Are you familiar with the phrase “Actions speak louder than words”? Yeah, most of us are. If you’re like me, I became most familiar with it as a child when I was told to clean my room. As I’ve grown up, the sentiment behind this statement has not changed, yet the impact of its meaning has taken on a whole different perspective for me. As a child it simply meant, get it done. As an adult, it suggests what a person does is a more reliable indicator of their intention, character, and overall level of trustworthiness. So I wonder, if trustworthiness is consistent with 'actions speaking louder than words', is untrustworthiness consistent with the opposite?
The "actions speak louder than words" phrase started taking on new meaning for me several years ago as I was talking to an internet specialist after moving. The company had struggled to get the internet set up and after a few weeks with no luck, I called the company's home office. Throughout my conversation, the young (sounded young anyway) gentleman told me no less than 7 times, that he was “really good” and “the best” at fixing the problem his team was having at my home. I remember cynically questioning after that conversation ‘Does repeating how good he was 7 times, somehow override his inability to actually do it?’
More recently my extended family and I were at a local restaurant. As we were seated, our waitress let us know she was supposed to be off that day, only here because they were short-staffed. We assured her we would be tolerant and non-demanding. To this, she responded by saying “Oh no worries, you’re in good hands, I’m the best waitress in the company”, which she repeated more than once. I couldn’t help but giggle to myself as I thought that would be the perfect time to test my hypothesis…”Does a person’s words speak loudest when their actions do not?” My conclusion…Yes, in my “research”, a person's words are often loudest when their actions do not support them.
Verbal reassurances mean nothing if one’s behavior fails to demonstrate it. This misalignment causes others to question one's sincerity, doubt integrity, and fail to trust. It can lead to poor or no communication between people thereby causing misunderstandings, misperceptions, and at its worst, a complete shattering of the relationship. In team settings, when actions don't match words, it can lead to drops in morale, low productivity, increased skepticism, poor collaboration, stress, and anxiety among members.
What we understand about individuals who consistently ‘speak’ about their intentions, skills, behaviors, or character is that it often correlates to a lack of confidence, poor self-image, or simple egoism as a mask for insecurity. Any one of these character flaws leads a person to seek validation from others. This can come in the form simply of gaining agreement or reassurance from another person or may come in the form of 'over-talking'; dominating conversations that limit the thoughts, perspectives, and ideas of others.
As a bridge can be built, so can one’s ability to rebuild trust, credibility, and relationships. Being intentional about projecting humility and being an authentic listener can help change that perspective. When the perspective changes, a bridge for trust is rebuilt. Being open and honest, and having intentionality about aligning your words with your actions will ensure others feel they can depend on you to do what you say or to be the person you say you are; all of which will allow others to draw new conclusions about your level of integrity.
Allowing your skills and character to be revealed through actions over words will ensure you have both a short-term and a long-term positive impact on those around you.