The Blind Men and the Elephant of Trust

The Elephant of TrustIn my last post I wrote about the silos that exist between and within business and academia when it comes to trust. There are few subjects outside philosophy for which the question of subject matter definition is so important as it is in the case of trust.

Like the tale of the blind men and the elephant, each party sees an important part of the subject of trust – but then is inclined to view the rest of the world in those terms. As the saying goes, if you have a hammer, the world looks like nails.

So this is my attempt to define the differing perspectives on trust, looking across the fields of business and academia. I welcome your additions or comments.

I identify four important views of trust, and I’ll label them by the best-known holders of those viewpoints. They are distinguished mainly by differing focus on the trustor, the trustee, and the resultant trust, as well as by individual, social or institutional trust.

The Psychologists’ View

The psychologist’s view focuses on the perception of an individual person facing the decision to trust. In the words of Mayer, Davis and Schoorman in an oft-cited 1995 article, trust is:

the willingness of a party to be vulnerable to the actions of another party based on the expectation that the other will perform a particular action important to the trustor, irrespective of the ability to monitor or control that other party.

This is a model built around an individual trustor, not a trustee, and in particular about the trustor’s assessment of the trustee’s competence, integrity and benevolence. It’s my impression that this model is typically portrayed in a rational, self-good-maximizing context, comfortable to behavioral economists, for example.

If you search Twitter streams – the democratic way of market research – this is also the most common use of the word ‘trust.’ The twittersphere is full of “don’t trust women, they break your heart,” or “when people lie to me I can’t trust them.” (Though note: twitter users are a whole lot more affective or emotional than the usual behavioral model allows for).

An interesting application of this trustor-centric viewpoint beyond the individual to the corporate perspective is Bob Hurley’s The Decision to Trust, where he deals with group decision-making and cultural factors that affect trusting behavior in the company.

The Political Scientists’ View

Political scientists like Uslaner or Fukuyama also focus on the trustor’s viewpoint, but focus on groups of trustors (e.g. nations, or cultures), and on their willingness to trust generally, e.g. their inclination or propensity to trust strangers. It is from this viewpoint that we read about the greater levels of trust in the Scandinavian countries, or the lower levels of trust in southern Italy or in Wall Street trading firms.

Uslaner calls this generalized trust, something measured in the General Social Survey for decades; it changes slowly, unlike trust in specific people or institutions.

The Corporate Virtues and Values View

Where psychologists focus on the trustor’s decision to trust (a verb), business tends to focus on the trustee’s trustworthiness (a noun). At an individual level, that might be called virtues; at a group level, values.

In my own model, co-developed first in The Trusted Advisor, the Trust Equation is the expression of the the individual virtues of trustworthiness – credibility, reliability, intimacy, and other-orientation. At an organizational level, the Trust Principles are the articulation of group values in my own construct.

A recent example of this viewpoint is PwC Chairman Dennis Nally’s article The Trust Agenda. It focuses on creating value through values, and on creating greater trustworthiness from within; and not much at all on the issues of trusting.

The focus on virtues and values is an obvious one for business, which for the most part is more concerned about being trusted than trusting. Of course, being trustworthy alone isn’t sufficient to make trust happen – you need a trustor. Business in general focuses on the trustor role mainly through the eyes of the trustee, just as psychology tends to view the trustee largely through the eyes of the trustor.

Business and academics alike have trouble defining institutional trust; it makes a little bit of sense to say we trust Citibank (or not), but very little sense to say that Citibank trusts us. Both trusting and being trustworthy are largely individual traits.

The business focus on the trustee therefore makes “a trustworthy organization” at least conceivable, whereas the academics’ focus on the trustor makes “a trusting organization” problematic. The answer, I suggest, is to frame trust issues at the organizational level as being about creating trust-enhancing environments – not just about trustworthiness, and certainly not about abstract entities committing human acts of trusting.

There is one important attempt to rigorously identify objective characteristics of trustworthiness at a corporate level; it is the FACTS model of Trust Across America. It is the most data-based proof I know of the corporate-wide profitability of trustworthy behavior.

The State of Trust View

What happens when you measure the result of the interaction between trustor and trustee? You get something like the Edelman Trust Barometer, which is known for drawing conclusions like “trust in banking is down.”

This is a survey approach to trust. It doesn’t try to distinguish lower trustworthiness in bankers from lower propensity to trust by consumers, but instead precisely tracks the net result of that interaction.

Numbers in the State of Trust view are constantly changing (unlike in the political scientists’ view), because the object of trust is very specific (an industry, a government sector), and there is an implied specific action. Asking “do you trust Amazon” presumes a very specific object of that trust – typically to buy books or to guard data. It doesn’t occur to us to trust Amazon with our babysitting.

By contrast, numbers in the political science view change slowly because, as Uslaner puts it, if I punch you in the face, your trust in me may decline, but your trust in the human race is pretty much unaffected.

