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Are You Someone People Can Count On?

Dependability is an underrated personal quality. I say that because so many of us have difficulty either developing it or sustaining it.

You might even think that you’re very dependable, but in reality you’re not.

It’s easy to get distorted when thinking about this because in our hearts, we may feel as though we can be counted on, especially when it is important. The “important” part is where the distortion takes place.

If I listen, empathize, and help you solve a problem you’re having, then I think of myself as someone you can depend upon, especially when it counts! There’s the “important” part. I was there when it counted!

But if I show up late most of the time, don’t follow through on what I say I’m going to do, don’t respond to family members or friends when they contact me, blow off appointments, don’t return things I borrow or money I owe, or you name it (I’m sure there are other instances you can think of), then I’m not actually dependable or reliable. This is true even if my heart’s in the right place, which is often the case with people who are not dependable.

The sad thing about not paying attention to these behaviors is that they leave people feeling that either you don’t care, or you’re flaky, or both. Either way, it’s not good.

Over time, people begin to discount you, or build up resentment toward you, and eventually they may even become indifferent to you.

Here’s five things you can do to increase your dependability and let people know that you can be relied upon. Just by doing these things, you will build people’s confidence in your word which ultimately makes for good relationships.

Show Up on Time!

Everyone’s late occasionally. Sometimes you can’t help it. You have a car problem, the babysitter doesn’t show up on time, your toddler pours grape juice all over himself as you’re ready to go out the door, or many other unexpected events that get in the way.

It’s the chronic late person that is the issue.

She almost always arrives anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour late, and sometimes more than that. No matter what time she’s scheduled to be somewhere, she arrives late.

The only time this doesn’t happen is if she’s acutely aware of the fallout (like arriving late to an important meeting the boss called), or it involves something in which she has a big personal investment like attending a long-awaited rock concert.

Don’t let that be you! Be on time!

Always leave at least 10 minutes earlier than you think you need to get where you’re going, and if you have to go a long way, or go through a lot of traffic, give yourself even more pad time.

Allow time for the unexpected!

If you make a conscious effort to be on time in every situation, you’ll develop the habit and it won’t be so much work. It will become effortless because you’ll automatically allow enough time to get yourself ready and out the door with time to spare.

People will notice and eventually start believing that they can rely on you to be where you say you’re going be when you say it. The messages you’ll be sending are:

  • You care about other people’s time as well as your own.
  • You respect others.
  • You see others as important
  • You are a willing participant.
  • And with personal relationships, it shows you care.

If for some valid reason you can’t be on time, call or text and let the other person know what the problem is and when he can expect you.

This should only happen if there is a real and valid reason. Not because you left the house late, or you were distracted by something else you were doing.

A Quick Trick to Help You Be On Time

One thing to consider as you work on being on time is to figure out what’s behind being late. Do a quick assessment. Here’s some possibilities:

  • You have difficulty making a transition from one activity to another so that you don’t disengage soon enough from what you’re doing to get ready to leave on time. You’re always saying to yourself, ” I can squeeze in one more thing before I go.”
  • You underestimate the time needed to get yourself ready and out of the house.
  • You underestimate driving or traveling time.
  • You don’t have your stuff ready ahead of time so you end up looking for things frantically before you need to leave.
  • You don’t get up early enough.
  • You don’t really want to go where you’re going and you’re emotionally resistant to it.

When you know what your obstacles are, you can create strategies to counteract them.

Answer the Phone

Answering the phone is about being accessible.

This is a tricky one and I can guess what you’re thinking already. “What if the person calling me is going to talk my ear off without taking a breath, and keep me on the phone for an hour.” I’ll get to that person in a minute.

The idea here is to be accessible to those who are important to you such as family and close friends, or those who need you such as colleagues or work partners.

When one of these people calls, pick up the phone. Don’t screen every single call you get and then take your time calling back.

Sometimes screening calls is necessary or appropriate. You do need to guard your time, and with email, texts, Facebook, and cell phones, none of us have the privacy or anonymity we had before all these modes of contact were available. The way to get around that is to set some boundaries.

Take Control

Remember that you do not have to stay on the phone longer than you wish to or have time for.

I have a sister who calls often, but she has made it clear to everyone in the family that she doesn’t like to be on the phone long. We all know it and no one tries to keep her for more than a few minutes unless there is something that needs to be discussed. She calls to check in, and it makes you feel loved, because it’s personal and it’s intimate.

You can let people know that you aren’t able to talk for long periods of time on the phone, or don’t like to converse by text, or only check email once or twice a day.

By setting limits and boundaries, you have control of your time. When you know you have that control, then it becomes easy to answer the phone because you know you don’t have to talk longer than you wish to.

Don’t avoid. Take control.

Rules to consider:

  • How late is too late to call?
  • What is the time of day you cannot answer the phone?
  • How often do you or are you willing to check emails and respond to them?
  • For what purposes do you use texting (do you like to chat, only use them to communicate logistics or plans, etc.)?
  • How long is too long to be on the phone for you?

