Reliability: An Action That Truly DOES Speak Louder Than Words

In pondering the Trust Equation, one discovers that words are indispensable for building workplace trust. Words can make the difference between inclusion and exclusion on the part of the listener, and can define the credibility of the speaker. Also crucial to communication are one’s actions, especially since at a subconscious level, we believe what we see over what we hear. Body language is a fundamental example of action. If you are saying the word “Yes” while closing yourself off with crossed arms, your body is sending a clear message of “No” (Watch this fascinating video to understand how this is deeply embedded at its root.)

When applying the virtues of action to the workplace, reliability rises to the surface as a vital attribute for one to possess. But when you think more broadly about the word “reliable”, you may notice that it can convey both a positive and a negative connotation. Some folks can be reliable as in they always deliver as promised, while others can be reliably late or be relied upon for their narrow-mindedness. In this way, reliability becomes inextricably linked to reputation. Because after all, actions DO speak louder than words. Let’s explore this from multiple angles by assessing the reliability of others, while considering ways to improve our own.

Where Intent Becomes Impact

It’s been established that trust is a key component to social functionality in the workplace. To be of reciprocal support to a colleague or a network contact, you both need to first understand the other person, and then to follow through and deliver the goods! For example, when I connect two people in my network, I am gratified when the connection “sparks”. This is accomplished during meetings with these key network contacts, wherein we can catch up and I can learn about their challenges and successes. As I recap afterward, I assess how I can further provide value for them. If my intention is to provide an introduction, or send them information and I don’t execute, I fall into the category of ‘unreliable’. The mission for you in a similar scenario is to avoid being “all talk, no action”….you know the type. To stay on this path, just remember: Intent is in your words, but impact is in your actions. Once you create a reputation for reliability, that reputation proceeds you.


It’s a show of respect to your colleagues and clients when you act on your words and promises. It’s also a reflection of your values, which tie in directly to the trust equation. To avoid openly jeopardizing these values, you’ll need to consistently walk your talk. Common mistakes like uttering “Believe me when I tell you…” and then doing the opposite, or promising “Oh, I’m going to put you in touch with my associate Judith” and then never following through, are classic trust annihilators.

And your deliberate actions can’t stop there. Patterns of action are also necessary to communicate that you’re sensitive to the individual’s bigger picture. Think of the way in which you, as a manager, assign your project work. Do you always give your employees a task at the last minute, rendering you reliably late? Or do you roll out your projects with ample lead time, giving your employees the opportunity to do a good job? Do you take the “we’ll talk about it later” approach and reveal your assignments incrementally, hiding from your workers the big picture? Or is the scope of your projects laid out with perspective? Depending upon how respectful your methodology is, you can either lend to or subtract from your reliability in the eyes of your staff. Remember: Your patterns are evident.

Reality Check

It’s fairly simple to remain aware of your own fundamental reliability habits (Do you speak inclusively? Do you do as you say?) But if no one is actively holding up a mirror to you, it’s easy to remain blind to your level of reliability in finer detail. If you contemplate the following questions, it just might be revealed to you where some changes are in order:

-Is there a push or a pull culture in your workplace? Push is when you just give assignments, and pull is when you ask your team members to think on their own. Remember, when it’s all push, your team’s creativity is smothered.

 -Do you deliver the resources and answers that your colleagues depend on you for in good time, or are folks always chasing you for what you owe them?

 -How is feedback given? Do you say things to your colleagues that are critical of a direct report, but then remain stingy with your feedback and tough coaching for the report in question?

How did you fare in this self-examination? Are you naturally trustworthy, or are you in need of a reliability reboot? As you consider some of the changes that you’re willing to make, I’ll be preparing the next chapter in our exploration on workplace communications: Intimacy.