By Dave Blum
What is it about trust that is so hard to gain and so easy to lose?
It’s 1971 and my Mom is tucking me into bed. I’m wearing my Speed Racer pajamas, my childhood afro spilling out over my pillow. I’ve got my favorite stuffed animal, Tigery, tucked under my arm—pretty CUTE huh? My Mom leans in close and whispers in my ear the words I will remember for the rest of my life: “Never trust anyone who says “Trust Me.”
Who says that to an 8-year-old kid?!! The world is unsafe! It’s full of con men! Don’t trust anyone! It’s like Mom wanted me to spend thousands of dollars on therapy when I grew up. She was right of course, as moms always are. You certainly can’t just trust everyone who tells you to trust them.
Perhaps a more important question than “Who should you trust?” is “How can YOU earn the trust of others?” And not in some manipulative, snake-oily, salesman kind of way. How can YOU be honestly worthy of trust?
I believe there are 3 key trust behaviors that will make you a more authentic, more trustworthy person, not to mention a better leader. These 3 trust factors form the acronym C-U-T: CUT, as in “Cut the bull”.
1) The first key trust factor is C — Competence.
Competence means you can do what you say you can do, at a high standard. I struggle with this one because, frankly, I’m pretty lazy. It takes a lot of time and energy to become competent at something. Malcolm Gladwell famously said you need 10,000 hours to become truly proficient at a desired task. 10,000 hours! That’s precious time I could be spending on the couch, eating kale chips and binge-watching Game of Thrones.
Not only is it hard to be competent, it’s doubly difficult if you have a good angel and a bad angel living on your shoulders, as I do, battling it out for your morality.
A couple of months ago, for example, I’m due to give a speech and to be honest, I’m feeling pretty darn unmotivated. My good angel, Gladys, prim and proper like Mary Poppins on my right shoulder, is saying “Come on Dave—stop being such a lazy bones. You have a reputation to uphold. Bring it!”
Meanwhile, my bad angel, Boris, super cool in a leather jacket and dark aviator glasses, is saying, “Don’t listen to her. You’ve had a really busy week. Just phone this speech in. Make it up as you go along. No one will notice.”
What do you think? Did I listen to Boris or Gladys?
Sad to say, I mostly listened to Boris that day; he was very convincing! Although I didn’t completely phone my speech—Gladys wouldn’t allow that— deep down, I knew I could’ve done better.
How’s your trust in me now?
2) The second key trust factor is U — Utter Reliability.
Reliability means you do what you say you’re going to do. You’re trustworthy. You’re worthy-of-trust. It means you meet your commitments and keep your promises.
A few years back, my friend Steve invites me to a party and asks me to write some riddles and word puzzles—something I’m pretty good at as a “treasure master”. Flattered, I agree —and then…the regret start kicking in. “Puzzle writing takes forever! It would be soooo easy to just blow this off, stay at home, and spend some time with my friends Danaerys and John Snow.”
Boris, of course, is on me like gravy on mashed potatoes.
“This is California, Dude. All promises are meant to be broken. Who really wants to do puzzles at a party anyway? Skip it!”
Gladys, feisty as ever, counters with a one-two punch:
“You have to write these puzzles, Dave. Steve is counting on you! The whole party is counting on you! You made a promise!”
Once again I’m torn—which angel should I listen to? What do you think? Was Bad Boris the winner, or Good Gladys?
In this case, I listened to Gladys. 😊 I come through for Steve, showing up to the party (early!) and sharing the puzzles I wrote. Success! Whew!
How’s your trust in me now?
3) The third key trust factor is T—Total Caring.
Total Caring means that you have other peoples’ interests in mind when making decisions or taking action. It means you listen to people and look at things from their perspective. Total caring is the most important trust factor for building long-lasting relationships. Even if you’re incompetent…even if you’re unreliable…even if you drop the ball on occasion…people will still trust you if they sense that you really care about them.
It’s 1975. Lunchtime at Taylor Junior High. I’m 12 years old and for the first time, I’ve been invited to sit with the popular kids. (Well, semi-popular). As I’m sipping my chocolate milk, a disabled girl, Molly, limps in on forearm crutches. About half way through the dining hall, Molly slips —and falls. The contents of her lunch tray go flying all over the place: milk, string beans, tater tots. In a flash, my two shoulder angels are lobbing arguments at me like hand grenades <boom><boom>!
Gladys: “Get up! Help the poor girl! Have a heart!”
Boris: “Stay where you are. You’re with the cool kids now. Don’t blow your rep!”
So what do I? Do I lend Molly a hand, or do I keep sitting there, coolly, doing nothing?
I look around…I start to get up… and I sit back down!
Gladys shakes her head sadly as Boris cackles with glee.
Not my best moment! ☹ (I blame my unformed cerebral cortex!)
How’s your trust in me now?
It’s difficult being a trustworthy person, isn’t it? It’s so hard to be consistent! Luckily there is one extra trust factor I have yet to mention. That last trust factor is Extreme Transparency. Transparency means you share your feelings and emotions. You fess up to your imperfections. You allow yourself to be vulnerable.
I’ve shared three stories with you today, all a little embarrassing for me. I told them because I want to be transparent and vulnerable with you. It has not been easy. I’d have much preferred standing up here like the Wizard of Oz, keeping my true self behind the curtain while I blustered about my all-mighty powers. But that’s not how trust works. If you want to be trustworthy, you can’t be a poker player, keeping your cards close to the vest. You can’t hide behind a front of pretense. You have to be real; you have to be honest. You have to take chances—both regularly and often.
So let’s review. Trust =
Pretty C-U-T-E, huh?
Keep these 4 tips in mind and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a “trustworthy” person.
And you can trust me on that!