Most of us would like to be perceived as trustworthy by people. After all, if people think that we’re trustworthy, they’re more likely to want to befriend us.
Trustworthy people get promoted at work. They have better success in their love life, find it easier to make friends and seem to have opportunities coming their way whether they’re looking for them or not.
In short, trustworthy people tend to lead better social lives and to have more successful careers. And the exact opposite applies to those who are untrustworthy.
The problem is that a lot of us have negative behaviors that make us seem untrustworthy, usually without us even realizing it. So what are those behaviors, and how easy are they for us to stop them?
Let’s take a look.
The first no-no is gossiping, which most of us have been guilty of at some point or another. It’s a natural part of being human because we’re social animals and we love to talk, and we particularly love to talk about each other.
The problem is that if you earn yourself a reputation as being a gossiper, you’ll find that people no longer want to open up to you. They won’t want to share their secrets because they’ll know that there’s a good chance that you won’t be able to keep them.
At the start of this article, we talked about how being trustworthy can help you in your social life and your professional life. If you’re a gossip, no one will want to be your friend and you’ll never get a promotion because your bosses won’t know whether you can be trusted with corporate secrets.
The bottom line is that you should avoid gossiping as much as possible. It’s not worth the negative consequences.
Gossiping is easy, but so is exaggerating. For most of us, it’s a natural response to storytelling, a way to make our stories more interesting than they otherwise might have been.
The problem is that once you have a reputation for exaggerating, no one will know whether you’re telling the truth or not. It might feel as though you’re telling little white lies, but a lie is a lie and you don’t want to get a reputation for being a liar.
In your personal life, exaggerating may seem as though it’s making your stories more exciting, but the real temptation to exaggerate comes in at work. If you make yourself sound more important than you are or if you suggest that you were more involved in a project than you were, you could earn yourself a promotion.
You could also earn yourself a reputation as a liar and lose any trust and respect that you had.
3) Being secretive
Unless you’re working as a spy for MI5 or you’re solving crimes with the FBI, there’s no need for you to be secretive.
People who are secretive are inherently difficult to trust because it forces us to ask ourselves why they’re being so secret. It might not necessarily be a good thing, and it reminds me of the Tom Waits song, What’s He Building in There?.
And there are other drawbacks, too. If you’re super secretive, there’s less of a chance for people to help you out. You miss out on the serendipity that comes when someone hears about what you’re up to and has some insights to share.
The bottom line is that if you want to do well in life, you can’t afford to be secretive.
4) Not taking responsibility
Responsibility is a double-edged sword. When you take responsibility for something, it reflects back upon you.
That means if you take responsibility for a project at work and it’s a success, you get to bask in the glory. Everyone will know that you were the one behind it. On the flipside, if that project is a failure, people might look upon you as a failure, too.
The good news is that failures give us an opportunity to learn. It’s like that John Lennon quote that I keep mentioning: “A mistake is only an error. It becomes a mistake when you fail to correct it.”
The thing to remember here is that you should always take responsibility for what you do and how you act, even if it leads to failure. But if you refuse to take responsibility for the things you do, how are people supposed to trust you? You’ll be seen as someone who never stands by what they do.
5) Not making eye contact
Okay, I’ll admit it – I hate making eye contact.
Seriously. When I was at school, I got told off by a teacher who kept telling me to look them in the eyes when they were scolding me. I refused, and I ended up getting sent home and excluded for a few days due to disobedience.
The reason I’m telling you this is that some people have a legitimate reason for not making eye contact. They may have autism or struggle with social anxiety. When that’s the case, people usually understand why they don’t make eye contact.
But if you don’t have a good reason to not make eye contact, it’s a good idea to do so. Most people see eye contact as a sign of trustworthiness, and if you make eye contact with them while you’re talking, they’re more likely to trust you.
6) Not keeping people’s secrets
We touched upon this when we talked about gossiping, but let’s take a closer look.
If someone trusts you enough to tell you a secret, it falls to you to repay that trust by keeping it. As soon as you get a reputation for not keeping people’s secrets, no one will ever tell you a secret again.
