The fastest way to make (or break) trust

“Let’s face it,” my wife said, “he’s never coming back. Ever.”

“He” was the electrician. He kept promising to return, but never did.

Too bad. When he first stopped by, for an estimate, I liked him immediately. Looking back, I have no idea whether he was a good electrician, a licensed one, an unlicensed one, or not really an electrician at all, just someone who enjoyed pretending.

But while at our house, he fixed the doorbell at no charge, and then advised against repairing another item on our list. I have a soft spot for repair people who tell you not to repair things.

Then he made a promise: “I’ll call you later this week,” he said, “and we’ll get this job done quickly.” At that point, I would have hired him to fix anything.

But he never called. When I called him, more promises.

You and I make promises all the time; sometimes we’re too casual about it
. Be careful—every promise is a moment of truth.

A colleague, for example, recently promised some information. “I’ll get it to you right away,” she emailed. “Hopefully tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow” sounded good, except for the “hopefully” business. Hopefully? How much hoping do you have to do?

That email was last month. No word since.

When someone tells you he or she is “hopefully” going to do something, you suspect the opposite: there’s no hope whatsoever; you’re headed straight for despair.

Meanwhile, I also hired a roofer. (Is our house falling apart?) The roofer said, “I think I can get there next Tuesday—I’ll let you know tomorrow.”


The next day, he called to confirm the appointment, as promised. Then he showed up on Tuesday, as promised. Then he did the work, as promised.

I trust this roofer. And I’m sure I’ll use him again when our entire house collapses. Is he really a roofer? Who knows. But he keeps his word. That’s no small thing.

Tip: Want to stand out? Only make promises you can keep. Then keep them.

© Copyright 2014 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.

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