Leo Babauta writes on Zen Habits on being trustable. I found the advice important enough in my relationship to reproduce th advice here in full.
I’m going to give some of the key learnings here:
- Do your best to practice keeping your word. That means when you say you’re going to do something, really commit to making that happen. Sometimes that means sacrificing some comfort to make it happen. But make it a top priority, and take it seriously.
- When you can’t keep your word, own up to it. Let them know ahead of time if you’re not able to do it. If you messed up, take responsibility and apologize, and let them know what you’ll do going forward to avoid the same mistake repeating. Do what you need to do to fix things.
- Breathe deeply and slow down. When we’re jumpy and anxious, they will feel it. When we stand solidly, breathe deeply, and go slower … they feel this as solidity and trustability. As with all of this, it’s a learning process — you’ll have moments of anxiety, but you can learn to breathe deeply even here. You’ll have moments of fidgetyness and jumpiness … but you can learn to slow down even here, with practice.
- Create structure for yourself and them. When you are committed to making certain things happen (taking care of the car, getting the groceries, paying the bills) … it will help greatly to have structure, like a schedule with reminders. When will this get taken care of? You might alter the structure, but having a structure for you and those around you helps them to know that things are in order and will be taken care of. Practice creating structure for others when it would serve them (without forcing it on them) — offer a plan, a schedule, a clear decision, an agreement.
- When they complain about something you haven’t done … listen. Hold space for their complaint, and instead of taking it personally, see if there’s some way you can help them. But listen first, and get them. Then see what you can do to make it right, to create structure so they can trust it will get done, to clean up any mess you’ve accidentally made. You don’t need to feel blame or shame, but just get them.
- Take things seriously. But not too seriously! OK, it’s good to have a sense of humor … but if you dismiss their concerns, or say, “Yeah yeah don’t worry” … they will worry. They can’t trust that you’re going to do your best. Give it your all. Hear their concerns. Make it clear that you’re going to take care of it.
- Take full responsibility. Especially when you want to blame them. Instead of pointing the finger … look at what you might have done to contribute to this, or to allow this situation to happen. Have you not been clear? Have you not created an agreement around this? Have you not been acknowledging them for how great they are? Have you not been taking care of things? When you think you shouldn’t have to take on responsibility — that’s when you can take on more.
- Take care of yourself. If you can’t take care of yourself, how can you be trusted to take care of them? This means clean up your messes, put things in order, do some basic personal hygiene, take care of your emotions, give yourself rest when you’re feeling stressed or burned out. Being trustable doesn’t mean you have to take on so much that you’re overworked.
- Always look for ways to be more trustable. Where have you dropped the ball? Is there something you could do to feel more solid to them? Where have you avoided taking on responsibility? Where have you let things lapse into a mess? This is a continual area of growth. You don’t have to be perfect, but you can continue to grow. For life.