The Role of Risk

There can be no trust without risk, Ronald Reagan’s “trust but verify” statement notwithstanding. Risk is implicit in the Corporate Virtues and Values view, and explicit in the other three.

In the corporate realm, partly because of the focus on being trusted, companies have confused risk eradication with increasing trust. There is a vicious paradox of trust – the more either party tries to control risk, the less trust results. Companies who think they are increasing trust by risk mitigation and compliance programs are doing just the opposite – they are eroding trust.

The challenge for business –recognize the role of trusting, both within the organization and outside it.

In the academic realm, partly because of the focus on trusting, it’s difficult to account for the boomerang effect of greater trustworthiness that results from being trusted. People have a way of confounding rational-choice models when it comes to trust.

The challenge for academia – recognize the roles of virtues and values in their own terms, not just through the eyes of the risk-taking trustor.

What business can learn from academia: a structured, disciplined approach to studying issues of trust.

What academia can learn from business: a wealth of real-world data to be studied and understood.

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So there you have it – my attempt to describe several of the blind men feeling the elephant of trust.

What’s your take on it?

Trust in Nebraska

Trust in NebraskaI’m back from a four-day Conference on Institutional Trust at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, where I was one of only two non-academics (the other a most talented Federal judge from Maryland). A few headlines.

First, our hosts – the University of Nebraska’s Psychology Department and its Center for Public Policy – could not possibly have been more gracious and hospitable. Since my parents and grandparents all hail from Nebraska, this was no surprise to me, but still gratifying.

Second, the four days were very enlightening – though not quite in the ways I had expected. This is the first of a two-part series (second part here) where I try to explain what I learned by playing missionary from the Land of Business to the Land of Academia.

Silo City

It was no surprise to me that there’s a huge gap between the business world and academia when it comes to trust. What I didn’t expect was to find silos even within academia. Allow me to explain.

The conference was hosted mainly by the psychology profession, though there were a few business school academics and even a few political scientists in attendance.

The leading model in the psychologists’ view of the world is one produced by David Schoorman of Purdue’s Krannert School, in 1995. I have to confess I had not heard of it, or of him, though the model feels very familiar (competence, integrity, benevolence). Schoorman was in attendance.

Also present was an academic much better known to me, political scientist Eric Uslaner. Uslaner wrote The Moral Foundations of Trust – a masterful and powerful book. It was a delight to finally meet him in person.

One academic not in attendance but whom I’d have loved to meet was Francis Fukuyama, also a political scientist, from Stanford. While better known for his book The End of History, he also wrote a powerful volume called Trust: Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity. Not only is it a brilliant book, but as of today, it still ranks number 216,239 on Amazon.

Let me put that in context: that book was by an academic, written in 1996, and that current sales ranking is competing with Harry Potter, Thomas Piketty’s Capital, and Game of Thrones. Not bad. (By comparison, 2006’s Freakonomics currently clocks in at #143,189).

So, about those silos. I’ve already admitted I had not heard of Schoorman. To my shock, neither had Uslaner. In fact, Uslaner suggested he knew only about 5% of the 100 or so people in attendance. As nearly as I can tell, they returned the favor. All this despite all of them toiling in the nominally same trust vineyard.

It gets better. I asked a panel of 8 for their views on Fukuyama, and it seemed that only 1 person was willing to comment (I’m guessing, though can’t prove it, they were not aware of his work). And yet they are all academics.

It goes without saying they hadn’t heard of me before (though I will say for the record: as of 9:59PM on 12 May, 2013, The Trusted Advisor ranks number 8,286 on Amazon – despite being published back in 2001.)

OK, so that’s not so surprising. But I also got blank stares whenever I mentioned Steven M.R. Covey’s Speed of Trust – #1,306 on Amazon, outranking all the rest of us. Ditto the Edelman Trust Barometer survey, which gets presented each year at Davos.

Now, the point is not to dump on academics – after all, I’m sure that in any room of 100 businesspeople you’d probably not even find one person who was aware of any of the above-mentioned academics, whereas there were two or three in Lincoln who were aware of some of the business literature. (By the way, props to the academics for being  more rigorous in their discussion of trust than business people, albeit narrower in focus).

The point is, whether you’re talking within business, within academia, or across the chasm dividing the two, you find a general lack of awareness about what else is being done in the field. Add this to the definitional issues surrounding trust, and you get a pretty disconnected approach to trust in the world.

Six Blind Men and the Elephant

But what’s really interesting  is not that the silos exist – it’s the differences between the silos that are fascinating. It turns out that the way the psychologists think about trust is skewed differently from the way Edelman PR thinks about trust. And that in turn is different from the political scientists, who in turn see things differently from groups like Trust Across America.

And that’ll be the subject of my next post, The Blind Men and the Elephant of Trust, an attempt to very broadly scope out the differing perspectives on trust.

