Blog Short #92: 9 Characteristics of Trustworthy People
Photo by AntonioGuillem, Courtesy of iStock Photo (photo edited)
Today we’re talking about “trust.” Let me start by saying that this subject comes up in therapy more than any other. It seems to be a universal issue that many people struggle with, not only personally but on a social/societal level as well.
That said, it’s important to be able to trust those close to us and those who have a significant impact on our lives. We’re wired to connect and, as a species, cannot survive alone. Therefore trust is necessary for our survival and, more importantly, our ability to flourish.
It’s a vast subject, but for this blog, I’m outlining nine characteristics of trustworthy people. You can use this guide to help assess who you can trust and who you can’t, as well as help increase your own trustworthiness.
Let’s start with a definition.
What is trust?
I found this definition while reading Brené Brown’s Atlas of the Heart. She was quoting Charles Feltman, who wrote The Thin Book of Trust: An Essential Primer for Building Trust at Work. He defines trust as:
Choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions.
He goes on to define distrust as concluding that:
What is important to me is not safe with this person in this situation (or any situation).
The key words are vulnerability, risk, and safety. Trust means you feel safe enough to risk being vulnerable with someone. It also means you’re putting yourself in a position where you could be hurt or betrayed.
Now let’s go through the specific characteristics of trustworthiness that will help you evaluate that risk.
9 Characteristics of Trustworthiness
1. Caring and Empathy
You have the other person’s best interest at heart as well as your own. Your actions and decisions reflect that. You can empathize with another’s feelings and point of view. You’re respectful and compassionate and avoid actions that are harmful or hurtful. You can be relied upon to consider the other person’s needs.
You’re honest and transparent. You say what you mean and mean what you say. You’re authentic and reveal who you are with consistency. You’re the same person in every setting. There’s a feeling of solidity reflected in your expression of ideas, values and beliefs, expectations, and interests. Anyone speaking of you would say similar things about you. You’re true to what you believe and don’t back down from that to fit in. You’re sincere.
You both set and respect boundaries. Boundaries that honor your values, time, behavior, and expectations are clear. You’re mindful of other people’s boundaries as well and keep them. You don’t cross the line.
You do what you say you’ll do. That means not taking on more than you can deliver and thinking carefully before saying yes to something. You fact-check yourself before speaking. You can use information, think rationally, and exert a balance between thoughts and emotions so that your spoken words and actions are responsible and considerate.
You recognize your mistakes and can admit to them. If you do something that impacts someone negatively, you’re quick to apologize and make amends. You acknowledge your common humanity with others and don’t put yourself above anyone. You attend to your responsibilities to others and can consider the consequences of your actions upfront.
When someone tells you something, you keep it to yourself. You’re a good listener; others know they can count on your discretion. You don’t divulge confidences. You also don’t engage in rumor mills, gossip, or negative talk about other people.
7. Open-Minded and Non-Judgmental
You’re open to different views and ideas. You can enjoy debating ideas comfortably with others without personalizing, and you respect the rights of others to express their thoughts and feelings, even when these are contrary to what you think and feel. You’re able to adjust your views with new evidence or information.
You have the capacity for intimacy. You can be vulnerable to those you trust and share your innermost feelings and needs as they can with you.
- In Brené Brown’s words, you offer the “most generous interpretation to the intentions, words, and action of others.”
- You’re selfless in your willingness to help. You enjoy bringing out the best in others and helping them be their best selves. You don’t focus on limitations.
- You don’t withhold. You’re cooperative, collaborative, and share information freely.
- You show appreciation for others’ successes and talents and give credit where credit’s due.
How does trust develop?
You may sense that you can trust someone right off the bat, but the deepening and strength of trust happen through repeated experiences and interactions.
You can work through breaches of trust, but it will depend on the nature of the breach and the steps taken to evaluate what led to the violation. It also depends on the willingness of the person involved to make amends with sincerity and behavior change. Someone being late to events will be much easier to fix than someone cheating on their partner.
The capacity to trust is learned (or not) early on. It’s the first major developmental milestone encountered during infancy and continues throughout childhood. People who lack a basic sense of trust in their family of origin will have greater difficulty learning to trust others and may also have trouble being trustworthy. Trust is challenging for people with insecure or avoidant attachment styles. In these cases, therapy can be beneficial. It requires insight and re-learning over time.
You can work on it yourself using the guidelines in this article, but as you’ll note, real trustworthiness also involves other skills such as:
- The capacity to feel empathy and compassion
- Perceive and respond positively to the needs of others
- Have a consistent, well-developed personality structure
- Embrace the values of honesty, non-harm, responsibility for your actions, and integrity
- Be self-aware of your thoughts and feelings and how they influence your behavior
In short, being trustworthy means being emotionally intelligent and feeling connected with and responsible to others. That felt connection makes you desire to be trustworthy and seek out those you can trust.
Can you be partially trustworthy?
Yes. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. You can be very accomplished in some areas of trustworthiness and not so much in others. You might be great at caring, keeping confidences, and being generous, yet not so much with reliability.
Most of us can point to some aspects of trust we feel confident about and others that need work. That’s normal. Having a list to work with helps you recognize where you can make improvements, and doing so will help you with your relationships, whether romantic, familial, friendships or work-related.
The best way to use these guidelines is to work first on yourself. As you go through your daily life and interact with your family, partners, friends, or work colleagues, step back and evaluate how your actions measure up. Where are you automatically behaving in a trustworthy manner, and where do you need to make improvements?
You might be surprised! Most people are. We tend to think of ourselves as trustworthy, and likely are in many respects, but not across the board.
You can also use the guide to evaluate who you can be vulnerable with and how much. If you’re the type of person who trusts easily, you might find the guide helps you be more discerning before jumping in.
Conversely, you might find your inability to trust has more to do with your history than your current relationships. Taking a close look will help you figure out where you need to intervene or if you need some help working on the issue.
That’s all for today.
As always, I hope you have a great week!
All my best,