Mistrust, Hope, and Meaningful Connection, Part 2

Last week, I wrote about how we experience mistrust, its value, and the barriers it creates to meaningful connection. This week, I want to write about trust.

An image of a woman crossing a wooden bridge. The bridge appears narrow, and ahead is a thick forest.
photo by Michael Hull, via Unsplash

Qualities of Trustworthiness

As a Boy Scout, we frequently stated the Scout Law, a series of twelve qualities to which we aspired. The first point is to be Trustworthy.

What makes someone trustworthy? Think about people you trust and why. Connect to the feeling of trust you have around them, but more importantly think about what it is about them that makes them trustworthy. What did they do or not do that helped you to feel trust?

In brief, I think a trustworthy person behaves with consistency, genuineness, respect, and integrity.

  • Consistency – This person responds in a way that feels reliable. There might be some fluctuation in mood, and certainly the person will grow and change, but in general you feel confident that you know how they will respond to you. You don’t have to guess and worry about how they’ll act.
  • Genuineness – This person’s words, personality, and behavior all align. They may have multiple facets of Self that vary depending on the situation, but you sense a coherent core that is there in every situation. You know where you stand with them. When they smile, it reaches their eyes. When they are angry, they tell you what they’re angry about.
  • Respect – This person treats you with dignity and consideration. They do not put you down, coerce you to do things you don’t want to do, or take advantage of your vulnerabilities. When you set a boundary, they show willingness to abide by it. They listen to you. Even if they disagree, they do not minimize your thoughts and feelings.
  • Integrity – This person follows through on promises. They do not promise what they are unwilling to do. If they cannot keep promises, they acknowledge this and do what they can to rectify the situation. They don’t engage in confusing negotiating tactics or put the blame on you when they make mistakes. They take responsibility and apologize for problems. You feel that they behave the same whether in or out of your presence.

These qualities are about character rather than personality. For example, a person who is cheerful and bubbly might be as trustworthy as a sardonic, dour person, or as untrustworthy.

In the past I avoided sharp-tongued, confrontational people until I met some that were as direct with me about problems as they were about compliments. I found I could trust their praise since I knew they wouldn’t hide their concerns.

In contrast, I used to love hanging out with gossipy, back-biting people until it occurred to me that we were talking about whomever wasn’t in the room at the time. This meant that I was behaving in an untrustworthy way, and I couldn’t trust my “friends” not to talk badly about me when I was out of the room. This has become a guiding principle for me: pay attention to how my acquaintances treat others, and think about how it would feel if I were treated in that way.

Trustworthiness is not a fixed, innate quality. We develop these qualities through intentional choice and personal effort. If you picked one of the above qualities to develop and made a commitment to it, you could improve your trustworthiness. Others may not recognize your growth at first, but with continued effort they will begin to notice and treat you differently.

Next week, I will write about repairing damaged trust in relationships.