able to assess the other person’s commitment to the project
(b) You can reasonably expect the commitment to be fulfilled.
You may find your expectations are unrealistic. You may find the other person is not as committed to the project. By becoming quite specific you can, if necessary, make alternate arrangements even to the point of getting someone else to do the work. Surely that is far more acceptable in the long term than not getting things done in the time you need them done.
You will occasionally find you are no longer able to fulfil a promise you committed to under the agreed terms of the commitment you made. New information, or unexpected events do come up from time to time. It is part of life. When that happens and it will affect commitments you have already made, you are best advised to give the other parties in that arrangement as much notice as possible of your inability to fulfil your part of the commitment. Lots of people faced with such a situation tend to put it off until the last moment and as a result cause all sorts of problems that need not have happened.
Finally, there are the commitments you make that you do not fulfil. Rather than attempting to avoid your culpability, accept that you did not do what you said you would and with the other people involved in the original commitment explore ways in which you can make up for the consequences.
The reality is, none of us is perfect. We can, however do our best to develop a reputation for being trustworthy. If you take note of the four different steps you can take towards that goal, you will go a long way in achieving it or improving what you already have. So, in a sense trustworthiness is not only about doing what you say you will do, but also meaning what you say and saying what you mean.