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Dr. Phil: How to Know When You Can Really Trust Someone
dr phil
Photo: Robert Trachtenberg
Isn't it a nice idea to be open with everyone we meet, to give people the benefit of the doubt and always assume they have only good intentions? Nice indeed—except I don't believe it for a second.

I think you have no business taking others into your confidence until you really know what they're all about. How do you get that critical information? By listening, not by talking. You can always learn something when you're listening. But as soon as your lips start moving, you're disclosing, and whenever someone knows what you're thinking or doing, there's risk involved. Now, that may sound cynical or overly cautious—but I believe you need to approach life with a strategy in mind. Consider this wisdom attributed to Cardinal Richelieu, a 17th-century French statesman (who knew a thing or two about strategy): "If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him." That guy was onto something. So was my dad, who said it a bit differently: "Never miss a good chance to shut up!"

Words are powerful, and so is knowledge. When you tell people what you're thinking or doing, you are making a decision to empower them with information—and you may be unintentionally giving them ammunition they can use to exploit you, compete with you or somehow get in your way. I once knew a guy who casually mentioned to a coworker—who he thought was also a friend—that he was applying for a job that was an incredible opportunity. Next thing he knew, that coworker had been offered the position instead. True story.

Do I think everyone is out to take advantage of you? Absolutely not. But I do believe that people need to earn your trust from the get-go. Don't just give it away freely until someone abuses it. You need to operate with a level of awareness about what you're disclosing every time you open your mouth and make sure you're not giving away information indiscriminately to people who aren't worthy of it.

I'm not saying you have to give up friendly chitchat or meaningful talks with people you know well. There are healthy reasons to converse, and there are unhealthy ones. It's your job to recognize the difference. Think about this: How often do you hear yourself talking just to fill silences? Do you ever discover that you're revealing something you never intended to share just because you're uncomfortable with a lull in the conversation? I want you to know that it's perfectly okay to be quiet. Maybe you've heard me say, "You can't take back stupid." Once those words come out, you can't retrieve them—so when in doubt, keep your cards close to your vest.

Personally, I'm always evaluating why people say what they say. Nobody does anything without a reason, so when I'm faced with a question about something that matters, I ask myself: "Why does that person want to know? Is he trying to manipulate me? Is he just being friendly? What's his true motivation?" Maybe it sounds paranoid, but I think it's just a smart, thoughtful way of engaging with the world. Before you talk about your feelings, plans, priorities, values—anything at all of substance—ask yourself: "Whom am I sharing this information with, and do they deserve it? Why are we having this conversation?" Engage your brain before you put your mouth in gear. And never miss a good chance to shut up!

Dr. Phillip C. McGraw's daily talk show is in its 12th season. He has written seven best-selling books; his latest is Life Code: The New Rules for Winning in the Real World.

More from Dr. Phil

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    Sheila Thiessen
    16 hours ago
    Your headline reads "how to know when you can really trust someone" yet your article states nothing of the sorts, it talks about shutting up rather than conversing with others. I believe we can all learn from each other, we are Messengers of sorts. Trust has been something that was completely smashed after long relations with a textbook Sociopath - Baiter / Evil 8 / Nefarious 15. I was smack dab in the middle of that emotional train wreck of a  relationship when you were promoting your "Life Code" book on Oprah while explaining your new terms/terminology. I value your advice and have been a supporter of yours for years. Can we always be aware and not be snowed? People you've known for decades and thought were trusted life long friends can turn on you, it really makes you question your own ability to make smart decisions and pick healthy friendships. Any insight as to how to trust again without shutting everyone out and shutting down? 
    Maxine Simpson
    2 days ago
    This is very true, thanks for providing this vital piece of information. I will use it @ all times. Will help to separate those who means well/those who don't.
    Carolyn Barry
    4 days ago
    This is so true for I have put my foot in my mouth many of times and regretted doing so. 
    Adenuga Folasade
    6 days ago
    Dr Phil is wright on point. I teach in a high school and since I have started my teaching job mates and senior colleagues have so dealt with me because I remain good friend and not a close one and the fact that I dare to stay that way for years none of the females ever loved me. I refuse to give them the power to hit me below belt like have watched it being done to others that trusted them. The journey some time can really be so lonely but I got through it anyway. But I will really love to see people that I can really trust without any reservation .
    7 days ago
    Dr. Phil just described my Dad
    Dillon Julius
    7 days ago
    Very true! I've always given trust with the expectation of receiving it in return. After my last relationship full of lies and manipulation, I have learned that trust is best given cautiously and slowly. Great insight, Phil.
    Laurie Verigan
    8 days ago
    Yes, that article is very true; I'm just now finding that out. Thanks Dr. Phil
    9 days ago
    You should definitely read the book "the speed of Trust" - if we all want people to earn their trust first, we end up being skeptical about anyone. Why don't we see the good intentions in people's actions instead of judging the action? I believe that everyone is a good person inside but be are not perfect so if we manage to take ourself with all the trust in the good in us we can do this with others, too. 
    Naveen Krishnan
    22 days ago
    Another good read from Dr Phil


    Dr. Phil: You Teach People How to Treat You
    Teach People How to Treat You - Dr. Phil's Advice
    Photo: Robert Trachtenberg
    Everything we do in life has a payoff. You go to work to make money. You go swimming because you enjoy it, or it helps you stay healthy. The same is true for human interactions. People don't do things independently of the outcomes. Let's say, for example, that you have a coworker who consistently takes credit for your ideas or goes out of his way to throw you under the bus. Or maybe someone is always rude to you or takes you for granted. These people behave that way because they're getting some kind of payoff from you. Otherwise, they'd stop.

