Is Your Character Trustworthy?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Trust begins with you. Trust begins with me.

Many people tell us that doing what you say you will do builds “trust of character.” A core behavior that builds trust is keeping agreements. It is simple to say. But in today’s pace, both at work and  home, it is easy to lose sight of an agreement and fail to keep it.

When you do what you say you will do, you build trust. Others see you as reliable and dependable. They know they can count on you to come through for them. When you fail to keep your agreements with others, you compromise trust. The only person who has never broken a commitment is the person who has never made one.

Have you ever slipped up? Failed to keep agreements? Let someone down? We all have. No one sets out to let others down, either at work or at home, nevertheless we do.

What gets in the way of keeping agreements?

You face the unexpected. A piece of the project takes longer than anticipated. You can’t get your hands on a critical piece of information. A child is sick so you have to get to a doctor. A spouse has to unexpectedly go out of town and you become a single parent. The furnace stopped working, and it is below zero degrees outside. Let’s face it. Sometimes, it is really hard to do what we say we will do.

You don't say no. You agree to something against your better judgment. You said yes, when your inner voice wanted to say no, or not right now. You want to be seen as reliable and dependable as a team player. You over extend yourself and put yourself in a situation where it becomes very difficult to do what you say you will do. People rely on you and you carry the stress and worry about how you are going to come through. You might even beat yourself up for saying yes.

You face the crescendo effect. When the accumulation of commitments from all aspects of your life mount, you don’t see how you can possible do all that you said you would do. You have your daily demands and then there are the “above and beyond” demands. You serve on the leadership conference planning committee, assume the project lead role of a team, spearhead a new service offer, direct your sons school play, plan a family reunion, sell and buy a house. Something is going to give – either by default, or by a conscious choice.


You feel vulnerable and procrastinate. You made the agreement as an opportunity to contribute to the project and to stretch yourself, though your enthusiasm got out a bit ahead of yourself. You want to deliver, yet you are not sure you have the knowledge and experience to back up your agreement. You begin to second-guess yourself creating your own delays. The next thing you know it is too late.

Nobody wants to let others down or be seen as the person who does not keep promises. When you face the unexpected, say yes when you mean no, suffer from the crescendo effect or feel vulnerable, it does not have to cost you your trustworthiness. What is most important to managing trust is how you respond.

Here are steps you can take to preserve your trustworthiness. Trust begins with you. Take responsibility. Even though others may have contributed to your challenge, do not point the finger or blame.

Acknowledge the original agreement.

  • Re-cap what you had promised to do.
  • State what you know others expect from you.

Share the unexpected challenge to honor your original agreement.

  • The review process is taking longer than I anticipated.
  • I am waiting for a critical piece of information.
  • My child is sick and I have other responsibilities right now.

Tell the truth about your circumstance and vulnerability.

  • I knew how important this is for the team, and I want to carry my weight. In the spirit of being a trusted team member, I over-committed and find myself over-extended.
  • I have a number of commitments that are adding up. I find myself in a situation where I cannot fulfill them all.
  • I am a bit nervous that I bit off more than I could chew.

Ask for what you need

  • I need two more days. Is that possible?
  • I could use the help of XYZ. Can you help me line that up?
  • I’d like to hand in a draft and gain some feedback. Is that possible?

When you acknowledge at the earliest time possible you are not able to keep the original agreement and renegotiate the commitment, you maintain trust—even build it. In addition to building trust in your relationships, you model for others how to manage their agreements. Consider how you would like others to keep the agreements they make with you. Be that person. Trust begins with you.

About the Author
Michelle Reina, PhD is a co-founder of Reina, a trust-building consultancy based in Stowe, Vermont.  Reina is a sought after consultant, speaker, and executive coach. She is co-author of the best selling books, Trust & Betrayal in the Workplace and Rebuilding Trust in the Workplace. She has been awarded the Global Strategic Leadership Award at the World HRD Congress and has been named by Trust Across America as one of the top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business. Global clients include American Express, Johnson and Johnson, Harvard University, Kimberly Clark, Turner Broadcasting, and the U.S. Army. Reach her at, or 802.253.8808.
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