Trust is a sacred thing. You offer it to people in business and in life on the condition that they’re worthy of it. Unfortunately, not everyone you’ll meet as an entrepreneur can meet that condition. It’s unpleasant, but it’s important to recognize the people out there who don’t have your best interests at heart.
Occasionally, you’ll come across someone who actively wants to take advantage of you, to rob you for their own gain. In my experience, though, these people are rare. The untrustworthy are almost never mustache-twirling villains. Sometimes, a person has simply acquired some bad habits that, intentionally or not, inevitably damage anyone unwary enough to trust them.
By identifying these habits, you can arm yourself with a fairly accurate idea of who the untrustworthy are. It’s not about judgment or labeling anyone; it’s about your responsibility as an entrepreneur to protect your business. Fortunately, that’s as easy as avoiding those who display certain tendencies:
We all feel the urge to complain. That’s why society provides bartenders, therapists and spouses. But when someone in the business world has a habit of venting their frustrations about colleagues, employers, or customers to others in their professional network, they’ve crossed a line.
Even when the complaints are justified, it’s simply unprofessional- too unprofessional- to air dirty laundry. There’s always something to complain about; sometimes people clash, sometimes people make mistakes. It’s how you handle those clashes and mistakes that defines a professional, and blabbing about them to every ear within range is unproductive to say the least.
No matter what happens, the chronic complainer will never be pleased enough not to complain. It’s become their default reaction to the realities of business. If you choose to work with them, odds are that soon enough, you will become the subject of their next monologue.
Of course, if you find yourself being complained to, begin evasive maneuvers. Even listening sympathetically could be taken as agreement, so politely decline the conversation- possibly by recommending a good bartender.
2. Secret whisperers
Some people can’t keep a secret. Unfortunately, those very people are often the ones who seek them out, simply for the pathological satisfaction they gain from sharing them in hushed, excited tones.
There’s a reason the world’s great religions all have some rule or another against gossip: it’s destructive. The secret whisperer feels that there is something to be gained or leveraged by the sharing of information that can damage other business people, or simply can’t devise a better way to develop bonds and connections. This person is to be avoided.
Fortunately, they’re easy to identify. If someone regularly begins conversations with a subtle leaning in and lowering of the voice, and uses phrases like “Between us” and “You didn’t hear this from me,” you’ve got a secret whisperer on your hands. It’s best, if possible, to cut them off before the secret is shared. Nothing you can gain from knowing it is worth setting foot on that slippery slope.
Needless to say, this is not someone in whom you should ever confide. Before you trust someone with sensitive information, be sure they don’t have a track record of sharing it.
3. Mean Girls (and Guys)
You can learn a great deal about someone’s character as a business person simply by observing their interactions. Do they berate employees? Belittle others? Stiff waiters? Park in handicapped spaces? Emphatically insist on wearing pink on Wednesdays? These things matter, and they reflect on the way a person does business.
This applies no matter how successful they are. General unkindness is a sign that the success they’ve come by may not have come honestly, in which case it isn’t going to last. Or, it’s a sign that they’re not dealing with the stress of business in a healthy way, which will also threaten their long-term viability. Either way, this person isn’t someone to get into bed with.
Even if they’re kind to you, it’s not likely to last. True kindness is consistent and applies to everyone. It’s also a sign of confidence, professionalism, and the kind of level-headedness that makes someone worthy of your trust.
4. Big Promisers
Big promisers are the people who don’t necessarily have a deceitful agenda, but are generally far too quick to promise things they can’t possibly deliver. Their answer is always and immediately “yes.” They make commitments- too many of them, often conflicting. They claim abilities they don’t have. They blow smoke, and not just from their e-cigs.
This brand of the untrustworthy is either overcompensating for a lack of actual ability, or genuinely overestimating themselves. Neither is a sign of competence in business. If someone promises you the moon, politely insist that they leave it in the sky.
Nobody’s perfect. Each of these habits have to be exactly that- habits- before the person in question can be diagnosed as untrustworthy. If someone unintentionally lets a secret slip, or thoughtlessly complains about a colleague in sheer frustration, that doesn’t make them untrustworthy. It makes them human.
However, when someone makes a consistent practice out of these things, they’ve committed themselves to a path you’d rather not share. In business as in life, toxic relationships will put a serious drag on your progress towards the goals you deserve to reach. You have no obligation to be hindered by anyone who doesn’t respect their fellow business people enough to be trustworthy.
The world of independent business is a community. Communities are made of people who need to be able to trust each other. When deciding who to trust, choose wisely, for everyone’s sake.