Do You Trust Yourself? Should You?

Scared lady iStock_000019585748XSmall copyIt’s a compelling headline: Stop Trusting Yourself.  By Northeastern University psychologist David DeSteno, it’s featured in today’s NYTimes, and ostensibly shows that we mistakenly trust ourselves – that if anything, we mis-estimate our own trustworthiness more than that of others.

Compelling indeed; but like sugar water, the headline high is brief. The problem is not bad psychology – it’s bad meta-psychology.  The studies he cites merely describe a part of the puzzle of self-trust, and not necessarily the biggest part at at that.

This is not the first time that “hard” scientists have gushed over “findings” that amount to little more than semantic confusion. The worst offenders are the neuroscientists, who constantly mistake chemical descriptions for higher forms of “explanation.”  But this one doesn’t require much knowledge of science.

Trusting Yourself

First, props to Mr. DeSteno for correctly noting something many trust students miss – that trust is an asynchronous relationship between two parties. Trusting “yourself” makes no sense unless we can posit two identities within the self, one of which can be said to trust the other. (This is similar to the issue of consciousness in philosophy).  DeSteno quite rightly recognizes the need to define those two selves.

The problem is, he picks one definition and one alone – the “present you” and the “future you.”  The rest of his article cites studies about how the “present you” constantly mis-estimates the future you. He cites two “cognitive glitches” to describe this, both of which deal with present and future states.

Well and good. This all makes perfect sense – except that time is only one way to posit the “two-you’s” necessary to make sense of self-trust.  Here are three more. I suspect a bit more thought by the reader would yield more still.

1. Trust Your Skills. As in How to Trust Yourself Over Every Golf Shot,  where the author offers the definition, “Trust is the ability to suspend one’s judgment about one’s performance (swing).”

Here the two selves are the cognitive, self-observing self, and the instinctual, acting self. Anyone who plays golf, or any sport (or engages in sex as a male) knows the debilitating effects in the here and now of over-thinking things.  The same is true for leadership, acting, storytelling, public speaking, and any number of other human endeavors.

Proof that this is an even more common meaning of “self-trust” than DeSteno’s now-future me?  Consider the ubiquity and instantly understood Nike slogan, “Just Do It.”

Note that, in these important realms of life, “trust yourself” has nothing to do with time.

Note also that the advice from this definition of self-trust is to “trust yourself” – exactly the opposite of the “don’t trust yourself” advice that DeSteno posits from his time-based example of self-trust.

2. Trust Your Identity.  Clinical psychologist, therapist and author David Schnarch incisively describes the self-trust that comes with what he calls differentiation:

Differentiation is basically the ability to balance humankind’s two most fundamental drives. One is our urge to be connected with other people, and the other is the urge to be free and autonomous and direct the course of our life. So both wanting to be in a relationship and wanting to be our own person are the two most fundamental drives and the two fundamental problems that couples have in emotionally committed relationships.

[we have developed] a theorem that helps clients and therapists stay on track, and earns credibility with people who trust no one: Only the best in us talks about the worst in us, because the worst in us lies about its own existence. 

The inability to trust oneself leads us to fear others; the inability to trust others leads us to over-rely on our selves. Here the two selves are my self-reliant self, and my other-engaging self.

Proof that this too is an even more common meaning of “self-trust” than DeSteno’s now-future me? Try Googling “I trust myself to” and you’ll get first page hits like this:

When I trust myself to love & take care of myself, it’s easier to trust others because they can’t harm my inner well-being.

And once again – the best advice from this meaning of self-trust is not to distrust yourself, but the opposite – to trust yourself.

3. Mastery over life.  In Trusting Yourself, Barbara O’Brien talks about the Buddhist perspective on trusting oneself to stop worrying.  The key to trusting oneself is to let go of the chokehold of expectation.

The vibration of trusting/having confidence in your ability to create enjoyable experiences for yourself and what is in line with your highest good. A very good frequency for anyone who is stuck in victim mentality.

Again, this is on the first page of results from Googling “Trust Yourself.”

From the Twelve Step literature comes a similar concept, reflected in the witticism, “An expectation is a pre-meditated resentment.” Detachment from outcome is the key to living in the present, which in turn is the key to living over time.

If you think Buddhism is too esoteric, then let’s go to Harvard Business School.  Also on the first page of search on “trust yourself” is an article from the business mainstream HBR Blog Network, How to Teach Yourself to Trust Yourself. In it, author Peter Bregman suggests:

There is a simple remedy to the insecurity of being ourselves: stop asking.  Instead, take the time, and the quiet, to decide what you think. That is how we find the part of ourselves we gave up. That is how we become powerful, clever, creative, and insightful. That is how we gain our sight.

Again: a very common piece of human reality. Also, not dependent on time. And, yet another piece that admonishes us to trust ourselves, not to not-trust ourselves.

