Ability refers to a person’s capacity for doing what they say they are going to do. To what degree does a person only promise what they are actually capable of doing? Does that person actually follow through on promises or do they say all the right things in the moment only to fail to show up later?
The answer to questions like these demonstrates how much a person has the ability to be trusted. By contrast, untrustworthy people can be charming and well-meaning, but they are unreliable in that they overpromise or lack follow-though.
Integrity means that a person has a sufficiently well-developed value system that they tend not to give offense in the first place, tend to self-correct when they do offend others, or are at least willing to generously hear and respond proactively when they are told they have been offensive.
A person with impaired integrity doesn’t tend to care that he has given offense and becomes automatically defensive if told he has been hurtful in some way. Such a person gives apologies grudgingly and rarely displays the humility necessary to learn from missteps. People who behave this way can’t be trusted because they don’t have a well-developed moral sense. They tend to do what they think they can get away with or manage to explain away and only repent under pressure — and then, only half-heartedly.
People with integrity, on the other hand, see the offenses they commit against others as a mark against their own character, and because they are committed to living out a particular set of values, they work hard to remain faithful to those principles no matter what.
Benevolence refers to the degree to which the person you want to trust has shown you that he or she is willing to work for your good, especially when it has required some sacrifice or inconvenience on his or her part.
A person who is willing to put themselves out for your sake is more worthy of your trust than someone who isn’t. People who lack benevolence could be friendly and charming on the outside, but when you need something, their selfish tendencies come out along with their catalog of excuses.
Even the most irresponsible person manages to follow through occasionally. Even the abusive person manages to say “sorry” or do something nice once in a while. It is our ability to count on a person to demonstrate ability, integrity and benevolence consistently that makes them truly trustworthy. Inconsistently demonstrating the qualities of a trustworthy person is the same as not demonstrating them at all.
Evaluating a person’s ability, integrity, benevolence and consistency versus their unreliability, defensiveness, selfishness and inconsistency enables you to have a clearer sense of how much you can trust someone, in what contexts and to what degree. It can also give you a guide for dealing with those you have a hard time trusting by helping you highlight why and what might be done to resolve those obstacles to trust.
What might be two more traits of people that we can trust?