Sociologist and thought leader, Dr. Brene Brown has developed a helpful acronym in her teaching on the Anatomy of Trust: B-R-A-V-I-N-G. When working to build trust in relationships, or repair a relationship where trust has been compromised or broken, she challenges us to go through this acronym like an inventory. Last month we looked at B is for Boundaries.

Let’s continue unpacking this together, especially in the context of growing trust within ministry teams.

R is for Reliable

adjective re·li·able \ri-ˈlī-ə-bəl\: giving the same result on successive trials

What is it?

Reliability implies repeatability. In other words, reliability is defined by the fact that the same result is reached, repeatedly. If we have a car and it runs great with no problems at all, but only on 3 random days out of the week, we would never call that a reliable vehicle, no matter how wonderful it may be on its good days, right?

Brene Brown indicates this quality of reliability is very connected to the idea of being able to expect something from someone, over and over and over again, because that’s who they are. We don’t get to check the reliability box in our character assessment until we’ve demonstrated the same result over and over. Doing the right thing one time may be a good thing… but it isn’t reliability: “Giving the same result on successive trials,” (Webster)

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What does it have to do with trust?

Reliability is almost synonymous with trust. Think of someone in your life that is always there for you. What makes that important? I can’t trust someone who is “there for me”….. but only sometimes, right? When someone tells me, “I’m there for you”, it’s only valuable if they mean, “always”.

The file in our brain:  When we meet someone, our brain opens a ‘file’ with his or her name on it. We automatically begin putting things in the file to help us determine if this person is someone we can trust and therefore open up to in vulnerability, or, if this person is someone around whom we need to be on guard. We do this without even thinking about it. So, when that person repeatedly does what he says he will do, over and over again, it goes in his ‘file’ and we come to see that person as reliable and therefore, more worthy of our trust.

Our True Self is Revealed:  Who we really are is what will show up after ‘successive trials”…. Not just once and not just now and then, but who we are consistently. People will learn what they can count on about us… whether good, or bad.

What can we do about it?

When assessing our relationships for the components of TRUST that may need attention, what can we do to build more reliability?

  • Boundaries. Ah… there’s that word again. When I set clear boundaries for myself, I am less likely to say yes to things I’m not able to follow through with. I will be more reliable.
  • Expectations. I can be intentional about what I allow people to expect from me. I can be clear about my abilities, time frames, and commitments; I will be more reliable.
  • Just do what I say I will do. I can pay attention to the details of what I have said I will do and then make sure I do it.  Even if everyone around me is casual about what they agree to do, (and casual when they don’t do it) I can chose to do what I have said I will do. I will be more reliable.
  • Take ownership when I can’t. If something unusual happens and I can’t do what I’ve said, I can make sure I take responsibility for it and let you know as soon as possible. This shows respect and builds trust. I will be more reliable.
  • I can follow through with commitments to myself. When I make a commitment to something, even if it is just for myself, I can develop reliability by staying true to my commitment. This teaches me I can trust myself and I will be more reliable.
  • Be a team player. When working on a team, I can make sure I contribute and carry my responsibility, honoring those with whom I work by not expecting more from them than they can expect from me. I will be more reliable.

Some questions to consider:

  • Do those that know me well consider me to be a reliable person?
  • Am I reliable in the way I consistently interact with co-workers?
  • In what ways can I be more reliable to myself? In what ways do I need to grow personally for me to consider myself more reliable?
  • How might it be helpful for me to slow down and be more intentional before making commitments?
  • Am I sometimes too casual in saying what I will do, or too casual to make excuses when I don’t follow through?
  • What relationships in my life would benefit if I take personal reliability more seriously?
  • What relationships in my life would benefit if the other person were to take reliability more seriously? What would a conversation about reliability with that person look like?

Reliability is a classic virtue – a component of character considered so basic we teach it to our children. Reliability takes many forms; one is demonstrated in this Aesop’s Fable below. What would it look like for me to reconsider this classic virtue today?

Two men about to journey through a forest, agreed to stand by one another in any dangers that might befall. They had not gone far before a savage Bear rushed out from a thicket and stood in their path. One of the Travellers, a light, nimble fellow, got up into a tree. The other fell flat on his face and held his breath. The Bear came up and smelled at him, and taking him for dead, went off again into the wood. The man in the tree came clown, and rejoining his companion, asked him, with a mischievous smile, what was the wonderful secret that the Bear had whispered into his ear. “Why,” replied the other sulkily, “Never trust a friend who deserts you in times of trouble.”