Science and Philosophy
To make a gross over-generalization – we have come, in recent years, to err on the side of methodology, data, behavioralism, and metrics.  That has come at the cost of clear problem definition and common sense. This is most noticeable in the softer social sciences, but it shows up even in economics. And it most certainly shows up in social sciences with the trappings of “hard” science – like studies in behavioral psychology.

No branch  of science – not even physics – is immune from the need to properly define questions. Newtonian physics wasn’t wrong; it was just answering one particular set of questions, not all questions.

If you want to examine a social phenomenon – like, say, self-trust – the right place to begin is not with empirical studies, but with doing exhaustive search engine work (the modern version of anthropological field research). How do real human beings, operating in the real world, think about an issue?

In logic, a false premise renders all conclusions logically true. In science, a bad problem definition can support any conclusion whatsoever. In our haste to use all the tools of modern analysis, we have allowed sloppy problem definition. (I won’t go so far as to say we need more philosophers in science. Oops I just did.)

Professor DeSteno is almost certainly not wrong. But that’s not the key question.  The key question is – what problem was he solving?

He says he’s solving the problem of self-trust. I say he’s solving the problem of one aspect of self-trust – an aspect that is not likely to be more ubiquitous or relevant than other aspects, and which notably has a different answer than the other aspects.

Caveat reader.

8 Ways to Make People Believe What You Tell Them

Get Straight to the TruthCredibility is one piece of the bedrock of trust. If people doubt what you say, all else is called into doubt, including competence and good intentions. If others don’t believe what you tell them, they won’t take your advice, they won’t buy from you, they won’t speak well of you, they won’t refer you on to others, and they will generally make it harder for you to deal with them.

Being believed is pretty important stuff. The most obvious way to be believed, most people would say, is to be right about what you’re saying. Unfortunately, being right and a dollar will get you a  cup of coffee.  First, people have to be willing to hear you. And no one likes a wise guy show-off – if all you’ve got is a right answer, you’ve not got much.

While each of these may sound simple, there are eight distinct things you can do to improve the odds that people believe what you say.  Are you firing on all eight cylinders?

1. Tell the truth. This is the obvious first point, of course – but it’s amazing how the concept gets watered down. For starters, telling the truth is not the same as just not lying. It requires saying something; you can’t tell the truth if you don’t speak it.

2. Tell the whole truth. Don’t be cutesie and technical. Don’t allow people to draw erroneous conclusions based on what you left out. By telling the whole truth, you show people that you have nothing to hide. (Most politicians continually flunk this point).

3. Don’t over-context the truth. The most believable way to say something is to be direct about it. Don’t muddy the issue with adjectives, excuses, mitigating circumstances, your preferred spin, and the like. We believe people who state the facts, and let us uncover the context for ourselves.

4. Freely confess ignorance. If someone asks you a question you don’t know the answer to, say, “I don’t know.” It’s one of the most credible things you can say. After all, technical knowledge can always be looked up; personal courage and integrity are in far shorter supply.

5. First, listen. Nothing makes people pay attention to you more than your having paid attention to them first. They will also be more generous in their interpretation of what you say, because you have shown them the grace and respect of carefully listening to them first. Reciprocity is big with human beings.

6. It’s not the words, it’s the intent. You could say, in a monotone voice, “I really care about the work you folks are doing here.” And you would be doubted. Or, you could listen, animatedly, leaning in, raising your eyebrows and bestowing the gift of your attention, saying nothing more than, “wow.” And people would believe that you care.

7. Use commonsense anchors. Most of us in business rely on cognitive tools: data, deductive logic, and references. They are not nearly as persuasive as we think. Focus instead more on metaphors, analogies, shared experiences, stories, song lyrics, movies, famous quotations. People are more inclined to believe something if it’s familiar, if it fits, or makes sense, within their world view.

8. Use the language of the other person. If they say “customer,” don’t you say “client.” And vice versa. If they don’t swear, don’t you dare. If they speak quietly one on one, adopt their style. That way, when you say something, they will not be distracted by your out-of-ordinary approach, and they will intuitively respect that you hear and understand them.

What’s not on this list?  Several things, actually. Deductive logic. Powerpoint. Cool graphics. Spreadsheet backup. Testimonials and references. Qualifications and credentials.

It’s not that these factors aren’t important; they are. But they are frequently used as blunt instruments to qualify or reject. We’d all prefer to be rejected or disbelieved “for cause,” rather than for some feeling. And so we come up with rational reasons for saying no, and justifying yes.  But the decision itself to believe you is far more likely driven by the more emotive factors listed above.

 

 

When Being Trustworthy Isn’t Enough to be Trusted

In sales, you sometimes hear, “They were pursuing an aggressive strategy – aggressively waiting for the phone to ring.” In other words, sometimes you’ve got to take action.

