Trust-Building Practice #10 – Practice Accountability
This is my favorite trust-building tip. I teach this principle to all my clients because true accountability is an empowering practice. I believe it is the key to personal freedom – freedom from being (feeling that we are) at the effect of all our circumstances, freedom from feeling we are powerless to make change, freedom from the sense that we are stuck where we are. Accountability is, quite simply, the ability to account for the choices we have made and the choices we are making. It is a simple concept that allows us to shift from pointing the finger at people and circumstances outside our control and begin to examine our choices, learn from them, and make new and more effective choices.
This is not only an effective way to build trust, but also a great way to create lasting change in your personal and professional life.
How does this behavior build trust? First, ask yourself when you break an agreement what do you typically say? Often we look for a reason outside ourselves. For example, “I didn’t finish the brief because my child was sick.” “I was late for work because I got stuck in traffic.” “My group project was not done on time because the other people in the group were late.” Some people think this builds trust because they can identify a source of fault outside themselves. The counter is true though. When you point at your circumstances or other people, you are communicating that as long as you have a good excuse, you will break your agreements.
On the other hand, when you are accountable you are communicating that you will take responsibility for your actions and learn from your mistakes and you can be counted on to make changes so you don’t repeat the same behavior.
What I am suggesting is you account for the choices you have made. That is the simple trust-building formula. Yes, there were likely a lot of external factors to your breaking your agreement. But the trust-building question is still what choices did I make? This is being accountable. Consider the accountable alternative to the above excuses:
- Victim to the circumstances: “I didn’t finish the brief because my child was sick.” Accountable: “I did not finish the brief on time. I made a series of choices to postpone its completion. Then, at the last minute I was going to complete it, but my daughter got sick and I chose to take her to the doctor. What I have learned is to do my projects earlier. Waiting to the last minute leaves me vulnerable to unexpected emergencies.”
- Victim to the circumstances: “I was late for work because I got stuck in traffic.” Accountable: “I was late for work today. What I realize is that I typically leave right at the last minute so I can arrive right on time. Usually this works; but what I am learning is this does not account for the possibility of traffic accidents. I have decided to leave 10 minutes earlier from now on.”
- Victim to the circumstances: “My group project was not done on time because the other people in the group were late.” Accountable: “Our group project is not done on time. When I look at why that is and what choices I made, I can see there were certain signs that other people on the team would not be done on time or needed extra support, and I ignored those signs, focusing instead on my own part. I can see that in order to be an effective team player it will work better in the future to pay attention to the rest of the team as well.”
Notice in each example, not only is the speaker stating his choices but is also looking at what he can learn from the mistake and making a statement of what will change in the future so the behavior is not repeated. My challenge to you – begin to use this language – “I chose to…” Stop yourself from blaming anything or anyone else. Not only will you build trust, but also you will find it much easier to make lasting change in your life.
Learn to use the language of choice when talking to yourself or examining a situation. Be honest about the decisions and the choices you made. See what you can learn if the outcome was not what you wanted. State your promise to make a different choice next time. You will build trust with yourself and effect change the next time the situation arises.