"I Don't Think I Can Trust You"


Earn trust through your actions instead of by your words.

What do you do when you hear this?  When somebody lets you know your word isn’t good because you said you were going to do something and didn’t do it? Or you did something so out of character they couldn’t square it up with who they thought you were? Or you finally got caught in one of those deceptions you’d gotten so good at over the years?

Too often you won’t hear it in so many words; you’ll just feel it. Your kid won’t look you in the eye. Your wife starts having whispery phone conversations with her back to you. A good friend just fades to black. The customer won’t buy another one. Your uncle doesn’t call you any more. You just wake up and realize people are missing and you don’t know why.

But when someone cares enough about you to call you out, it’s perplexing. It’s like being told to go stand in the corner of a round room (thanks Mrs. Richie!). What do you do? You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. You can’t undo what you did or unsay what you said.

You can go into sales mode and plead, “Trust Me”. That doesn’t work.

You can go into apology mode and tell them how sorry you are….how you didn’t mean to, and how it will never happen again. That may salve the wound but it won’t restore trust.

Truth is you can’t talk your way out of what you behaved your way into…you have to behave your way out of what you’ve behaved your way into!

I waded into this trust thing years ago when I caught my son in a teenage fib. I was so troubled, I sat up all night carefully writing this long, tear-stained letter explaining how trust is fragile and how he’d breeched it. I stapled a check to the letter to buy out his half-interest in the car he was driving. I told him I couldn’t be partners with someone I couldn’t trust. The letter was good, but the check was the message. He was floored.

“How long ‘til I get my car back Dad?”

“When I trust you again,” I said.

After a couple of weeks of being the taxi driver, his mom came to me and said, “Regi, you can’t ground him forever.”

“He’s not grounded,” I said. “He can do whatever he wants. He just has to regain my trust if we’re going to be partners in the car again.”

“And just how does he regain your trust?” she quizzed.

“By saying what he’s going to do and then doing it…and then doing that over and over again.”

“And how long is that going to take?” she asked, almost knowing the answer before finishing the question.

“As long as it takes” I said. “You can’t fake trust. It’s there or it’s not. When it comes back, he’ll be the first to know.”

And after another week or so, it was there. From the time he got the letter and the check, he got it. He committed himself to the absolute truth and has been committed to it ever since. As an adult, he’s even called me out for spinning the truth a little bit. I couldn’t be prouder of the honest man he’s become (and he still has a copy of that check!).

So if you’ve breeched a trust, failed to deliver, over-promised and under-delivered, make up your mind to say what you’re going to do and then do it. After enough repetitions, you may be trusted again.

If there’s another way to rebuild trust, I’ve never heard of it.

Question:  Is there someone important in your life who doesn’t trust you?


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