Much the same is true of trust. If you want to be trusted, sometimes it’s not enough just to be trustworthy. Sometimes you’ve got to take action. But how?

Most of my work over the past 15 years has been on trustworthiness. In The Trusted Advisor and my other books, I’ve put a lot of emphasis on the Trust Equation – more properly, the “Trustworthiness Equation.” The implied (and often explicit) message is, “To be trusted, be trustworthy.”

But what about when that’s not enough?  How do you take action?

To understand what action to take, I need to differentiate between trust, trusting, and being trusted.

Trust, Trusting, and Being Trusted

In all the writing and research I see done in the field of trust, rarely do I see this critical but simple distinction being made. It seems quite obvious, when you think about it. One party trusts, the other party is trusted, and the result is trust. Simple.

And yet – most trust talk obscures the differences. See if you can guess which one is being talked about in these examples:

  1.      Trust in banking is down
  2.      Banks rank low on the trust scale
  3.      People don’t automatically trust their bank anymore.

I’d suggest that probably they mean the following:

1. “Trust in banking is down” – is about trust (e.g. the level of trust that exists between banks and their clients is less than it used to be)

2. “Banks rank low on the trust scale” – is about being trusted (e.g. banks are viewed as less trustworthy than football clubs or hospitals)

3. “People don’t automatically trust their bank anymore” – is about trusting (e.g. these days people are less inclined to trust everything, including, for example, their bank).

But since they all sound pretty much alike, unless you can read the mind of the writer, you can’t be sure. And here’s why that’s important.

The Reciprocal Relationship between Trusting and Being Trusted

The creation of trust between two parties depends on a reciprocating exchange. It begins when party A takes a small risk to trust party B – A is the trustor, the one doing the trusting. Party B is the trustee, the one who is trusted. And if party B agrees to the new relationship, the result is a higher level of trust.

Take something as simple as a handshake at a networking event. Party A goes over to party B and says, “Hi Mark, I’m Charlie – I think your work on the boson participles was great, and I just wanted to meet you (extends hand).”

If party B reciprocates (e.g. “Hi Charlie, delighted to meet you, I’ve heard about you as well, how are things? (shakes hand),” then the result is trust.

If party B does not reciprocate (e.g. B looks at A’s hand, does not extend his own, gives a tight-lipped smile and turns away), then trust is not created.

The key to trust creation is reciprocity – the trustor takes a risk, and if the trustee reciprocates, trust is created. If not, trust is not created.

Therefore: the absence of trust can be caused by:

a. too little trustworthiness on the part of the trustee, or

b. too much risk aversion on the part of the trustor.

Now here’s the key: if you want to be trusted, you have two strategies you can pursue.

  1. Increase your level of perceived trustworthiness (think trust equation), or
  2. Kick-start the reciprocity relationship by first playing the role of trustor. 

You’ve heard the second strategy before. Henry Stimson often gets credit for first saying, “The best way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him.” The same is true of making yourself more trusted – demonstrate vulnerability by offering to trust first.  The natural human reciprocal response is to return the gesture – tit for tat, good for good, bad for bad.

How often have we heard: You get out what you put in, the love you take is equal to the love you make, one good turn deserves another, whether you expect good or ill, that’s what you’ll get. They’re simple statements, but not simplistic – they’re profound.

In game theory, the simple “tit for tat” strategy is shown to beat all others. (You’ll love the link – Richard Dawkins in video with circa 1990 computers).

Using Reciprocity – Rightly 

Reciprocity is deeply wired into our psyches. You can trust it. You can use it. You can depend on it working – if, that is, you don’t abuse it.

Want your customers to trust you? Find some ways to trust them.

Want your colleagues to trust you? Find some ways to trust them.

Want your direct reports, and your report-to’s to trust you? Find some ways to trust them.

Trusting + Trusted = Trust

Trust it. It’ll work for you too.

Risk is to Trust as Vaccine is to Immunity

Should you take the risk of mentioning price early on in a sales call?  Should you be candid about your less-than-perfect qualifications for a job?  When you notice the client looking a little distracted, should you take the risk of commenting on it?

In such situations I often hear, “That’s too risky, you can’t do that – you don’t have a trust relationship yet.” Or, “Well, sure you could do that, but only when you have a long history of trust.”

That is a big misconception.

The truth is, you can’t get trust without taking risks. In fact, it is the taking of risks itself that creates trust.

The Case of the Flu Vaccination 

Let’s say there’s a flu bug going around. You’re advised to get a vaccination. But it takes time out of your day, you fear getting a very small flu-like reaction to the vaccination, and you really don’t like needles. So you procrastinate, and never do get around to taking the vaccination.

Meantime, your best friend takes the vaccine the day it comes out.

Five weeks later, you get the flu.  Your friend doesn’t.  You feel miserable; you wish you’d taken the vaccine. In retrospect, the small pain of the needle, the minor inconvenience to your schedule, and the small risk of a mild reaction were nothing – nothing, I tell you – compared to the agony of the flu.

