Part 2 of a 7 part series on trust in the midst of uncertainty.

Read Part 1 here

Amazon Prime promises two-day delivery. 

When my package doesn’t arrive on time, how do you think I feel? 

Usually, I’m frustrated. 

When I have to pay for shipping with a company, I get annoyed. Why? Because the reliability of Amazon’s two-day delivery has retrained me to expect it. Which is NOT ok, by the way. 

Reliability in Action

In early August I purchased an ornament online for my Mom for Christmas. They said it would arrive in 14-21 days. “No problem, Christmas is months away,” I thought to myself.  At 22 days, I asked my Mom if a package had arrived for her. No, nothing had arrived. I began my inquiry to find out what was happening.

By the middle of October, I had sent more than 10 emails to the company. Their replies did not answer why the shipping status had not changed from “label created.” It was like National Lampoon’s Christmas vacation. Only in this scenario, the same email response came to each of my inquiries. And each time, my blood pressure may have raised a few numbers. 

I took the case to Paypal and received a refund. Bad news, Mom won’t have a Santa with a face mask on her Santa Christmas tree. Well, at least not from that company. Good news? I received a refund.

Who is Reliable?

So tell me, who was reliable in this scenario? 

Paypal. They investigated the case and issued a refund. What did the company I purchased the ornament from demonstrate? They were not only not trustworthy. They weren’t reliable. The 14-21 day shipping period was not only violated (I’m willing to give a whole lot of grace for COVID-19 and USPS, UPS, FedEx), their communication also proved to be unreliable.

What Reliability is NOT

Before I tell you what reliability is, let me name a few things we can confuse with reliability. Most often, it’s about not setting and communicating clear boundaries. See part 1 for help with Braving the Holidays with Boundaries.

Guilt is not reliability. When you feel guilty because you have competing demands and made a choice to do one thing over another, you’ve made a choice. You’re not unreliable or reliable. You simply made a choice. Don’t think you’re being reliable by stressing yourself out at the last minute to do something you never agreed to do.

Overextending ourselves is not reliable. At the opposite end of the spectrum of the guilt example is the person who agrees to do too many things and then stresses themselves out because of the commitments being made. This is a failure to establish clear boundaries, not reliability. See Part 1 to get clear on boundaries.

You’re not a superhero, you are a person. Be clear and be kind about what you can and cannot do. Your health, every aspect of your health, is important.

Unnamed expectations are also not about reliability. In the back of your mind, you know your in-laws expect you to stop by on Thanksgiving evening. But, no one has named that expectation. You also have not communicated what will and will not happen. Again, this isn’t about reliability. Stop the self-flagellation and guilt trip. Set the boundaries and communicate the expectations. You are an adult and can do hard things, ok?

Finally, the person who holds off making a decision to the last minute to avoid commitments is not reliable. Sure, you may end up doing what you said you would do. But, pushing decision making off simply because you don’t want to say no or make a commitment is once again a lack of boundaries. It might also put you in the category of being a jerk. 🙂 Clear is kind. Get clear on what’s ok and what’s not ok. Then, follow through.

What is Reliability? Four Questions to Ask Yourself

Reliability is about doing what you say you will do. You don’t over promise and you recognize what is reasonable given your competing priorities. 

Read that again, because it may sound simple, but there’s a lot to that definition.

1. Am I doing what I said I’d do?

Doing what you say you will do should be pretty easy to master. Either you do it or you don’t do what you say you will do. Here are a few examples:

  • I said I will take you shopping on Friday at noon and I show up at your house and we go shopping.
  • I say I won’t buy any noisy toys for your children and I don’t. Have you messed up on that one a time or two? I know I have!
  • I say I’ll help bake pies on Tuesday before Thanksgiving and we bake pies together.

2. What’s reasonable?

You know your commitments, your boundaries, and the needs and expectations of the people you love. Again, if you don’t, it’s time to establish and communicate boundaries.

Is it reasonable to have only two nights at home any given week? Probably not. Although COVID-19 may help manage what is reasonable about evening parties and engagements this year.

Is it reasonable to have all of your family for a meal with two small children? You decide and be clear about what you will and won’t do.

Is it reasonable that your vacation from work includes some rest and relaxation? You bet! Remember, being reasonable isn’t just about you. It’s about the people you love. Don’t decide what’s reasonable for them. Ask. Listen. And, together, move on to question 3.

3. What are your competing priorities?

People pleasers, you hate this question. If you just rolled your eyes or felt your stomach do summersaults, keep reading. You are not alone. This isn’t about beating yourself up and “doing all the things.” It’s about self-awareness and building trust with the people you love.

Name your competing priorities. When we get to question five, you’ll use these to name what over promising looks like. Perhaps these examples will help. But, something tells me you already know what your competing priorities are. Of

  • Limited Time v. Budgeted Financial Resources
  • Family Time v. Work Time
  • Time alone with spouse v. Time with family
  • Wanting to be home with my family and wanting to spend time with friends.
  • Having work to do and having things around the house to do
  • Wanting a peaceful Christmas and having large family gatherings over multiple days.
  • Wanting my children to experience the wonder of Christmas with family and not wanting to exchange gifts with extended family.

What would you add to the list?

As you consider your competing priorities, recognize the goal is not to eliminate the competition. The goal is to navigate the tension between these priorities and not over-promise.

4. What does over-promising look like?

Considering the competing priorities you identified above, what does over-promising look like? Again, here are a few examples:

  • Telling your family you’ll be able to spend time together during Thanksgiving when the calendar is already full.
  • Saying you can go on the trip to visit family and have presents under the tree. This is an example of financially over-promising.
  • Communicating with friends that you’ll meet them for dessert after dinner when dinner with family is bound to run long – it always does.

Over-promising is about checking in with reality. While you may want all of the above things, what is realistic. Instead of setting yourself and others up for disappointment, and chipping away at trust, get clear on these four questions. You and your loved ones will be glad you did. The clearer you can get, the more likely you will communicate with clarity and kindness. And those attributes build trust because, you guessed it, they help you live into being reliable.

Final Thoughts about Braving the Holidays with Reliablity

Last week, I shared with you that my parents and I are exchanging 3 gifts in our stockings for Christmas this year. Reliability in this scenario means each person will have 3 gifts in their stocking. I’ll let you know after Christmas who was and wasn’t reliable.

Once you have established the boundaries and communicated what is ok and what is not ok, now you have to follow through. That’s how trust is built. It’s about your reliability. 

BRAVING the holidays is about living into a new reality. And this week, it’s about living into the commitments you made to live by the boundaries you established for the holidays. 

When you do so, you’ll not only build trust, you’ll communicate to the people you love that you are trustworthy – even in the midst of uncertainty.

What will reliability look like for you this holiday season? Let me know in the comments below.