Social Awareness

What makes a person trustworthy?

Trust is a gift, people are not entitled to it. If you have ever been hurt after trusting someone, you probably have no issues agreeing with me here. In fact, you may have an approach of guilty until proven innocent. For you, people must ‘prove’ themselves before you can trust them. Your most likely motto is: ‘trust no one’ and annoyingly, people often tell you: ‘You just need to trust a bit more’.

On the other hand, it can be quite hard to be at the receiving end of distrust. It is very difficult to build relationships when people are constantly making others prove themselves ‘worthy’.  In fact, it can be quite offensive, because you feel judged and constantly on trial. Especially if it’s someone you’ve just met who, doesn’t really know you, but assumes you can’t be trusted. Or perhaps someone who, despite how long they have known you, still lives hunting for evidence to prove you can’t be trusted. Relationships will not flourish under that kind of pressure.

The benefit of the doubt

It is not a good idea to start a relationship with distrust. Offering people ‘the benefit of the doubt’ (a basic dignity principle) creates the opportunity for them to display trustworthiness. When people give us the benefit of the doubt, we are the only ones responsible for the way in which our actions will build or damage their trust in us. But what makes a person trustworthy? How can we identify it?

Without trust relationships fail.

How do you know who you can trust? We can’t go around distrusting everyone or trusting everyone.  Let’s not get confused, that we give people the benefit of the doubt does not mean we should stop being cautious. As Onora O’Neill says: We need to be able to trust the trustworthy and deliberately distrust the untrustworthy. But how do we know how to identify them? We can use the 3 integrity keys (explained below) as a guide to both identify and show trustworthiness, set boundaries and manage your expectations.

Integrity is an indicator that people can be trusted.

What does integrity mean? It means that words, thoughts, and actions are integrated, that they are one and the same. Integrity is the practice of being true to yourself, it’s not something you do for other’s sake. And it shows trustworthiness.

Integrity requires us to:

Be honest, sincere.
Do people have to guess what you are really thinking? Can people trust what you say? Do they find out through others that what you said was not true? It is better to say: ‘I would rather not speak about that’, ‘I don’t really know the answer’, or ‘I don’t understand it’ than to lie. As a rule of thumb: Say what you mean, mean what you say, and don’t be mean when you say it. Ask yourself: Why am I saying this? Is it for selfish reasons? How is it helpful? Can I say it in a way that builds rather than destroys? Remember, some things don’t need to be said, for they benefit no one. Are you prepared to take responsibility for what you say?

Honour your word.
Do you say one thing and do something different? Do what you say so will do. It is far better to say: ‘I will think about it’ than to commit to something and not follow through. If this happens often, people will not trust your word. Sure, sometimes things happen that prevent us from following through, in those cases:

Take responsibility for your actions.
You’ve said something wrong, made a mistake, or hurt someone with your words? Own up. Take responsibility for it and apologise. Made a promise you couldn’t keep? Don’t let it become a habit. Something happened that prevented you from following through? Don’t try to blame others, downplay the consequences, or play the victim; apologise, make amends, and follow through.

*Elements of Integrity adapted from the definition by Ross Campbell and Carole Sanderson Streeter in Kids in Danger: Disarming the Destructive Power of Anger in Your Child.