    I'm not saying that you're responsible for another person's behavior. This is not about blame. But I am saying that you have power over your reactions. So if there is a person in your life who isn't treating you with the respect and consideration you deserve, you have a couple of decisions to make. Are you willing to accept accountability, and do you really want to make a change? If the answer is yes, then you should ask yourself: "What am I doing to elicit this person's behavior or to allow it to continue?" Even if you think you aren't doing a thing, your inaction is speaking for you.

    Say your bossy friend always picks the restaurant you hate. If you'd rather keep silently resenting her instead of speaking up, then don't change a thing. (By the way, there is a payoff here for you, too; maybe you don't want to put any effort into making a decision, or you enjoy feeling wronged.) But if you want to see a different result, then you need to teach her how to treat you. Why aren't you challenging her when she ignores your opinion? You're the one who is refusing to say, "Wait a minute, I'm really in the mood for someplace else." The only person you control is you—which is great news, because you're the one who has been letting her call the shots time and time again.

    The same holds true when the relationship stakes are higher. For instance, when Robin and I first got married, she was a pouter. To be fair, I wasn't as sensitive as I should have been to her preferences and beliefs—but, still, I hated it when she pouted. I would ask, "What's wrong?" and she would say, "Nothing." But the way she said it implied, "Plenty, buddy, and it's all you!" Then we'd waste a day or so being mad at each other and walking around like zombies instead of having a real conversation.

    The two of us had to teach each other how we needed to be treated. Finally, I asked myself, "How am I eliciting Robin's behavior or allowing it to continue?" The answer was that I elicited the pouting when I acted like a jerk, and I allowed it to continue when I avoided really talking to her. I said to Robin, "I can't stand it when you pout, so we've got to work together here to make a change." She said, "If you'll always take the time to hear what I have to say and really listen to me, I promise I'll stop pouting and speak up from the get-go." I taught her that I wouldn't deal with pouting, and she taught me that she needed to be taken seriously. It's a deal we made 37 years ago, and we still live by it today.

    It's time to take ownership of the role you've been playing. Even if you've spent decades in the same old negative pattern, I guarantee that once you change the payoff, the behavior will change as well. Relationships are mutually defined, and the give-and-take never stops. Truth is, we wouldn't want it any other way.

    More Advice from Dr. Phil:




      Are You Listening? How to Access Your Inner Voice
      If you're searching for answers in life (and really, who isn't?), you might not have to look any further than yourself. Author Brian Tracy shows you how to tap into your inner voice for guidance.
      Woman thinking
      Photo: Comstock/Thinkstock 
      You've heard of Murphy's Law, which says that whatever can go wrong will go wrong. Well, there's another law, which says that left to themselves, things have a tendency to go from bad to worse. When something is making you unhappy, for any reason, the situation will tend to get worse rather than better. So avoid the temptation to engage in denial, to pretend that nothing is wrong, to wish and hope and pray that, whatever it is, it will go away and you won't have to do anything. The fact is that it probably will get worse before it gets better, and you will ultimately need to face the situation and do something about it.

      There's an old saying that you can't solve a problem on the level that you meet it. This means that wrestling with a challenge is usually fruitless and frustrating. For example, if two people who are in a relationship together are constantly fighting and negotiating and looking for some way to resolve their difficulties, they're attempting to solve the problem on the wrong level. Dealing with the problem on a higher level, those people would ask the question, "In terms of being happy, is this the right relationship for us in the first place?" As soon as you begin to use happiness as your measure of rightness, you begin to see a situation entirely differently.

      Many people work very hard and experience considerable frustration trying to do a particular job. However, in terms of their own happiness, the right answer might be to do something else, or to do what they're doing in a different place, or to do it with different people—or all three.

      Start creating your dream life by asking yourself these 3 questions
      PAGE 1 of 4




        Setting up Trusts for Grandchildren
        Suze Orman
        Photo: Brian Bowen Smith
        Q: My daughter died of cancer because of a hormone I received when I was pregnant with her. I settled with the drug manufacturer and now have $100,000 for each of her two kids (both boys; one is 18, the other is 9) and also for me. How should I invest this money to get the most bang for my buck, considering the children's ages? I plan to use no more than $10,000 to buy a car for my 18-year-old grandson for transportation to and from college.

