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Be Predictable


Techniques > How to > How Can I Get People to Trust Me? > Be Predictable

Description | Example | Discussion | So what?



When you do something, act in ways that others can predict what you are going to do. Think not only about the action, but also how others will interpret that action.

Be precise in what you say. Rather than use vague language about what you are going to do, say both what you will do and what you will not do. Do not use irritatingly detail in this, but do ensure you are unambiguously clear. If you are going to change your actions for any reason, tell them (and tell them why).

A way you can ensure they know what you are going to do is to ask them what they think you are going to do. Then correct any misunderstanding.

You can be predictable without telling people what you are doing by acting consistently and following social norms. Being predictable means doing the same thing in the same way, every time. If you act unpredictably for any reason, apologize and explain why you acted this way.


I'm going to town now. I'll be back by three o'clock.

A person makes a mistake. They apologize and explain to those affected.


We all make predictions about other people, from how they will move as we walk towards them to whether they will help or betray us. If those predictions come true, then we trust them more, if only a little bit. But when our predictions about others fail, then we trust them less, sometimes significantly so.

Being unpredictable often damages trust, yet it can be very useful. When the other person has predicted that we will do something they consider as useless or harmful, they preemptively downgrade our trustworthiness. As people are naturally cautious, many do this when they do not know us well. Then when we act in helpful, caring ways, they are confused by the failure of their prediction and have to reevaluate the whole process. They may even feel a little ashamed at not trusting us and want to make amends. The result is that their trust in us goes up significantly.

Predicting the future is a useful skill, and we often have great confidence in our predictions. Yet we are not that good, especially when predicting the thoughts of others. When our predictions fail, we have to cope with being wrong. Sometimes we admit failure and seek to correct things. At other times we make excuses for ourselves and even blame others. This can lead to problems in creating trust as we become the victims of others' dysfunction. Where recrimination seems likely, it is best to tread carefully and encourage accurate prediction, for example by telling them beforehand what you will do (and maybe even why you will be doing it).

See also

Keep Your Promises, Excuses

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