I think the degree to which we keep our agreements with ourselves is the degree to which our life will work.  That’s difficult at best when we have an estimated 70,000 thoughts a day where we could easily interrupt ourselves and get off track from our agreements. Then there are the interruptions from others. So, it’s easy to make agreements and then get sidetracked from them. But here’s the rub in all of that. People looking from the outside into your life aren’t privy to, nor do they likely care about all the reasons you don’t come through. People who do what they say they are going to do have a huge asset: they own one of the biggest pieces of the trust equation.

The equation for trust is well-studied and Angelika Dimoka helps us understand the biggest components of it as seen in neuro-imaging studies*. They are:

Consistent behavior over time (reliability/accountability)

-Competence (I trust that you have the skill to do something)

-Benevolence (you have my interest in mind)

Consistently doing what you say you’ll do is huge for building trust. It’s only one part of the equation, but the most powerful, so we’re focusing on it in this blog. Everything you do and don’t do is a message about you. Your intentions can be wonderful, but your results are what will determine other’s trust level of you. And, if you’re incongruent or inconsistent, my trust of you could be very negative when that messiness catches up with you (and it will). When your life is scrambled and over-committed, you may get into some trust deficits with those around you because things are likely going to fall through the cracks. You’ll end up not coming through. When you don’t return emails in a timely fashion I begin to trust that you are not attentive. If we’re communicating about deadlines and you “go dark” by dropping off from the communication before we’ve reached resolution, I begin to trust you’re not good at follow-through. If you consistently show up to calls or meetings late by 15 minutes or more, I trust that you don’t manage your parameters very well, so why would I trust you to manage my project? AND I begin to believe I’m not as important as the thing you’re always coming from.

Obviously, life is messy and many of the things I’ve described are going to take place. People who have built a lot of trust are always aware of the fact that they’ve run late and apologize AND don’t show up late the next time!

Here’s a little bit of strategy for congruency and consistency:

  1. Write down what you value you most in your life (family, work, exercise, religion, volunteering, etc.). Rank order them.
  2. Look at your calendar and to-do list and see if your values are showing up in appropriate proportion to the amount of time you have give them on your calendar/to-do list. For instance, if you say family is number one and yet there is no consistent time on your calendar blocked out for your family, your congruency is off (coming home for dinner and putting the kids to bed doesn’t count unless it’s 100% focus time on each other).
  3. Make a list of all the “open orders” you have to get done at home and work – promises you’ve made to colleagues, family or friends that are incomplete. Develop a way to get these open orders completed or discarded. They are dragging you down.
  4. Take stock of all of the things you agree to do, but end up making an excuse for not having done it. Get those off your list.
  5. Tell someone else what your goals are. Consistency theory says we are heavily drawn to be committed to the things we say we will do or the things we stand for, especially when we’ve told other people. Live your life out loud.

There are definitely seasons we have in our life when work needs to take a front seat and family goes in back. But, communicate that so people don’t wonder about your values…something like:  “The next few months are going to be crazy at work because of this huge project I’m on. But, you (family) are most important to me. Forgive me as I go through this nuttiness. When I surface on the other side, we’re going to hang out together on a beach for a week.” Know when you have to violate your values and communicate it to others.

At the end of the day, we are served best by being who we say we’ll be, communicating about our values through what we do and when we have to go off track because the season has called for a deviation, we communicate that too. Keep your agreements with yourself and things fall into place.


*Angelika Dimoka. “What does the brain tell us about trust and distrust? Evidence from a functional neuroimaging study.” Mis Quarterly 34, no. 2 (2010): 373-396.

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