Earning and Retaining Trust

– How does one earn trust?

Let’s start with the basics: To be trusted, one has to be trustworthy. Trustworthiness, however, is a more complex concept than most people realize. It embodies four separate virtues: integrity, honesty, promise-keeping and loyalty. A failure in any one of these areas will prevent or destroy trust.

Integrity refers to moral wholeness, a consistency between words, acts and beliefs. People with integrity earn our trust because they can be counted on to put ethical principles over integrity and do what they believe is right and what they say they will do even when it may cost more than they want to pay. People of integrity put their honor above social, financial and career considerations.

People earn our trust by being scrupulously honest, by being truthful and sincere. Honest people
don’t lie or intentionally deceive or mislead with clever half-truths, verbal hair-splitting or calculated silence designed to cause us to believe something that is not true.

Trustworthy people also keep their promises and, in relationships justifying expectations of loyalty, they demonstrate their commitment to our well-being by being forthright and candid. This can be tricky when a person has conflicting loyalties, but close friendships and many business relationships create an expectation that our friend or business associate will affirmatively volunteer information we need or want to know to protect ourselves (e.g., about the infidelity of a spouse or an impending merger or plant closing).

Trust isn’t attained by wishing and wanting. We build trust like we build a tower, stone by stone. What we often forget is that these towers, no matter how old or how tall, can be easily toppled. Lies, deceptions and broken promises don’t remove stones from the top of the tower they imperil the foundation by taking them from the bottom.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that Character Counts!

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Comments 6

  1. “People with integrity earn our trust because they can be counted on to put ethical principles over integrity and do what they believe is right and what they say they will do even when it may cost more than they want to pay.” This should probably read, “People with integrity earn our trust because they can be counted on to put ethical principles above self-interest, and do what they believe is right and what they say they will do, even when it may cost more than they want to pay.”

  2. The sexual abuse scandal at Penn St. threatens the integrity and legacy of college football’s most successful and longest standing coach as well as the carefully nurtured respect of an prestigeous university.

    Your “Character Counts” article reminds me of a pervasive moral shortcoming of our society embellished in the phrase “…see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” and in the oft heard “code of silence” honored by police forces, the military, fraternal organizations, the Catholic Church and others. The vaunted press, guardians of truth, feel compelled to protect their sources–not always with regard to the morality of their protective decisions.

    Our society routinely tolerates the abuse of incarcerated and vulnerable individuals, turns a “blind eye” to spouse, child or animal abuse and overlooks moral conflict when it challenges our courage. How in need we are of “Character Counts”.

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      Walt, your frustration and disappointment in the lack of accountability of many people is understandable. The challenge for me is to find this unacceptable without becoming so cynical that I do not notice and commend the many acts of virtue that surround me. One of my favorite quotes comes from the political philosopher Edmund Burke who said, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” That sentiment has been re-worded by many including Dr. Martin Luther King and it sets forth a tough requirement of action for all of us. When we use the insight simply as a bludgeon against others who have not done what they should and we become blame-throwers and finger pointers we do not make the world better. The test of our conscience and conviction is for us to determine what we personally can do in whatever sphere of influence we have to make things better.

  3. Blaming the people with insight affected by evil, and labeling them as “blame-throwers and finger pointers” doesn’t make the world better either. Insight is not always used as a bludgeon, in fact in can be a catalyst for good people to do something…to improve a bad situation, and to protect others affected by the same evil. The harsh reality is evil can triumph regardless, even when good people doing something because there are always people protecting those who do evil. Should evil still be reported? Absolutely. Good people doing something need to be prepared to ultimately pay with their jobs, losing their livelihoods, careers, and stellar reputations. They will still do something, because it is the right thing to do. Silence is acceptance — of sexual assault, abuse of power and people, neglect of those who cannot protect themselves, or wrongdoing.
    Persons in positions of power will go to extreme lengths to hold onto that power, and there are rafts of people in a rush to protect them, allowing evil to continue.
    For example, when good people do something and blow the whistle on tenured professors who are bullying, mobbing, and slandering unsuspecting newbie faculty who are a threat just by doing their jobs better, the university circles the wagon to protect the tenured professor. The newbie becomes a pariah. The university takes the side of the tenured professor and false accusations are launched at the newbie without a proper hearing. The newbie’s reputation is forever damaged. Nothing can unring the bell when someone is slandered. How is trust retained or regained in a system that is so broken?
    When good people do something and report the Vice Chancellor’s son’s sexual assault of the female tutor working under his supervision in his computer lab, she is warned by university human resources that she is “opening a can of worms.” The tutor does something — tries to stop the attacks against her and future employees — and her pay is docked for leaving the job after the sexual assault, she loses her job as she has to leave her job to prevent future sexual assaults. Nothing happens to her attacker. The university, concerned about the computer lab losing any grant funding if the scandal becomes public, protects the Vice Chancellor’s son. The tutor is told by university officials that she should worry about her future employability and aspirations to teach in the future.
    When a good person does something and becomes a whistleblower, reporting the “blind eye” manager overseeing a nursing home inspection field office breach of public trust by asking an inspector to “make the report go away” reporting several rapes in a nursing home, her job is jeopardized when she doesn’t comply. The supervisor complains that the nursing home corporation’s attorney is calling him which is making work for him, (and he doesn’t like work), so the inspector blows the whistle on the supervisor’s attempt to cover up the rapes, and his efforts to kill the report and fire the inspector. The Feds tell the inspector that they “won’t get involved” in state issues. Instead, the head of Human Resources scrutinizes the inspector’s conduct, rather than deal with the bullying, incompetent supervisor. Doing nothing is rewarded — the lead worker who does drive-by surveys only to find nothing wrong, the team of inspectors that find no deficiencies when deficiencies exist, the inspector who sleeps on the job where abuse is found and nothing is done about it, the inspectors who announce an upcoming inspection on Facebook when inspections are to be unannounced…all point to the supervisor (and everyone who protects him) grossly betraying the public trust. So why does everyone protect him and allow evil to continue?
    Yes, the inspector did the right thing within their sphere of influence, however when the system of checks and balances is so badly broken, and when people are vested in keeping their power their actions do not earn or retain trust, as the public trust is forever damaged. It is easy to lose heart, however good people will continue to do something….even when they have to pay the ultimate price for doing so.

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