You should have taken the small pain – the vaccination – to prevent the larger pain – the flu. And so it is with trust.

Risk, Trust, and Sins of Omission

Risk and trust work the same way.  A small risk taken early prevents much greater risk down the road. Trust only grows when one party takes a risk, and the other party responds in a trust-based way.

  • You take the risk of answering a direct question about price, even though you haven’t established your value proposition yet. As a result, your client may or may not like your price, but they’ll see you to be responsive and transparent; they’ll trust you a bit more.
  • You take the risk of being very open about a relative weakness in your qualifications for a job. As a result, your client may or may not give you the job, but they’ll note your directness and trust you a bit more.
  • You note your client is distracted, and take the risk of commenting on it. Your client may or may not be startled, but they’ll appreciate your willingness to behave in a personal manner.

A vaccination mitigates larger disease. A small up-front risk mitigates larger business risk down the line.

We might call failure to take these risks “trust sins of omission.” They are failures to take a risk; the result is a guaranteed absence of trust.  The small risk may or may not go your way, but if you avoid taking that risk, then it’s guaranteed that you’ll not get the trust (unless your client initiates it, in which case you’re depending on someone else to make your luck).

Risk and Trust

Do you find yourself constantly backing off from taking those early, small risks? The common excuses I hear are reputed professionalism, concern for propriety, and a fear that the client will be embarrassed.

And so you do nothing.  And so trust takes forever. Or a competitor comes in and creates trust by taking a small risk, and your relationship just fades away.

Don’t omit the risk. Take it. Get the vaccination. Make your own luck. Make your own trust.

Trust on the Rocks

You know those exercises where you fall back into a partner’s arms and trust that he or she will catch you?  What if that person is a family member, like a 16 year old daughter, or 18 year old son?

Do you trust them?  What if your relationship is on the rocks?  Literally!

Our family spent Thanksgiving rock climbing, outdoors, at a local quarry.   I like to think of it as complex cliff climbing; though for experts like my kids, the 50-75 foot climbs were mere child’s play.

There’s a lot to learn about trust when rock climbing.  For example, see this three part series in July, 2012 “Three Things You Need to Know about Trust” by Charlie Green.  Three distinct topics emerged:

Trust Fall? Try this!

  1. Trust is a Two-player Game
  2. Trust Requires Risk
  3. Trust is Reciprocal

As Charlie notes:  one party must do the trusting, and the other party must be trusted.  That is true in business and personal life, as well as in climbing.  And it’s risky.  All involved must trust each other in order to do well, be safe and have fun. 

Securing the Ropes 

In rock climbing, if the rope isn’t secure at the top of the cliff – well, I don’t want to go there.   So the climber must trust the one who secures the rope.  That person must be credible, one of the elements of the Trust Equation.

Climbers might be comfortable climbing on the ropes they set themselves.  I, for one, am not yet experienced enough to know what a secure top rope should even look like.  However, I do know my kids who secured the ropes.  They are careful, and take calculated risks.  They learn before they do, and they learn from people who know what they are doing.  So I simply trust that it will be done right.  And I don’t worry about it.  How often do we do that in business?  In life?

On Belay – Belay On; Climbing – Climb On

Top rope rock climbing is about more than trusting that the foundation is secure.  It’s trusting that the partner belaying (anchoring and holding the rope at the bottom) you will not let you fall.  And it’s reciprocal.  When there are only two of you, you have to belay the person who belays you.

Belay me downRemember the trust fall exercise?  Try this: imagine you are 50+ feet high on a rock wall with a 90 degree slope, and the only thing between you and a hospital bed is your 16 year-old daughter.

As I leaned back, I worried needlessly about whether the fact that I weighed a lot more than her would send her flying off the ground if I fell.  After all, she wasn’t secured to the ground.  At one point while I was descending, she wasn’t even watching – just feeling the tension on the rope and releasing it at just the right speed so I could safely descend the cliff until I reached the bottom.

I belayed for her climb next.  She didn’t worry about anything.  She tried something.  It did not work.  She fell and trusted that I would catch her.  And I did.  Several times.  Once when she dropped a little further than she would have liked, I got the “how did that happen?” look from her.  But she trusted it wouldn’t happen again.  And it did not.

By trusting her, and her trusting me, we strengthened our bond.  We knew we wouldn’t let the other get hurt, and we got to prove it a few times.  It kind of made us reliable.  This was repeated with each of my other kids as well.  Among all of us, I was the least trusting – and they knew it.

Trust Yourself Too

I had difficulty with one of the climbs – all right, all of the climbs.  But on one of them, my kids gave me sage advice.  “Just trust that you can do it.”  “It will be ok.”  “Take a risk.”  “Try it – we don’t know what will work either until we do it.”  “Commit.”  “The worst that will happen is you will fall and I will catch you.“

They had me on the last one.  And each of them was very reliable.  After all, I got home safely and could write this.

