Want to Build Trust? Be Civil.

Spiral in handsTwo-thirds of Americans believe people can’t be trusted.

So says a recent AP/GfK study. When this survey was first conducted in 1972, half of Americans felt that people were trustworthy. The current numbers, showing Americans believe only one third of people are trustworthy, are the lowest trust rating in the survey’s history.

Globally, trust takes a beating, as well. The Edelman Trust Barometer 2013 data shows a global trust score of 57 on a 100 point scale.

This trust deficit is repairable – over time, one person at a time.

You can choose to eliminate behaviors that erode trust between you and those you live with and work with – and demonstrate behaviors that build trust.

Consider using these trust building behaviors in every interaction:

  • Be Civil.
    This is the most powerful of the trust building behaviors in this list. Treat others kindly, even if they’re treating you or others unkindly. Look people in the eye. Debate ideas while honoring the person. Say, “Thank you.” Say, “I’m sorry.” Honor others’ efforts as well as their accomplishments. Act on the belief that everyone is doing the best they can under present circumstances.
    I often get push back when I propose civility. “What about people who call you names, who say you’re stupid, who belittle you with every breath?” We interact with challenging folks sometimes. I believe in others’ rights to their own opinion but choose to insulate myself from those who act out, who must make others look bad for them to feel good. I can’t fix them – it’s not my job to fix them. And, I can be consistently civil to them while I disengage from them.
  • Do What You Say You Will Do.
    Choose to be responsible and accountable for what you’ve promised to do or to deliver. Demonstrate commitment to your commitments! Make promises intentionally and clearly, and follow through on your promises.
    You can control only what you can control, AND, you can communicate progress or possible issues proactively. If plans go awry and you’re at risk for missing a commitment, inform all key players as soon as possible. Map out a plan to deliver, then keep that promise.
  • Expect the Best and Give the Benefit of the Doubt.
    We create self-fulfilling prophesies in our world all the time, for better or worse. If I believe, for example, that my step-daughter will not do her chores on the day we’re hosting a big party, I’ll be on the lookout for her doing anything except what I think she should be doing. And, I’ll call her out on it. (This is a completely hypothetical scenario, of course. NOT. I did this more than once, years ago.)
    Create positive self-fulfilling prophesies! Set people up for success when giving them a goal or task. Clearly outline the standard that’s needed for that goal, then ask what they need to meet that target. If a milestone is missed, don’t assume this person “has it out for you.” Simply check in, verify the milestone, and ask for an update.

What do you think? How do you “keep it civil” with family, work colleagues, community members, and even strangers? In what ways do you keep your commitment to your commitments? Share your thoughts about this post/podcast in the comments section below.

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  • Is it not bizarre that you actually need to articulate this….

    • Josh, I believe we humans can get really tied up on our own stuff.

      The research – and our own observations – shows that trust is not where we need it to be for personal well-being, economic growth, and innovation. None of that happens without strong trust & respect.

      Chipping away at this, day by day –



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