Thursday, June 10, 2021


I'm pretty sure that most people would prefer those in their employ to be reliable. I have worked with a  few crazy creatives in my time and their unreliability was something we took into account because we wanted their genius ideas on our side. We didn't mind that they occasionally forgot to wash, their desks needed police incident tape and their punctuality for routine meetings was a thing worthy of having an office sweep. I have woken two people in my working life who were asleep near their work, surrounded by pizza boxes.

If you are unreliable you will not be missed for days. Seriously injured in a ditch will become dead in a ditch unless you are unreliable but lucky. Gosh how I love chaotic but lucky people. Also, they live longer.

I am spending more waking hours than is healthy these days pondering things that may be worth handing on. The trigger was when I was asked to do an awkward burial of ashes because 'You're a safe pair of hands'. I guess I am. I am punctual. If I am late people tend to ask if everything is OK rather than look sternly at me. Which is nice. Reliable people are late sometimes. But they have good will to be so. If I say I will do something I usually do it. I got reminded in a meeting the other day to do something that was on my list to do next. Really irritating although we may note in passing that control freaks don't trust anyone, even reliable people.

A speaker at a conference I was at said that people who use trains are usually punctual. It is true but it sounds wrong. People who use trains regularly have to get themselves to a station at a particular time or they are late. Trains are sometimes late but the person was there to catch it. We generally only hear that someone has come to an event by train if they are late and explaining. Most trains are on time. Most train users don't usually feel the need to say how they travelled.

But reliability isn't only about punctuality. As a professional writer for a few years I used to hit deadlines. Had to. I wanted the fee. Part of being reliable involved, from time to time, phoning a commissioning editor and asking if there was any flexibility in the deadline. It was usually fine because they'd built in some time for emergencies. Once or twice I encountered a strict deadline and had to stay up late finishing. Because that's what reliable people do. By the way, if you want something from a writer first thing in the morning make the deadline the previous night. We consider a deadline of Monday means Monday at 11.59 p.m. You will get it before Tuesday.

Reliable people feeling they might disappoint, warn those who are depending on them at an early stage. No-one will be cross with you if you tell them you are going down with some illness and may not make it. But give the expectant recipient an extra 24 hours to make plans. Reliable people hate letting others down. The memory of so-doing haunts us.

Once you have a reputation for unreliability it will be hard to shake off. You will feel nagged. If you are unfortunate enough to be in that position my advice would be to over-communicate yourself out of it. 

'Hi Fliss, I'm just calling to say I'm getting on with that piece of work you gave me and it will be finished in a few days.'

'Hi Fliss, just checking in to say the piece will be with you at the end of the week.'

'Hi Fliss. I've just posted it first class.'

Of course, because you're now reliable, these statements need to be true or you become real lieable. Not good.

On a much larger scale, the Japanese worked tirelessly and ceaselessly on acquiring a reputation for reliability after the expression 'Made in Japan' began to be used as shorthand for shoddy in the 1960s and 70s.

If a product becomes unreliable in the eyes of the public it may well be withdrawn for a while and returned with a different name. It's a label nobody wants.

Reliable people do what they say they will do. If they think they will be unable to do something they don't offer to do it, or negotiate the arrangements. Try 'I'll do this for you if you take that off my hands'. From time to time you can put people off by charging a lot. If they call your bluff and agree to pay it either sub it out for less or decide that for that amount of cash you'll stay up all night to finish.

Reliable people don't offer wisdom about things they know nothing about. That sort of bluffing comes back to haunt you.

Reliable people are usually busy and seem to fit a lot into a day.

The word 'reliable' doesn't crop up until the sixteenth century or so. It may come from old French and Latin with its roots in 'binding back'. That word religare also gave us religion. In the Bible it is sometimes used to translate the Greek word pistos but that word encompasses faithfulness and belief. When 2 Timothy 2:2 talks about entrusting Paul's teachings to pistois people it means those who share belief and trust in Jesus.

If you are embarking on a calling to ministry don't over-commit early doors but deliver what you say you will, well and on time.

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