C. S. Lewis said, "Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” One of the components of my relative trust model, one of the components of the “what you do when you interact with me” group, is Positivity, specifically NoBS. One of the examples of NoBS I gave in The Book of TRUST is when you do something “for show.” When you do things just so that other people see. This correlates well with C.S. Lewis’ quote. But, if nobody knows that you do good things, they may not know you are someone they can trust. How do we resolve this paradox?
Technology makes “Show and tell” easy.
Technology today makes it easy for many people to know what you do or say. From social media to mailing lists to chat groups, and often with “quick replies” that artificial intelligence offers you to every possible situation, the effort required to show many people what you think or do is very low.
What happens 1” outside the frame never happened.
Someone complained to me once that he was doing the right things, but nobody knows, so they think he is not. He was following CS. Lewis's definition of integrity, but he was frustrated. It reminded me of my video studio. The studio is full of cameras, tripods, lights, microphones, many wires, and a desk with computers and papers, but when you look at the video that comes out of the camera, it’s clean. You can’t see the mess in the studio because whatever happens 1” outside the frame is as if it never happened. You can do the best things, but if nobody knows about it, did you really do it? Like the philosophical dilemma: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
When you do things publicly
When you do things publicly, it typically requires less effort than doing them privately. All you have to do is type in the group chat, click on the proposed default response, and nothing more. Responding privately will require extra effort. Sending a private text message. Placing a call. It’s more. And nobody other than the person you are reaching out to will know. Typically, that person will recognize that you spent the extra effort (maybe not quite “the extra mile,” but more than the path of least resistance).
Furthermore, they will recognize that your outreach to them is genuine because you are not sharing it with others. You are not doing what you are doing “for show,” as the NoBS component of the relative trust model requires, and they will trust you more. On the other hand, the others, unaware of your private effort, will trust you less. While everyone else responds publicly, you don’t. They may consider you not to care.
It's a tradeoff.
Your decision to do things publicly vs. privately depends on the tradeoff between who you want to be more trusted by. If you want to be trusted more by one person, communicate with them privately. The fact that you are not seeking an audience for your actions (or words) and the fact that you took the extra effort to communicate with them privately (also indicating that you are more sincere) will increase their trust in you. At the same time, your actions will happen 1” “outside the frame” for everyone else, who will trust you less, as they are unaware of your actions. It’s a tradeoff that only you can make. You can’t eat the cake and keep it whole.
How about doing things with nobody knowing?
Sometimes, there is no real intention behind offering to help someone. It’s just words. You do it for show and let as many people see. Or, you go the extra step and let only the right person know. But you can also do the right thing without anyone knowing. Not even the beneficiary of your action. What would that do to your trustworthiness? If nobody knows, if your actions are 1” outside the frame for everyone, then it will not affect your trustworthiness. This is where another quote from Henry David Thoreau comes into play: “What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” Your actions would make you a better person. At some point, people will know. It will take longer, but it will be more fundamental. You will be a trustworthy person. You will sacrifice the immediate gratification of someone knowing what you’ve done, but it will be at the expense of being a more trustworthy person in the long term.
You have three options. The first is to let everyone know when you are doing something good. It will increase your trustworthiness slightly by a large group of people but less in the eyes of the beneficiary of your actions. The second is to reach out only to the beneficiary of your actions, who will trust you more, but others who don’t know what you’ve done will not. Finally, you can do things without letting anyone know. That will make you a fundamentally more trustworthy person, but this will only come out later at the expense of immediate acknowledgment.
Want to hear more? Listen to the podcast episode at: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/s11e9-trust-and-doing-the-right-thing-when-nobody-watches/id1569249060?i=1000636773237
Dr. Yoram Solomon is an expert in trust, employee engagement, teamwork, organizational culture, and leadership. He is the author of The Book of Trust, host of The Trust Show podcast, a three-time TEDx speaker, and facilitator of the Trust Habits workshop and masterclass that explains what trust is and how to build trust in organizations. He is a frequent speaker at SHRM events and a contributor to HR.com magazine.
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