The big Problem for the Lucys of this world is that “getting someone to trust you” isn’t all that trustworthy an attitude. If you’re looking for a tick box, a “how to?” in order to “build Trust”, you’re already on the wrong track. Because the first step to being trustworthy is to have zero agendas. It’s not a list of things you can do to gain someone’s trust so that then you can get them to a stage of doing what you want them to do. What you’ve got there is a manipulative and abusive person using trustworthy traits to manipulate and abuse. What it takes is character. What it takes is a different motivation altogether. What it takes is the desire for the good of another person above your own. What it takes is the desire above all to be a friend, not in order to “get” something, but for its own sake. In positions of leadership, because power differentials have an effect on how trust works, what it takes is humility, the desire to do good and the suppression of your own wants for those of the people you are leading.
Let’s look at it another way. I’m saying that Trust is the fruit of the inner person – it’s not a cloak you can just pick up and wear. It’s the heart and what comes out of it. It’s the result of Loving your Neighbour.
And the Lucys? They have to want to change. And it’s a change of character, not just a way to manipulate – cos that’s still the same old song. If you’re serious about change, if you are really interested in building trust, then don’t seek out certain traits that will “make someone trust you”. Seek instead to be the kind of person people will trust. It’s a subtle distinction, but it’s there nonetheless. Seek the benefit of the other rather than yourself. Seek to diminish yourself and build up others. Trustworthiness will flow from that.
So this isn’t a tick list of stuff you should do to “build a culture of Trust”. It’s more of a selection of the characteristics of the people in my life that I love the most. The people I trust utterly and completely. These are the reasons I trust them. And I want to be more like them, not to get what I want, but to be better for them and everyone I love.
- Competence. Yep, straight out of the gate I’m going with this. There are folk in my life who are just good at stuff. In fact they’re not just competent, they excel. They don’t settle for a half arsed job, they do what needs to be done and do it brilliantly. But there’s another component to this. They’re also honest and up front about what they can’t do. This ties into a couple of other points further down, but it’s really underestimated how important it is to be honest about not being able to do something – and also to honour someone’s vulnerability in that admission by not pressuring the point further. So ye, if we’re on a project together, or doing something fun together, or whatever activity, I’m more likely to trust you in that if I know that you can actually do it and do it well.
- Turn up; Do the thing – Honestly, there’s almost nothing that makes me love someone more than turning up week in , week out; than being faithful in being there, in holding on; than sitting and listening to the same old story; than turning up and playing the same old music; than asking the same old question for years; than sticking around; than coming back; than still standing and holding that umbrella through rain and sun; than cheerleading others consistently through all the diverse chapters of their lives. No wonder the Faithful Badger Trufflehunter is one of my favourite Narnians.
- Honour commitments – Not quite the same as the previous point. But it’s something that is at the heart of Trust. It’s part honesty, part tenacity, part honourability. It’s doing what you said you were going to do. Asking the question and getting back to someone with the answer. Turning up on time. Stacking the chairs. Going to the Doctors. Making the Phonecall. Oh and it’s definitely seeing things through to the end, finishing things you started. This characteristic also includes recognising and admitting when you can’t do something, either due to knowledge, capability, time or energy. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, don’t say yes to something you cannot do.
- Tell.The.Truth. – Should really go without saying. Don’t be vague or cagey. Don’t obfuscate, twist language or withhold information. Bring things into the open.
- Say sorry when you get it wrong – Saying sorry means actually being sorry. And being sorry includes admitting how you hurt the other person, how you’re going to make restitution and how you’re going to become the kind of person who won’t do that again. (This brilliant Twitter Thread from a wonderful Rabbi says much more than I can on this important topic)
- Consent and Respect – This is about honouring boundaries. I was once having a conversation with a friend and it got into territory that was painful for me to talk about, not because I couldn’t talk to her about it, but more because I didn’t want to emotionally bleed all over her carpet at that point in time. So I just said, I don’t want to talk about it. And she stopped. She didn’t push or cajole or keep going. She just said okay and moved on to something else. This friend has shown consistency in this area and I wish I was half as good as her at it. It seems a simple enough thing. Someone says stop so you do – but this must have been an unusual enough thing to happen to me as to remain something worth remembering and remarking on. It’s one of the most beautiful and loving things anyone has ever done for me. Respect someone when they say they don’t want a fuss at their birthday. Respect them when they ask you not to call them. Respect them when they do ask you to call them. Respect boundaries when someone says they can help you, but not right now. In addition with reference to the point on competence above – Please believe people when they say they aren’t good at something or cannot do it. Because if you then make them do it and they make a mess… that’s on you, not them. And it’s abusive to blame them for being rubbish at something they told you they would be rubbish at. Respect someone when they say no, or stop, or I can’t.
- Vulnerability – A common storytelling trope is when there are two (or more) reluctant allies and one might say to the other “how can I trust you?” and the other person does a variation of handing over their weapon or walking into danger first or taking a bullet. And it’s a common trope because relinquishing your power is essential to any trusting relationship. Giving other people power over you is really scary. Giving them power to hurt you (emotionally or physically), power to decide your future, power to know your secrets – it’s hard and painful at times, but it eventually builds a mutuality where power is shared and can even become irrelevant. And without power plays, trust is as natural as breathing. Vulnerability is the way forward.
Looking at these characteristics like a list of achievements to “get” something out of it and you’ve ticked the box but missed the point. Thank you to the people who show me this better way to live. Who, with the fruit of their lives, show me what it is to be trustworthy. Who live Trust every day, rather than grasping for it like a prize for “being good”. Who aren’t just looking for ways to get folk to trust them, but turn up, do the thing, do it well, respect boundaries and say sorry. Who don’t demand trust with their words and by right, but are given it freely because they are Trustworthy.