Why You Can't Build Trust Without Accountability

Trust is the fruit of work. Like happiness, trust cannot be pursued directly, nor commanded, nor forced. Here's how to build trust in three steps.

We live in a time of low trust. Some are calling it a crisis of trust.

Globally, confidence in institutions is (with rare exceptions) down. (Gallup, Pew)

Americans trust each other less and less.

Yet we know (and research shows) that trust is vital. Especially at work, if we feel trust in our leaders and teammates, we do better faster.

But trust is the fruit of hard work. Like happiness, you cannot pursue trust directly, nor command anyone to trust you, nor force yourself to truly trust someone else.

What Is Trust?

Trust is made up of three things:

  1. Benevolence - our belief that the other is on our side and has our best interests at heart
  2. Competence - our belief that the other has expertise and can deliver value in some domain that matters and is relevant
  3. Integrity or Reliability - our belief that the other will keep their word and can be depended upon to show up on time and keep their promises

Having only two of the three Pillars is not enough.

If you lack Benevolence or have not demonstrated it, the best you can hope for is that people see you as a mercenary with a code of honor -- if you give your word you'll keep it, and you're very talented, but as far as they can tell, you only care about yourself.

If you lack Integrity (or Reliability) or have not demonstrated it, the best you can hope for is that people see you as an expert, a friend, but not one they can count on -- your promises are weak and unreliable.

If you lack Competence (domain expertise) or have not demonstrated it, the best you can hope for is that people see you as their good hearted, bumbling friend. You'll certainly show up on time, but you're not able to deliver results in the relevant domain.

How to Earn Trust

What's the quickest way to earn (deserve) the trust of others?

Focus on your own Accountability.

When you demonstrate your High Accountability, you immediately show yourself to be 2/3 trustworthy.

The High Accountability person takes ownership of problems, of assignments, of favors asked. They make very careful promises that they know they can keep. Then they take extreme care to follow through and deliver.

Ask Questions Before You Say Yes

When you slow down and take the time to ask penetrating questions before making a promise, you can be sure you've not promised something outside your abilities. You're thus set up to deliver from your strengths. This allows you to demonstrate the Pillar of Trust known as Competence.

Never rush to say "yes" to a request! As soon as you say "yes" the other person's attention moves on to other things, and your questions go unanswered, or you must hound the person. Instead, give a "conditional yes" to signal your interest in pleasing them, while making it clear you're not yet ready to commit.

Say for example "I'm looking forward to saying 'yes' to this just as soon as I have the information I need to make you a firm commitment. When can I ask you some questions about the nature of the work?"

(You can get a list of sample questions from the Accountability Loop Infographic.)

Look Out for Competing Commitments

Remember that work takes time, and your calendar is probably already full. You may need to say, "I'm 100% willing to do whatever I can to help you, however I need to clear my calendar and ask you some questions before I can promise you a result by a deadline."

If this request is coming from your boss or your spouse, don't be afraid to say "I'm willing to do it, and, it's going to take time away from other things I've already promised you I would do. Help me pick which other things to take off my plate, or that you're willing for me to delay, so I can take on this new task."

Notice that your unwillingness to make a new promise, without first considering how it will affect other prior promises, gives a very strong signal of Integrity.

Now that you're stepping up your High Accountability game, you are demonstrating both Competence and Integrity very naturally and easily. That's two Pillars of Trust.

You Are Two Thirds towards Trust

You've now used High Accountability to demonstrate you are 2/3rds trustworthy. Great start.

All that's left is showing your Benevolence. Do that by putting the other person's needs ahead of your own, some of the time. (But only some of the time -- all the time makes you a martyr or a victim, and none of the time makes you a mercenary.)

Photo by Julia Caesar on Unsplash

Categories: trust