Constructive and Destructive Friends

Posted on March 10, 2009 by

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I just caught this article by Martha Beck. In it, she talks about how we decide whom to trust. She observes that it’s important to know who is trustworthy, because the people we associate with have the power to save or ruin us. Then she gives her six-question test to gauge whether the people we trust are, in fact, trustworthy. I think it’s useful, so here it is:

Here are a few obvious questions I’ve found very helpful in quantifying the trustworthiness of people in my own life. The first three are the “yes” questions; if Person X is completely trustworthy, you’ll answer yes to all three. The second three are the “no” questions — if Person X deserves your trust, the answer to all three will be negative.

The “yes” questions:

1. Does Person X usually show up on time?

2. When Person X says something is going to happen, does it usually happen?

3. When you hear Person X describing an event and then get more information about that event, does the new information usually match Person X’s description?

The “no” questions:

4. Have you ever witnessed Person X lying to someone or assuming you’ll help deceive a third person?

5. Does Person X sometimes withhold information in order to make things go more smoothly or to avoid conflict?

6. Have you ever witnessed Person X doing something (lying, cheating, being unkind) that he or she would condemn if another person did it?

These questions might seem trivial. They’re not. As the saying goes, “the way we do anything is the way we do everything.” I’m not saying we have the ultimate power or right to judge others. But if you trust someone whose behavior doesn’t pass the six screening questions above, your trust-o-meter may well be misaligned. …

By the way, if you’re now rationalizing Person X’s behavior with arguments like “But he means well” or “It’s not her fault; she had a terrible childhood,” your trust-o-meter is definitely on the fritz.

Communications coach Paul Axtell recently did a seminar here at my work. One point he repeated was, “If you want to change your kids, then change their playground and change their friends.” I was lucky enough to have good friends, and that’s worked out well for me.

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