Next time, I will practice trusting even more.  Because the more I can let go of fear and just trust that it will work out, the better I will do, the more I will be able to do, and the more I will enjoy it.  And with rock climbing, with my kids, the more I trust them, the more we connect, bond, and appreciate each other.

Funny thing.  Doesn’t that apply to most everything in life and in business?

 

 

Who Do You Trust? Honesty Ratings by Career

Periodically, someone does a survey on the trustworthiness of various professions. Last month it was time for Gallup to do their annual poll of “Honesty and Ethical Standards of Professions.”

All the fun happens at the bottom of the list. The good news for politicians is that their ratings were up from last year. The bad news is that puts them in next to last place, just ahead of car salesmen.

Over the years, the ratings of engineers have gone steadily upward. Pharmacists and doctors rate near the top of the lists, as they have for years.

But heading the list of most honest and ethical professions are – nurses. As the article puts it:

[nurses] have scored at the top of all professions every year since they were first included in the list in 1999 — apart from 2001, when Gallup asked about “firefighters” on a one-time basis after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Nurses receive a 10-percentage-point higher rating than pharmacists, who in turn are five points above medical doctors.

This finding makes perfect sense if you’ve followed the findings of Trusted Advisor Associates’ Trust Quotient Assessment, outlined in the White Paper – Think More Expertise Will Make You More Trusted?  Think Again.

The Trust-Power of Intimacy

These findings are based on the four factors of the Trust Equation – credibility, reliability, intimacy, and self-orientation. Based on 12,700 people who took the assessment (since grown to over 25,000), it turned out that the most powerful of the four factors was – intimacy.

High overall trust scores were more highly correlated with high intimacy scores than with any other component. (Intimacy in this study was defined as giving others a sense of security and willingness to confide in them).

Interestingly, women scored as more trustworthy than men. And almost all of the higher ratings for women were due to women’s higher score on one of the four factors – intimacy.

Back to nursing. Ask yourself: which of the four trustworthiness factors are most associated with nursing? Intimacy comes top of mind. We are, figuratively and literally, naked before nurses, and we trust them. It makes perfect sense that nurses consistently outrank all others in most-trusted-professions surveys.

The Soft Stuff is the Hard Stuff

If you’re interested in improving trust in your organization, or in becoming more trustworthy as an individuals, the best route there lies not just through advanced degrees, track records and testimonials – it lies in increased intimacy.

Intimacy correlates with a group of what’s commonly known as “soft” attributes – emotional intelligence, listening, empathy.  Want to move the needle? Show some hard results? This is how you do it. The soft stuff turns out to be the hard stuff.

The Impact Equation: New Book by Julien Smith and Chris Brogan

Yesterday was the official publication date of Chris Brogan and Julien Smith’s new book, The Impact Equation: Are You Making Things Happen, or Just Making Noise?

They are doing some cool promotion for the book; check it out on Julien’s site.  Meanwhile, I wanted to get out the word and give readers an early quick review, since I pre-ordered it and downloaded it to read yesterday.

It’s a very good book, first of all.  I have always had a lot of admiration for Julien and Chris, ever since meeting them at the Trust Summit in New York three years ago, shortly after their best-seller Trust Agents had come out.

This book reminds me why I like them so much, and why I get so much out of them every time I interact with them.

The Structure

Chris and Julien have an obvious flair for being cutting-edge social media communicators; so much so that it’s easy to overlook that they are serious subject matter masters. The subject they bite off here is pretty aggressive – how an individual can have an impact in today’s emerging business world.

This is a non-trivial book; it’s way beyond how-to, and will provoke your thinking on many dimensions, if you let it.

The book has a big picture structure:  think of two axes with “impact” on one dimension, and “plan” or “organization” on the other.

The “Impact” part of it I think of as coming mainly from Julien: they’ve got a very clever 5-part acronym (CREATE) which deconstructs the components of Impact. They are: Contrast, Articulation, Reach, Exposure, Trust, and Echo (echo).

Expressed as an equation, it is: I = C x (R + E + A + T + E).

Using an equation is a nifty idea (think the Trust Equation); it gets you thinking about relationships, magnitudes, and interactions. Very useful stuff.

The other dimension I think of as coming more from Chris: Goals, Ideas, Platform, and Network. Chris has a knack for organizing the world in Big-Picture, but very practical and provocative ways.

Making It Work For You

Just like Chris and Julien, these axes form a powerful combination. The book shows you how to think about your Impact in each of those critical areas (Goals, Ideas, Platform, Network).  And it’s  loaded with practical advice.

But that’s jacks for openers. What I really love about Julien and Chris (and I’m hardly alone in this) is that both are about as genuine, real, and sincere as you can get. Their whole approach to doing business reflects this. Their business strategy is a human business strategy.  The point of social media is to serve people, not vice versa.

