Trust is in the news a lot these days as candidates from both parties present their ideas and ask us to trust them to lead nation. But the campaign raises an interesting question. How do we ever know whom we can really trust? It can be especially difficult to know whether to trust someone on a personal level–particularly if they have hurt you in the past.
Some people respond to this dilemma by trusting people too much and too quickly, backing off only after they’ve been wounded. Others do the opposite, withholding trust until someone has jumped through enough hoops to prove themselves. Obviously, neither approach works well. Christians, in particular, have to balance our moral right to defend our dignity and integrity with the moral obligation to reach out to others and create loving communion with the people in our lives. Having a healthy perspective on trust allows us to find the response that serves both important needs.
The most important thing to remember is that trust is not an all or nothing proposition. It is possible to trust a person in some areas or with some responsibilities but not in other areas. But how do you know what those areas are and to what degree you can trust a person in any context? It comes down to four factors.
4 Trust Factors: Ability, Integrity, Benevolence.
Psychologists believe that trustworthy people exhibit four qualities; ability, integrity, benevolence and consistency.
Ability–refers to a person’s capacity for doing what they say they are going to do. To what degree does a person only promise what they are actually capable of doing? Does that person actually follow through on promises or do they say all the right things in the moment only to fail to show up later? The answer to questions like these demonstrates how much a person has the ability to be trusted. By contrast, untrustworthy people can be charming and well-meaning, but they are unreliable in that they overpromise or lack follow-though.
Integrity–means that a person has a sufficiently well-developed value system that they tend not to give offense in the first place, tend to self-correct when they do others, or are at least willing to generously hear and respond proactively when they are told they have been offensive. A person with impaired integrity doesn’t tend to care that he has given offense and becomes automatically defensive if told he has been hurtful in some way. Such a person gives apologies grudgingly and rarely displays the humility necessary to learn from missteps. People who behave this way can’t be trusted because they don’t have a well-developed moral sense. They tend to do what they think can get away with or manage to explain away and only repent under pressure–and then, only half-heartedly. People with integrity, on the other hand, see the offenses they commit against others as a mark against their own character, and because they are committed to living out a particular set of values, they work hard to faithful to those principles no matter what.
Benevolence–refers to the degree to which the person you want to trust has shown you that he or she is willing to work for your good, especially when it has required some sacrifice or inconvenience on his or her part. A person who is willing to put themselves out for your sake is more worth of your trust than someone who isn’t. People who lack benevolence could be friendly and charming on the outside, but when you need something, their selfish tendencies come out along with their catalog of excuses.
Consistency–even the most irresponsible person manages to follow through occasionally. Even the abusive person manages to say, “sorry” or do something nice once in a while. It is our ability to count on a person to demonstrate ability, integrity and benevolence consistently that makes them truly trustworthy. Inconsistently demonstrating the qualities of a trustworthy person is the same as not demonstrating them at all.
Evaluating a person’s ability, integrity, benevolence and consistency vs. their unreliability, defensiveness, selfishness and inconsistency enables you to have a clearer sense of how much you can trust someone, in what contexts, and to what degree. It can also give you a guide for dealing with those you have a hard time trusting by helping you highlight why and what might be done to resolve those obstacles to trust.
To learn more about whom to trust and how to heal broken trust, check out God Help Me, These People are Driving Me Nuts! Making Peace with Difficult People (Crossroads).
Dr. Greg Popcak is the author of many books and the host of More2Life Radio. To learn more about Catholic counseling and other resources, visit CatholicCounselors.com