Being More Trustworthy: The Basics

Rachel Botsman
Jan 14, 2019 · 3 min read
The traits we use to decide if someone is trustworthy

In 2019 I’m tackling a simple but powerful challenge: Being more trustworthy.

The papers are full of sleep, exercise and diet resolutions. We often don’t think of trust in this way, but trust is also an important health issue. Trust is the glue of personal and professional relationships. When trust breaks down, it triggers all kinds of negative emotions — fear, anger, jealousy —followed by some pretty negative behaviours including defensiveness and blame. Personally, my response is to disengage.

‘How can I get people to trust me more?” or “How do I restore trust when it’s been broken?” are common questions people ask. The answer is actually the same; be more trustworthy.

The problem is that we often talk about trust in very vague terms. Ever had a boss or a partner say ‘I just don’t trust you?” Not helpful. What are we meant to do with that? How do we know what needs to change? We need a clear and positive trust language that enables us to have tough conversations and to identify specific behaviours that can lead to meaningful changes.

It’s incredibly useful to understand the four key ingredients we use to decide whether or not to give someone our trust. They are called the traits of trustworthiness — competence, reliability (how we do things) and integrity and empathy (why we do things).

Question checklist:

Competence: Do you have the skills, knowledge, time and resources to do a particular task or job? Are you honest about what you can and can’t do?

Reliability: Can people depend on you to keep the promises and commitments you make? Are you consistent in you the way you behave from one day to the next?

Empathy: Do you care about the other person’s interests as well as your own? Do you think about how your decisions and actions affect others?

Integrity: Do you say what you mean and mean what you say? Do your words align with your actions? Are you honest about your intentions and motives toward others?

An important note:
Being trustworthy and being perceived as trustworthy are two very different things. We often think people should trust us because we score ourselves highly on ALL of the traits but how others experience and perceive us can be totally different.

Recommended action: Ask a range of people (friends, colleagues, students, loved ones) to rate you across these traits for different situations. It’s an incredibly powerful (if at times confronting) mirror-exercise.

Assessing the traits of trustworthiness

Understanding these traits is a powerful way to identify strengths and weaknesses and the little changes we can make to cultivate healthier, more trusting relationships in different areas of our lives.

We all have the power to act in more trustworthy ways.

Rachel Botsman

Written by

Rachel Botsman explores how trust works in the digital age. She’s the co-author of WHAT’S MINE IS YOURS; her latest book is WHO CAN YOU TRUST?

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