Behaviors to build trust—talk straight

Building trust is a process, and has to start with individual behaviors. One of the most important behaviors, built on enduring principles, is honesty in conversation, aka telling it straight.

Talk straight. Most people agree these two simple words describe one of the most important elements of building trust. Others use phrases such as straightforwardness, acting with integrity, be honest. Stephen M.R. Covey, in his 2006 book, The Speed of Trust, simply says “talk straight.”

Most of the educational and consulting work I do with Michigan State University Extension is with local and tribal government officials, so I’ll start with a question for them, then move to broader applications. In your role as a government official, what would be the advantages of being honest and straightforward in all your communications?

Stop here for a minute and think carefully about that question.  What are some of the costs when you are dishonest? Now apply the questions to other aspects of your life (this is where those not involved in government positions can ask the questions), at work, at home with family, in other organizations, and in dealings with businesses.

Sometimes it’s tough for me to take a hard look at myself and answer those questions. Besides, we often try to convince ourselves that no one else is that honest. But if that’s my excuse, then how will we ever repair the lack of trust in our society, the lack of trust in our governments? The only way it can happen is for large numbers of us to start with ourselves, and since I can’t control what you do, I can only start with me, and you can only start with you.

We didn’t get to the current level of mistrust overnight, as the result of one monumental bad act. Our sense of not trusting, of not being able to trust others, has built slowly over time, one action at a time. That’s the only way we can repair the damage, one behavior at a time, one act at a time, starting with each of us.

Covey goes on to add a few more descriptive words to “talk straight.” Things like “let people know where you stand,” “call things what they are,” “don’t spin the truth,” and “don’t distort facts.”

Covey also talks about a ripple effect, so let’s get started. Don’t let yesterday’s failure stop you from starting fresh today. We’ve spent too much time complaining about problems related to lack of trust. Let’s get started changing the culture, one behavior at a time, one expectation at a time. I’ll be back in a couple weeks to talk about another trust-building behavior.

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