When Screening is Appropriate

Now back to people who will use up your time without blinking. These are not the phone calls I’m addressing here. Memorize this:

You do not have to listen to someone who is dumping emotional trash, using your time even though you’ve let them know you don’t have it, or who is oblivious to your needs.

For those people, you can kindly but firmly set limits, and if you don’t wish to continue contact, don’t.

What is important is to respond to people who mean something to you, or with whom you have a relationship. When Grandma calls, answer. When a good friend calls, answer. Or if you can’t answer right away, call back as soon as you can. Be accessible to those who are important to you.

One Last Consideration

Sometimes we use email or texting to avoid a voice to voice communication. This can be helpful in some cases, and many people like the emotional distance afforded by these modes of communication.

Phone calls are direct and more intimate and don’t allow that emotional space. However, phone communication is less likely to be confusing which happens often when people rely on texts or emails.

When you don’t hear the tone of voice or nuances of someone’s emotions coming though their speech, a lot is missed.

Calling someone says you are accessible, and that you care.

When you can, call instead of text or email, especially if the relationship is personal. I also find it very productive with business calls.

Do What You Say You’re Going To Do

When you tell someone you’re going to do something, they take it as a promise. They don’t see it as something you may change your mind about, forget about, or put on the back burner.

Your words “I’m going to” mean it’s a done deal.

What happens sometimes is that you agree to something quickly and then when you later consider it, you have mixed feelings, or find it’s not really feasible. Worse, you forget you said it and tuck it away in the back of your mind.

The key to solving this problem is twofold:

  • Before you agree to anything, give yourself time to think it through and make sure you know exactly how you want to respond and what you have time for or are willing to do. You can say something like “Let me think that over and I’ll give you an answer tomorrow.” Saying “yes” should not be impulsive, but thoughtful. Sometimes saying “no” is the proper response!
  • When you say yes, you need a way to track it and make sure you do it in the time you said you would do it. Use your calendar, your to-do list, your phone reminders, or whatever you use to track your activities. Once you say yes, you are responsible for following through. If you can’t do that, then don’t say yes.

Here’s some things that can get in the way. Any of these apply to you?

  • Are you someone who gets very enthusiastic about something in the moment and then upon thinking it about later, realize you really can’t do it or don’t want to?
  • Are you a “yes” person meaning that you think you should always respond to someone else’s needs or wants? This is true of caretakers.
  • Do you have difficulty disappointing others?
  • Do you think you’re the only person who can do things right so you take on everything?
  • Do you like being in charge?

Figure it out because whatever it is, it’s undermining you.

Close Loops

I learned this one from a podcast I listened to by Amy Porterfield. She was applying it to business communication, but it holds for all communications.

Basically, closing loops means finishing with conversations, lingering issues or problems, to-dos, or whatever is started publicly (meaning between you and at least one other person).

It could be completing a plan to get together and making the final arrangements, talking through a problem and coming up with solutions, completing a project you’re working on with someone, responding to someone’s feedback about something you initiated, or anything that once started has not yet been finished, and that involves another person.

I would go one further and say it includes anything started and not finished, even it involves only you.

Dependability is strengthened by persevering and finishing, whether it affects just you, or you and others together.

If I offer a service to the public and send out emails advertising, but don’t respond to questions, feedback, or inquiries, then I have not closed those loops. People will see me as unreliable.

On a more personal note, if a family member has initiated a conversation about planning a family reunion and I have not added my input or information to help the process along, I am not closing that loop.

Closing loops overlaps with doing what you say you are going to do, but it is broader and applies to anything that is left open-ended, and that requires your response, action, feedback, or input.

Loops should be closed as soon as possible. If more information is required, then the steps to get it should proceed at a reasonable speed until the loop can be closed.

In a few words, “Don’t leave people hanging!”

Emotional Availability

This one is less concrete, but goes a long way in personal relationships. Being emotionally available means that people see you as someone who is empathetic, considerate, and caring.

That doesn’t mean you have to be a bleeding heart, syrupy, or overly emotionally demonstrative.

It means that you are aware of other’s feelings, respectful of other’s thoughts and ideas, and able to listen and respond to others with interest and concern.

In personal relationships in particular, there is the expectation that we will be emotionally accessible, and will be interested in each other’s emotional well-being.

Relationships that don’t include this type of reciprocity don’t last, and certainly don’t grow and flourish.

The best way to improve your emotional reliability is to simply show interest in those with whom you come in contact daily or often. You can do this by:

  • Acknowledging someone’s presence with warmth when they appear.
  • Ask about how they are feeling or what’s going on with them.
  • Listen with interest to what’s said.
  • Join in and interact.
  • Lend an ear when someone needs help to solve a problem.

In other words, practice showing empathy. This is the most important one thing to do, and when you consider all five of the things I’ve listed in this blog, they all involve empathy.

There you have it! Now let me hear your comments and ideas about this subject. What are your pet peeves about dependability? What do you have the most difficulty with yourself?


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