Trust-Building Behavior #5 — Show Loyalty
In the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, Stephen Covey says, “talk about others as if they were present.” What this means is “focus on the positive rather than the negative–and if you do talk about those weaknesses, you do it in such a responsible and constructive way that you would not be ashamed to have those people you’re talking about overhear your conversation.” This is a part of what he calls the “emotional bank account.” I believe there is similarly a “trust bank account.” We make deposits when we refuse to talk about others behind their backs. We make withdrawals when we gossip or complain about someone who is not around.
In The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz, calls this being impeccable with one’s word. He says, ” The word is not just a sound or a written symbol. The word is a force; it is the power you have to express and communicate, to think, and thereby to create the events in your life….”
This practice of loyalty to the absent is primarily concerned with how we speak about others when they are not in the room. This practice builds trust on two fronts. First, we are all familiar with what occurs when we say something unflattering, or complain, about others behind their backs and that person finds out what we have said. Not only is it embarrassing, but it is also a breach of trust. You know that once this happens, that person knows this is your practice and will no longer trust you with sensitive information. And given many people do not like disclosures to be made of any kind about themselves, this could also be something that costs you this relationship.
Second, and something many people do not realize, when you talk to someone about others who are not present, the message you convey is that you will also talk about them. So you also are breaking trust with the person in front of you. Sometimes the breach of trust is more unconscious. For example, in this instance the person loses trust in you, but may not know why.
The idea is to speak about others as though they are present; always speak about others assuming they will find out what you have said.
What is the alternative to gossip? There are several. I will mention a couple and encourage you to think of some more on your own. One is, refrain from talking about others when they are not around. If there is energy for you and you realize you have something to perhaps get off your chest, you may consider journaling, or writing it down.
Another way to deal with such a situation is to talk to the person you are wanting to talk about. Often we talk about someone because we have something we want to work out but we fear addressing them directly. There is much to be gained by approaching them directly. And in particular this builds trust when you show the courage to address them directly.
Additionally, when another person wants to talk to you about someone not present, the courageous, trust-building behavior, is to refuse to be part of it. This not only maintains your own integrity and allows you to be impeccable with your own word, but encourages others to do the same.
Another aspect of this behavior is to give credit where credit is due. It builds trust in others when they discover you have given them credit. This is consistent with the practice of speaking about others as though they are in the room. A good practice is, before saying something about another person, to assume they will find out. Ask yourself how you will feel when the person discovers what you have said (which they often will!). Let that instinct guide you.
Don’t speak ill of yourself. Many people are self-deprecating when they talk about themselves. You hear yourself when you speak. It sends a message internally. As Don Miguel Ruiz says, the word is a force; it is the power to create. By the same token do not speak negatively about yourself to yourself. Try this test – what do you say when you spill the orange juice all over the floor? What do you think about yourself? Do you criticize or put yourself down? This is a huge area of improvement for most people – beginning to speak kindly about themselves to themselves and to others.
By the same token, do not allow others to put themselves down in your presence. I often stop people I have just met who say something to me like, “I am so stupid.” I tell them, “Please do not talk about yourself like that in front of me.” This builds trust with them, and leaves a strong impression that I am willing to take that stand for them.
And I take this stand for myself as well. Try it – it feels good!