Want To Be More Trustworthy? Master These 5 Skills

True reliability comes down to being smart, strategic, and willing to make difficult choices.

Man in business suit smiling while sitting in a conference room

Being trustworthy is never a bad thing to shoot for. There’s also no mystery in what it entails. You say what you mean. You do what you say. You return the ladder when you’re done with it. When it comes to you, people don’t have to guess.

“It’s being authentic,” says Jill A. Stoddard, licensed psychologist and author of Be Mighty. “That’s the big umbrella.”

And you might think that you meet the definition, but you also wonder if you could be a little bit more reliable, dependable, and honest. The answer? Yes, you can up your game, and sometimes it’s easy to know when. Other times, it’s less obvious. You can think you’re doing enough, but you aren’t, or you’re trying to do too much, which will merely burn you out.

The key to being more trustworthy is being smart, strategic, and willing to make difficult choices. But before you do anything for anyone else, it starts with a realization and acceptance.

1. You Need To Be Picky

You can always be a good guy by keeping a secret and giving honest feedback — that’s Trustworthy 101 — but those don’t take much time. It’s the other promise that often trips people up. I’m always there for you. You say it, and you might mean it in the moment, but then people will call you on it.

“It’s a commitment,” says Jeff Bostic, child psychiatrist for the Maryland State Department of Education. “If you say it to everybody, you’ll eventually fail.”

You need to go deep rather than wide, by selecting a small group of people, those who will appreciate and accept what you give, even when it’s tough. And even then, it still doesn’t mean you’re forever on call. You’re allowed to say, “I can’t right now,” “I don’t know,” or “I’m not that into sports.” When you’re asked something, it’s especially good to answer, “Let me check.” It protects you from over-committing but it’s also practical, because in truth, you never know all the things that have been scheduled.

But then you have get back to them and let them know either way. Rather than undermining you, all of this shows that you’re willing to be vulnerable and that you don’t just blow sunshine.

“When you say, ‘Yes,’, I know it’s a solid yes,” Stoddard says.

And to that point …

2. You Need To Pay Attention

You know the people you’re already all-in for: your spouse, best friend, sibling you actually like. But others who are in your orbit can be trickier. They seem cool, but they always bristle when they ask for the truth and then get it. You can ignore the useful data, but eventually you’ll become resentful and that kills your authenticity. When you’re deciding about being there for someone, the ultimate test is fairly simple.

“You want to be able to legitimately smile,” Bostic says.

3. You Need To Speak Up

Someone is badmouthing your friend. You believe people are entitled to their feelings so you stay quiet. That’s fine in not adding any fuel. But being there for someone means standing up for them. You don’t have to pounce. You actually don’t want to. You need to hear what’s being said to understand the context and how far-reaching any “problem” is, and then you can say, “That’s far from what I’ve found with the guy.”

Or, if confrontation makes you skittish, say, “I’m not entering into this. It’s just my policy to not talk trash.” Or, “I get uncomfortable when people get overly critical.” Whichever option you pick, you’re showing your values of what you’ll do and not do. The key thing is you say something.

“You speak a truth,” Stoddard says. “You own a truth about yourself.”

And with whatever you hear, you bring the report back to your friend. Maybe it means having a difficult conversation. Maybe it’s just so they’re not blind-sided. Either way, they know you’re working for them.

“The key thing is loyalty,” Bostic says.

4. You Need To Show Hesitation

You might love your friend, but you might not love what they’re asking of you. When that happens, talk out your hesitancy. “I can see how this is important, but I would have to lie and that would kill me. I wouldn’t be able to sleep.”

You’re showing your boundaries and that you’re not some mercenary. Research shows that people who are more guilt-prone are more trustworthy, because the process, and the potential consequences, matters to them.

“They don’t want to screw up,” Bostic says.

5. You Need To Endure

More than anything, being trustworthy means a willingness to be uncomfortable. It’s saying, “No,” and telling people what they need to hear. Like with anything you’ve never done before, you’ll be initially bad. “There’s no magic trick to learn to make it easy,” Stoddard says.

Prefacing anything with, “This is hard for me,” can help. You also remind yourself by voicing the bigger goal with, “Our relationship is important so I have to tell you …” But mostly, you get better by staying with it and realizing that struggling is a positive sign. “The more something matters, the more uncomfortable it will feel,” she says.

And realize that this isn’t a static process. People change. They become less open, more needy, so you’re always reassessing who you give time to. You can get caught up in regret and disappointment about what someone did with that time, but that has zero value, because all you ever can control is what you do and how you decide to show up.

“It doesn’t mean you were an idiot for being trustworthy,” Bostic says. “That’s a trait you want to have.”