I was surprised the first time I was told that my colleagues respected me. I was working in Computer Services at Missouri State University, and I had a reputation for being a hardass. I’m the type of person who keeps his personal life separate from his work life, and when I’m at work, I tend to be focused. It didn’t help that it was a stressful job in a highly politicized environment, but my personality is such that I tend to be all business when at work, and I hold both myself and others to a very high standard.
Subsequently, I knew that some people didn’t like me much. But what I didn’t know was that, even though they didn’t like me, many did respect me, and they trusted me. They knew I wouldn’t lie to them about what I thought or what I could get done, and that if I told them something, I would stick by it. If I said I’d do something, I’d do it.
I have recently been encountering people who do the opposite: they say they’ll do something, then they don’t. And this has happened repeatedly, which I find infuriating, especially because it is then often followed by confusion from these people. They don’t seem to grasp that failing to do what they say they’ll do is a breach of trust and our business relationship.
If you have a business, it is predicated on your offering a good or service in exchange for other goods or services (often money). If you take money but don’t provide the good or service you said you would, you have failed, and you have broken the trust of your customers.
The wrong response at that point is to say, “Well, maybe you shouldn’t have given me your money.” It is also incorrect to make excuses. We have to own our mistakes and then correct them.
By doing what we say we will do, we build a reserve of trust. That reserve helps carry us through even when we fall short or things go wrong, because people will trust us to fix the problem.
My old job at the university was terrible, but I did learn a valuable lesson from it: don’t make excuses, just do better. If something went wrong, I took the blame for it, even if it wasn’t directly my fault. I was in charge, and I had been trusted to oversee the work of my staff and what happened in my facilities, so whatever went wrong was my responsibility. I had a similar responsibility to make it right. I therefore focused on learning and encouraging my staff to learn, and put my energy into continuous improvement.
Say what you’re going to do, then do it. If you fail, admit that you failed, make a plan for how you’re going to fix the problem, then implement that plan. The best way to build trust is to be transparent and honest in our interactions with other people, so be careful to not over-complicate this. You can’t worry about a political agenda, or making your way up the corporate ladder, or how much people like you. If you invest your energy in trying to be liked, chances are you won’t actually be liked in the long-run. But if you instead invest yourself in being humble, trustworthy, and reliable, good things will follow.