        A: No amount of money can lessen the emotional pain you and your grandsons have experienced. But you can find comfort in using the money to honor your daughter's legacy. I interpret "bang for my buck" as your desire to make choices that build financial security. Given that all of you are at different life stages, that means three separate strategies.

        Let's start with you: Do you have an eight-month emergency savings fund? If not, that should be your top priority. Next, do you have credit card debt? If so, pay it off (and vow not to run up a balance you can't pay off each month). If debt's not an issue, let's talk about retirement. If you live in a home that you plan to retire in, then paying down your mortgage is a surefire security builder. Or you can invest the money in a retirement account.

        Next, think back to conversations you and your daughter had about her dreams for the boys. How can you invest the money to realize those dreams? You didn't mention the 18-year-old's college costs, so I am guessing that is not an issue. But if the younger son needs an education fund, put a portion of his share into a 529 college savings plan. The money you invest today will grow tax-deferred, and if withdrawals are used to pay for qualified college expenses, there will be no tax liability. Given his age, you should invest the 529 money in stocks but have a plan to shift the funds to cash or money market alternatives as he nears his freshman year. You should have no more than 20 percent of the portfolio in stocks by then—more would be too risky. You can find a 529 plan with low fees at .

        I would also talk to an estate lawyer about setting up trusts for the kids. And I suggest delaying their access to the money until they turn 30—because when you are young, it's difficult to make financial decisions that build security. By that time, they should be able to appreciate how they can use the money wisely: to make a down payment on a home, to jump-start their retirement savings, or to build a financial legacy for their own kids. If you decide to go this route, invest the money in stocks. When you have time on your side—at least ten years—stocks are your best shot at earning inflation-beating gains. Set up separate accounts for each grandson at a discount brokerage firm and invest $8,000 to $10,000 per month. This technique, called dollar-cost averaging, helps you avoid the risk of buying too much at a market peak—and that can be better than investing in one lump sum. Initially put the money in a money market deposit account, and then authorize a monthly transfer into stock funds or exchange-traded funds.

        Ask Suze a question or get another answer

        Suze Orman's most recent book is her 2009 Action Plan: Keeping Your Money Safe & Sound (Spiegel & Grau).

        Please note: This is general information and is not intended to be legal advice. You should consult with your own financial advisor before making any major financial decisions, including investments or changes to your portfolio, and a qualified legal professional before executing any legal documents or taking any legal action. Harpo Productions, Inc., OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, Discovery Communications LLC and their affiliated companies and entities are not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your financial or legal decisions.




          Dr. Phil Returns with a Bone-Chilling Story
          Dr. Phil talks to Melissa Moore, a guest with a dark family secret.
          It's been seven years since Dr. Phil sat on the Oprah Show stage. In that time, he's delivered hundreds of smackdowns on The Dr. Phil Show and heard plenty of harrowing stories. But it was Melissa Moore, a guest with a dark family secret, who revealed a truth he felt compelled to share.

          Dr. Phil met Melissa in 2008 at one of his "Get Real Retreats," an intense three-day therapy session. Melissa went on the retreat, she says, to decide if she should try to have a relationship with her estranged father. During their sessions, Melissa told Dr. Phil she didn't know why she was protecting a man who had hurt her. When Dr. Phil asked what Melissa's father had done, she admitted a shocking secret: He was a serial killer.
          PAGE 1 of 10
          FROM: Dr. Phil Returns to The Oprah Show: My Father Is a Serial Killer
          Published on September 17, 2009




            Dr. Phil McGraw's All-Star Advice
            Dr. Phil McGraw
            Dr. Phil McGraw is back for another round of "getting real" with America's most burning relationship questions. Dive in to Dr. Phil's one-of-a-kind advice as only he can tell it in the full Q&A from Ask Oprah's All Stars Episode 3:

            1. I've been a bridesmaid 11 times in the past four years. Each wedding has cost around a thousand dollars. I love my friends and I can't say no, so what's the best way for me to save up?

            2. Am I really being a groomzilla?

            3. How do you deal with conflict in your family?

            4. I'm a single mother of two teenage daughters, and my boyfriend wants to sleep over. Am I sending a bad message if I do that?

            5. How do my wife and I stop bickering?

            6. I saw a woman strike her child in a store. I was horrified, but didn't stop her. Now I feel guilty. Should I have said anything?

            7. Arsenio Hall asks Dr. Phil: Do I tell my friend that I saw his wife making out with another man?

            8. Other people eventually get over the loss of their pet and they're even able to adopt a new one right away. Why can't I get over the death of Bennett?

            9. So, Phil, how do you tell people if they've got bad breath? Without getting them to hate you for the rest of your life?

            10. My 16-year-old daughter is having sex, but she made me promise not to tell her dad-slash-my husband. I don't want to betray the ounce of trust I have with my daughter, but I feel like I'm lying to my husband. What should I do?

            11. Dr. Phil, what's your action plan for all of us for the week?

            Go to first question
            PAGE 1 of 12


              1 Comment
              Kelley Jackson
              5 days ago