Why do we tolerate "untrustworthiness"?

Yes untrustworthiness is a real word and is defined as, "the quality or state of being untrustworthy"... with untrustworthy meaning, "not able to be relied on as honest or truthful". 

Why do I bring this up? Let me tell you, and although some may think me naive, hear me out because eventually I will get to how it impacts optimizing your execution.

The other day I mentioned in passing that I had an agreement with someone and  immediately the question was, "do you have it in writing?" To that I mentioned I had a letter of intent... with shock she said, "You need a contract!" After offering some context to the situation, I then said, "I trust the person". The horror that spread over her face... it was as if I had slapped a baby*; we changed the topic.

I understand that there is process, procedure, and complicated situations where clarity of language and interpretation is needed... I get contracts; what struck me though, was the extreme insistence that a contract was needed and all would be solved**. This is not the first time I have heard this type of thing, and it is as if there is a grand untrustworthiness that surrounds us... all to be solved with a contract. 

It was not so long ago that the handshake or raising of a glass was not simply a symbolic gesture; someone may actually be trying to kill you. Maybe we are hardwired to assume that we are all simply untrustworthy and have to act accordingly, if only for survival's sake. The problem is that sustainable success in anything involves working with others, and with that comes our struggle to find trust - We need each other for our mutual success, but innately don't trust anyone... the universe sure has an interesting sense of humor. 

So maybe the response of "get a contract" is natural and ultimately the correct one... but then again, she could have said, "do you trust this person?" Our energy seems to be directed towards putting mechanisms in place to minimize "untrustworthiness", instead of maximizing trustworthiness; we insidiously re-enforce an underlying belief that unless there is some sort of document to hold a person accountable, being untrustworthy is alright. Where this is really problematic is with the small stuff, and that brings us to its impact regarding optimized execution. Let me offer an example - 

Your team needs to get a project done, on time, on budget and it has to "shine"; you have a team where you:

  • Trust that people will meet their deadlines, as you know things are usually all connected.
  • Trust that if issues arise they will be communicated quickly and accurately.
  • Trust that professionalism will trump any personal issues.
  • Trust that people will raise their hand if they need help.
  • Trust that there will be candid, open communication.
  • Trust that "confidences" will not be compromised.
  • Etc.

Knowing that the right "skills" are in place to support that trust, I would suspect you are confident that it will get done with great fanfare.

Now, if we started substituting out "trust" for "untrustworthy", how comfortable would you feel? Can you already envision the little problems growing into bigger problems, missed deadlines, apathy, and sub performance as "untrustworthy" creeps in?

It is true that trust needs to be earned, but it also needs to be promoted, supported and recognized. Building trust is a mutual endeavor and may be very situational specific, but there are pillars that you can generally count on for support:

  • Do what you say you will do.
  • Take responsibility for your actions.
  • Act with the best ethical and moral intensions.
  • Be honest (and it will hurt sometimes).
  • Offer up your experience.
  • Communicate openly.
  • Wholeheartedly support and foster trustworthiness.

There will always be a need to a good contract; I have a few of them myself. But when you look over at the person you work with every day, your teams, the entrepreneur you are looking to partner with or the person you are thinking to bring on as a partner, the foundations for mutual success will not be build on a "tightly worded contract", but TRUST in each other and the desire to get things done.

For me, trust first, then a contract; saves on legal fees in the end. Plus I guarantee your execution will be much better for it... trust me. (sorry for that)


* no babies were slapped in the making of this blog.

** I have also heard that a contract is as good as your lawyer... not sure where I heard it though.