Personally, I hate when people tell me secrets, because I rarely want to hear them and it puts pressure on me to keep them. I don’t trust myself to not accidentally reveal someone’s secret in casual conversation.
Still, I know that if one of my friends tells me a secret, it’s my job as a friend to keep it. I want my friends to keep trusting me, and so I wouldn’t dream of betraying them.
7) Missing deadlines
Comic science fiction writer Douglas Adams famously said, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”
But I’ve got bad news for you – you’re not Douglas Adams. For the rest of us mere mortals, missing deadlines is a big no-no because it will lead to people no longer trusting us to get things done. They’ll give the most important jobs to other people and you’ll end up getting passed over for promotion.
A big part of trustworthiness comes down to doing the things you said you were going to do, a theme we’ll continue to take a look at in the next few points.
Of course, sometimes we make our own deadlines, and at other times, they’re thrust upon us. If someone else gives you a deadline that you’re not going to be able to meet, tell them.
8) Breaking promises
Continuing on the theme of doing things that you said you were going to do, if you promise someone that you’re going to do something, you should do it.
This is even more important when you promised to do something instead of just saying you would.
Promises are the real deal, and if you earn a reputation for breaking them, word will spread.
No one’s going to trust you if they think that your verbal commitments aren’t worth the paper they’re not printed on.
If you think there’s a chance that you’re not going to be able to keep a promise, you shouldn’t make that promise in the first place. In fact, I make it a habit to never make promises in general, because promises are made to be broken. You’re just setting yourself up for failure.
If you make a promise and keep it, people will think you’ve done the bare minimum. If you make a promise and break it, they’ll never trust you again.
9) Canceling plans
Here’s another point about doing the things that you said you were going to do. If you make plans, try to stick to them.
Now, plans aren’t promises, and so if you make a plan and don’t stick to it, it’s not the end of the world. Different things can come up in life and sometimes we have to change our plans to cater to that. For example, we might have to cancel a day out because of a family emergency.
The important thing about canceling plans is that you should communicate with people. As soon as you know you’re not going to be able to go ahead with the plan, you should let people know.
And while canceling plans once doesn’t have to be a big deal, you don’t want to earn a reputation for doing it on a regular basis.
10) Never apologizing
If you don’t apologize when you do something wrong, people will think that you don’t care. That’s never a good look.
With that said, I also know someone who apologizes too often. They’ll say sorry for everything, even when it isn’t their fault. For example, I remember them hosting a barbecue on a day when it rained, and they spent the whole thing saying sorry for the weather.
And so the goal should be to strike a balance between not apologizing at all and apologizing too much. You should also make sure that when you do apologize, it’s a heartfelt apology and not one that you’re only making because you feel as though you have to.
Trust me, people will be able to tell.
11) Ignoring feedback
Feedback can help us to become better people, whether we’re talking about our personal life or our professional life.
The thing to remember here is that not all feedback is constructive. For example, if you’re a singer and someone says, “I don’t like your voice”, there’s not much you can do about it. If they tell you that your song might sound better in a different key, you can try it.
You also shouldn’t take every single piece of feedback on board. Instead, weigh it up to see whether it’s useful to you and follow the feedback that makes the most sense. You don’t have to take every piece of feedback to heart to be seen as trustworthy – you just have to show that you’re listening.
12) Over-using sarcasm
They say that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, and there’s certainly some truth to that.
I’m British and so I speak fluent sarcasm, but even I know that there’s plenty of room for sarcasm to be overdone. When that happens, people will find it hard to trust you because they won’t know when you’re speaking from the heart and when you’re being sarcastic.
You can think of sarcasm as being like adding seasoning to a dish. Sure, a little bit does no harm, but if you overdo it then the meal will quickly become unpalatable. The same holds true for your conversations.
Oh, and don’t forget that not everyone speaks your mother tongue as a first language. If you over-use sarcasm, you risk confusing people and your message being lost in translation.