This post is part of our Monthly-ish Tips series.

We spend an outsized amount of time in our programs focusing on how to increase your own trustworthiness proactively and specifically, since it’s the only thing you can actually control. A recent situation reminded me of content that my co-author Charlie Green and I recorded some years ago for our video learning library that answers the question, “What do you do when others show up in untrustworthy ways?”

When we experience others as untrustworthy, most of us humans follow our baser instincts to minimize riskWe avoid confrontation. We point the finger at them.

Therein lies a problem, unfortunately. Consider this, in the realm of tough love:

  • If you blame others, but don’t address the issues directly, then you’re the one who’s not being trustworthy because you’re not speaking the truth.
  • If you talk about others behind their backs, then you’re the one who’s not being trustworthy because you’re working around the relationship, not on it.

That means if you’re serious about increasing the level of trust in your relationships, you have to help lead the change when trust is missing. Which requires risk-taking—yours.

Looks like none of us can get away from focusing our own trustworthiness. Even when it’s all their fault!

On the upside, there are three relatively simple steps you can follow to constructively confront someone you feel is untrustworthy:

  1. Assess the risks of confrontation. List pros and cons, both of saying something and saying nothing. This helps you get a balanced view of something that might seem emotional and yucky. Assuming you conclude that you should continue, the next step is …
  2. Seek to understand. Approach them with a request for help and a genuine willingness to listen. You might say something like: “Amal, we see xyz situation differently. I think it’s important that we’re on the same page, so I need some help to understand your perspective.” Then listen. Really listen. And finally …
  3. Make a decision. If your conversation went well, great. If you are still unresolved, you could apply “Name it and Claim it” to share your perspective. Or you could buy yourself some time to further reflect with something like, “This has been helpful. I’d like to think about this and get back to you.”

Of course, there are times when you simply can’t live with the outcome. Knowing when and how to choose your battles is important. So is having principles worth fighting for. Just be careful here: human nature will always have us overrate the number of situations that truly can’t be recovered.

Here’s the bottom line: People sometimes behave badly. The question is: How will you show up as a leader in response?

Make It Real

This week, take a good hard look at the people you don’t trust. Complete at least step 1 for at least one of them. What do you see now that you didn’t see before?

Learn More

Find out more about dealing with untrustworthy people in Chapter 25 of The Trusted Ad­­­visor Fieldbook (or its eBook excerpt).

“Be the change …”

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Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).