Trust: Don’t Get Fooled Again!
BY LINDA K. STROH, PH.D.
I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you ~~Friedrich Nietzsche
Aren’t we lucky that so many heroes have shown up lately? You know, those people who just do the right thing whether it benefits them or not—those around-the-clock doctors and nurses, first responders, grocery clerks, teachers…the list goes on. I bet you have some of these heroic people in your life—I know I do. But, unfortunately, not everyone reacts or behaves in heroic ways, and, unfortunately, sometimes we have to live or work with people we can’t really trust.
“… my research shows that successful people, in both their work and personal lives, carve untrustworthy people out of their lives as much as possible.”
We’ve all probably been fooled by someone we now know that we cannot trust. You know, your sister’s nasty husband, your dad’s alcoholic stepdaughter, that slimy guy/gal over in marketing, those self-serving politicians who just can’t seem to get the facts straight. How do we handle these untrustworthy people when we are forced into situations? I’ve written a book entitled, “Trust Rules: How to Tell the Good Guys from the Bad Guys in Work and Life” and by now, I have interviewed hundreds of people to get advice about how to tell the good guys from the bad guys in work and life and about living and working with untrustworthy people. My research shows that successful people, both at work and in their personal lives, have a good offense for dealing with these untrustworthy people in their lives. Here’s what I discovered.
First, my research shows that successful people, in both their work and personal lives, carve untrustworthy people out of their lives as much as possible. But when forced to have untrustworthy people in their lives for reasons beyond their own control, they build strong boundaries around their relationships with these people. Try out these tips when you’re dealing with the untrustworthy people in your own lives.
Begin by being absolutely certain the person in question is in fact untrustworthy. You must distinguish between your suspicion that a person is untrustworthy and has the potential to be harmful and actual evidence that the person is untrustworthy and harmful. Then, once you are certain, never forget with whom you are dealing. You’ve determined someone is untrustworthy for objective reasons, so don’t ever be fooled by their charm into thinking differently. Then, follow these tried and true steps:
- Be cautious about what you say and do around the untrustworthy person. Be certain that your words cannot be misconstrued or used out of context.
- Prepare! Imagine, beforehand, what the untrustworthy person may say or do. Make sure you have prepared counterarguments. Yet, don’t look for an argument or disagreement. Just be ready if one occurs. Be prepared with data to support your points. And be prepared to correct the untrustworthy person if/when they misquote you.
- Listen more, talk less. Never discuss personal beliefs or history; never reveal what you think of someone else, what you expect to happen in some instance, or any personal background. Never… and that really means never!
- Head ’em off at the pass. You know what they are likely to say to your boss, colleague, neighbor, parent, or relative—so present your different/more accurate viewpoint early and often.
- Mobilize your allies, be they family members, colleagues, or neighbors. Speak to them in advance of meetings and discuss how you will “manage” the untrustworthy person. Avoid confrontation if at all possible. Never be duped into an argument that may make you look like the “bad guy.”
- Limit your interactions as much as possible to situations that constrain or eliminate discretionary behaviors. Research has shown that even untrustworthy people are more conditionally trustworthy when social situations “constrain” them into being so. In contrast, one’s true character is more likely to surface in situations where cultural and social rules are less well defined. While trustworthy people do not change their behaviors based on the situation at hand, untrustworthy people’s behaviors can change when the social setting, or someone else, isn’t monitoring their actions.
- Be prepared for charm as well as confrontation! A negative interaction with an untrustworthy person can be contentious and difficult. But don’t forget that an untrustworthy person can often be charismatic and charming. In fact, charmers are repeatedly the most dangerous of all. We can easily be duped by a charmer, especially if we tend to want to trust people too much.
- Be transparent. When possible, document every conversation or transaction in writing. This eliminates the chance that you will be misquoted and creates a written, evidential record. If necessary forward this documentation on to people in authority (this can be mom and dad, your boss, CEO, or president of the homeowner’s association).
- Validate everything untrustworthy people say or do. Never take their statements at face value.
- Be Vigilant! Exercise caution in every interaction you have with an untrustworthy person.
- Have a good understanding of your own propensity to trust someone. Imagine a scale ranging 1-10 from very unlikely to very likely and ask yourself how likely you would be to trust someone you had never met before. You have no knowledge of this person at all. If you discover that you are a naturally trusting person take this into consideration when assessing if you can trust someone else or not—maybe learn to be a bit more cautious. If you instead find you are a very untrusting person, you may be misjudging some relationships that might turn out just fine. Bottomline…remember to factor in your own willingness to trust someone when assessing others’ trustworthiness.
- If you are truly interested in how to more systematically assess someone’s trustworthiness, I have a scale that will help you do so in my book, “Trust Rules: How to Tell the Good Guys from the Bad Guys in Work and Life.”
Finally, perhaps the most important point is to do whatever you do without malicious intent. If you cross that border into bad guy activities, you can drag yourself down to the lowest common denominator, and then…you become the untrustworthy person with whom others have to manage. Let’s instead work to be one of those heroes that we are cheering so much for today…and then…we “won’t ever get fooled again.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The tips above are excerpted from Dr. Stroh’s book, Trust Rules: How to Tell the Good Guys from the Bad Guys in Work and Life. Linda’s Trust book is recommended by US News & World Report for all executive’s nightstands (and grandparents). Dr. Stroh received her Ph.D. from Northwestern University and is a Loyola University Faculty Scholar and Emeritus Professor at the Graduate School of Business,