When someone breaks a business commitment, it can be heartbreaking. It can cost you money or time you can’t afford to lose. It can threaten your self-esteem and confidence. Who wouldn’t want to prevent these disappointments?
Fortunately, while you can’t control what other people do, there’s a lot you can do to prevent broken commitments. It begins with examining your relationship to trust.
Trust is the foundation of commitments
For a real commitment to be formed, there has to be trust. You trust the other person to fulfill their obligation and they, in turn, trust you to do your part.
No trust, no commitment. It seems obvious. But there’s more to trust than meets the eye.
Blind versus authentic trust
It turns out that there are two kinds of trust: blind and authentic.
Blind or naive trust is given to someone without reflection or discernment. A child trusts in this way, which is one reason why children are so vulnerable.
Authentic trust, on the other hand, is based on a conscious, deliberate assessment of the other person’s trustworthiness. And there lies the rub. If you take the time to carefully assess someone’s trustworthiness, aren’t you implying that they’re insincere?
Nope. Because trust is about more than sincerity.
The three components of authentic trust
Authentic trust depends on three separate judgments: your assessments of the other person’s sincerity, competence, and reliability. When you trust someone in the absence of one or all of these things, you’re setting yourself up for heartbreak.
It’s common to confuse sincerity with trustworthiness. But a person can be completely sincere without being reliable or competent. It’s as naive to trust someone when you don’t know if they are reliable or competent as it is when you don’t know if they are sincere.
Naivete in adults is not a human right
You’ve probably heard people say–you may have even said yourself–“Maybe I’m naive, but…”
“Maybe I’m naive, but I expect people to pay their bills.”
“Maybe I’m naive, but I expect people to remember their appointments.”
And so it goes. The implication is that you shouldn’t have to question whether people can or will fulfill their commitments. You should be able to trust that they will.
But nowhere is it written that people should be worthy of your trust. It’s up to you to make that judgment for yourself. (Ack!)
Authentic trust is a process
Authentic trust isn’t something you confer in a single moment in time. It develops from a series of commitments made and kept. Commitments that demonstrate sincerity, competence, and reliability.
As much as you might want others to be entirely responsible for their commitments, it’s up to you to assess their trustworthiness according to standards of sincerity, competence, and reliability. If you do not make these assessments before asking for or accepting a commitment, you set yourself up for heartbreak.
It can be tempting to cut corners
You might be tempted to make agreements in the absence of authentic trust because you have not figured out an alternative. However, alternatives will never show up if you keep making or accepting commitments in bad faith.
Another reason you may live with incomplete and unexamined commitments is fear of appearing judgmental. Yet you are endowed with judgment so you can be a good steward of your talents and execute your responsibilities with care. This has nothing to do with setting yourself up as better than another.
What to do to recover authentic trust
If you’re frustrated by broken commitments, here’s an exercise that can help. You can do this alone, but it is important to debrief it with a trusted friend or coach so that you have another observer to spot lurking denial.
Make a list of all the broken commitments and disappointing relationships you’ve experienced in the past ninety days. Under each item, ask and answer these questions:
1. Was this commitment stated clearly and understood by both parties? (Don’t cheat! What is obvious to you is rarely obvious to someone else. How was the commitment spelled out? Were conditions of satisfaction specified?)
2. How do you now assess the other party’s trustworthiness with regard to this commitment in terms of sincerity, competence, and credibility?
3. Are you prepared to forgive the other person if you discover that the basis for a valid commitment was missing (that is, if the commitment was not clear or if one or more of the standards of sincerity, competence, and credibility was missing)?
4. If you are not prepared to forgive this person now, are you willing to imagine yourself forgiving them in the future?
If you have a problem with making and keeping commitments to others, apply the same process to your own broken promises and damaged relationships. Instead of preparing to forgive, ask if you are willing to ask for forgiveness.
Photo by Mirko Tobias Schaefer via Flickr