And it works.  They are prime examples of it themselves, which is yet another reason the book is a delight.

I hope they sell a ton of books, they deserve it.

 

 

 

 

 

Is Building Trust More Like Baking a Cake, or Like Being a Better Person?

If you want teach someone to bake a cake, you’d give them a recipe. First, do this; then, do this. The result is ‘cake.’

You can be pretty confident of the effectiveness of your advice. Further, if someone presents you with a cake, you can confidently infer the steps they had followed to bake it.

If you want to teach someone to become a better person, it gets a little trickier. Defining ‘better’ turns out to be the least of it.  Are there Twelve Steps to Becoming Better? Why not five? Or does it take thirty? Worse yet:

  • If someone does the steps – how likely is it they’ll become “better?”
  • If someone is better – does it mean they followed the steps to get there?

And which approach characterizes trust?

Causality and Predictability

Strictly speaking, causality can never be proven. But casually, we infer it all the time. Tell any fool who doubts the power of causality to stick his finger in a flame and see what happens.

So if someone says to you, “Explain to me how you baked that great cake,” you can give an explanation that makes a great deal of causal sense.  “The key is  to whip egg whites just right,” you might say, and “make sure you bake it just a little longer than the recipe says.”

We understand immediately that whipping egg whites causes a change in consistency, and that time-in-oven affects moistness and firmness. On top of that: if they go home and whip the egg whites and bake it just a little longer, they are very likely to get the same results you did.

But if someone says to you, “Explain to me how you became a great person,” you might say, “A lot of suffering went into that.”  Or, “I read the most amazing book.” That leaves a lot unsaid.

First, a lot of people suffer without becoming great people. Suffering causes lots of things, becoming a great person being only one of many possibilities. Most importantly, does it mean that if you suffer, you will become a great person?

Ditto for reading a book. Maybe that’s how you became great, but how does book-reading in particular cause greatness?  And if I read that book, will I become great?

Becoming a great person is probably more like learning to love, or to write a song. You have to learn to be open, to listen to others, to struggle to understand what others mean when they say something. You probably have to get in touch with your feelings, feel the feelings of others, sometimes give up control.

For a million reasons, the dysfunction of our age is applying cake-baking solutions to great-people problems, rather than the reverse.

Snake Oil, Management Gurus and Trust

A lot of advice, wisdom and selling in this world exemplifies that dysfunction.

In the training business, we have baked in (pun intended) this sort of approach, by insisting that trainers supply language like “participants will master the skills and behaviors of X so they can produce results Y at a level of Q.”

But it’s hardly unique to training. Think of most self-help books, and an extraordinary number of blogposts and magazine-rack tabloids.

Here’s a generic formula you can use, with a few examples:

[Number] [Adjective] Ways to [Verb]  [Adjective]  [Object] to [Gerund phrase]

  • Six Key Ways to Attract High Net Worth Clients to Improve your Planning Practice
  • Ten Innovative Ways to Write Powerful Copy to Maximize Your Blog Traffic
  • Five Proven Ways to Attract a Super-Sexy Date to Amp Up Your Love Life
  • Twelve Most Powerful Ways to Deliver Hi-impact Coaching to Expand Your Consulting Practice

How many books do you know that propose to identify the X most critical determinants of a successful company? Can you say Good to Great? In Search of Excellence?

Cake-Bake Great People?  Or Be Great Cake Bakers?

There’s value in both approaches. But we need to be balanced about it, and as I said above, the greater danger of our time lies in mechanist explanations.

Take trust, for example. Here are two contrasting approaches.

The cake-baking example is  a new report from Edelman, on their annual trust barometer, called What Drives Trust. It uses regression analysis on survey data to suggest 16 Trust Drivers, including “offers high quality products” and “treats employees well.”

Fair enough. Of course, few companies set out to produce low quality products or treat employees badly. But there’s value in forcing them to compare their data with others. And the list of 16 as a whole tells a story, as opposed to other lists that might have been created.

More critically, though, is how the information will be used? Will it be deployed in project management fashion, assigning someone the job of treating employees better so that trust can be improved? Or is the value more heuristic in nature, making for richer discussions? In complex cases like trust, the latter is more clear.

The second approach is characterized by this Management Innovation Exchange video by CEO John Mackey, Can You Measure Trust?  He suggests Whole Foods’ primary metric is an output – morale – rather than inputs or causes.  He argues not against measurements, but in favor of feeling, intuition, instinct. We need more of this, he suggests, rather than more cake-baking metrics.  The best tool, he suggests, is to “be able to sense and feel.”

When it comes to trust, the value of metrics lie in getting us to think, rather than to task and manage. Even then, thinking alone is not nearly enough: trust also requires a bit of heart.

So do a lot of things. Not all life is like baking a cake.