The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines accountability as “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.” I found a very strong link between trust and accountability in my research. Like any trust relationship, this one, too, is reciprocal. If you behave in an accountable way, I will trust you; I will give you autonomy because I trust you not to abuse it, and you will then trust me and be even more accountable. Accountability cuts across many relationships, from personal to professional. This is the first of two episodes in which, through stories and my research and trust model, I will discuss several aspects of accountability, the link between accountability and trust, and give you 10 ways to be more accountable and trusted.
Once, I crashed one of my radio-controlled airplanes. Actually, I did it more than once… Instead of blaming the plane, the weather, the parts, or anything or anyone else, I blamed myself. If the problem was a faulty servo, I was the one who selected it, bought it, and installed it. Only when you find what you did wrong will you learn from that mistake. Your starting point must be that part of the failure is your fault. Being accountable means asking yourself what your part of the failure was. It means that you focus on learning from mistakes rather than finding who to blame for them (other than yourself). It means that you learn how to say, “I was wrong” (or the advanced version, “and you were right…”), “This was my fault,” and “it was my mistake.”
Sometimes, we feel uncomfortable telling other people what we expect from them. Then, when they don’t live up to our expectations, we are disappointed in them, and we don’t trust them. In return, they are taken aback by our disappointment and don’t trust us. Sometimes, we are uncomfortable asking questions, so we make assumptions. When we assume, we are more likely to be wrong. Being accountable means that you don’t expect things from other people without specifically sharing your expectations with them. Being accountable also means that you don’t make assumptions, and instead, you ask!
Trust is two-sided (the Eighth Law of Trust). The trust I have in you is the product of my trustability (my willingness to trust other people in general) and your trustworthiness. There is almost nothing you can do about the former and everything you can do about the latter. To build trust, you should not focus on what others must do to earn your trust, but rather on what you must do to earn theirs.
Communication starts with an idea in your head. It comes out of your mouth (sometimes a little differently than when it started in your brain). Then, due to noise, I may not hear exactly what you said, and through my cognitive abilities and biases, I may understand something different than what I heard. What ends up in my brain is different than what started in yours. Whose fault is it? Being accountable means that you take responsibility for your side of this miscommunication. You take responsibility for not explaining it well when I don’t understand, and you take responsibility for not understanding when I don’t explain it well.
We live in a highly politically-correct culture, to the point that we don’t say what we mean anymore. When that happens, we can’t hold constructive disagreements, which hurts productivity and creativity. We do that because we are afraid of hurting the other person’s feelings. Let me be clear—the opposite of political correctness is not disrespect. Being accountable means that you are respectful towards the other person and not say or do things that will intentionally and knowingly hurt their feelings, but also that you do say what you mean to them. On the other side, being accountable also means that you don’t let yourself be hurt by everything that’s being said to you, especially when it wasn’t said with the intention of hurting your feelings. Remember that when someone says something to you without the intention of hurting your feelings, the decision to take it personally and become emotional and irrational is 100% yours, with absolutely nothing to gain. Heck, even if someone says something to you with the intention of hurting your feelings, the decision to take it personally and become emotional and irrational is still 100% yours, and still with absolutely nothing to gain.
Accountable people use empathy. To be clear, when I say empathy, I don’t mean pity, sympathy, or compassion. Every story has two sides. Empathy is your ability to see things from the other person’s perspective as if you were them. It puts the burden of understanding them, where they are, and what they feel before considering what you would do or say if you were in their place. I believe that everyone is capable of seeing things from the other person’s perspective, but not everyone is willing to do so. Being accountable means that you are willing to see things from another person’s perspective.