Posts

Trust, Honesty and Authenticity

A few years ago, Deborah Nixon posted an interesting question on LinkedIn. She asked: “Is there a difference between authenticity and honesty?”

She got about 35 answers. Here’s what I sent in:

Deborah, I’m sure you would agree the two terms cover a lot of territory in common. The trick with these definitional things is not to discover some underlying reality, because there is none; these are conceptual models that help us explain the world. They are good or bad insofar as they help us; so I’d suggest starting there. What’s the most useful way to distinguish the two?

One way might be to say that authenticity is largely passive, and honesty is largely active. When we say someone’s honest, we usually mean they tell the truth, and go out of their way to do it.

Sometimes we also mean that they don’t tell a lie – but that’s far from all the time. You often hear someone way ‘well, he was honest – he didn’t actually tell a lie.’ In such a case, ‘honesty’ just means I didn’t utter an untruth; it’s perfectly consistent with covering up all other kinds of truth. So the casual use of ‘honest’ may rule out sins of commission, but not sins of omission.

That’s why the legal language “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” is required in court; to prevent the ‘honest’ witness from conveniently leaving something out, or snow-jobbing the court with irrelevancies.

Authenticity, on the other hand, I think usually implies a lack of attempt to control another’s perception. It means letting others see us as we are, warts and all. I think it also goes one more step: it means letting everyone see us in a way that’s no different from how anyone else see us: that is, we don’t play favorites in terms of constructing alternative fictions to respective people.

At a corporate level, a company might support a claim of honesty by pointing to the truthfulness of its statements, or the lack of court cases against it. Again, ‘honesty’ conveys a sense of ‘never knowingly told an untruth.’ Whether it includes consciously allowing other people to make incorrect inferences by not telling them something – well, that’s not entirely clear.

Authenticity is a whole ‘nother level. It means not hiding out, opening the door in things that are not excluded through standard rules of privacy, letting the chips fall where they may. Further, I think it usually entails a commitment to be authentic, not just a convenient lifestyle.

Seems that of the two, we might say that authenticity is broader (i.e. it encompasses being honest, but goes beyond that to proscribe sins of omission).

On a practical level, people who strive to be honest often talk of it as a struggle: to resist temptation, to not gossip, to say things that can be embarrassing if they are true.

People who choose to be authentic have, in a way, an easier time of it.  For someone who is authentic, the daily default way of life doesn’t involve decisions or will power: the default is openness, there is no issue of control vs. transparency.

Things are what they are, and there is no threat about them.

What’s trust got to do with it?  To trust a person or a company, honesty is table stakes.  If you suspect they’re lying, trust is stopped dead in its tracks.  But even if they’re honest, that’s nothing compared to authentic.

Playing a Losing Hand to Win

Four years and 9 months ago I wrote a blogpost called An Honest Wedding. It was about the nuptials in western Michigan of a cancer patient “Jane,” and the widower of a cancer victim, “John.”

This week I was back in Michigan, to attend the inevitable bookend of that blogpost – the funeral of “Jane,” in real life my youngest sister, Priscilla. She was beautifully eulogized by the same minister who had married them.

What stood out was not the tragedy of a good woman lost before her time, but the extraordinary good she made of her life. She played a losing hand, and won.

A Losing Hand

Priscilla had multiple myeloma, a disease that normally has a life expectancy of 1-3 years. She ran it out for 17.

An RN, she had experience in both midwifery and hospice. She had the ability to serve as her own patient advocate, and she did so successfully.

Still, back in 2007, the marriage of a recently-divorced woman already living on borrowed time to a recently-bereaved-by-cancer widower seemed like a long shot bet on the romantic triumph of hope over cold reality.  With four children in play, two of whom had lost one mother already, the potential for emotional damage seemed almost unbearable.

The Honest Wedding mitigated that risk by facing it squarely and directly. But honesty alone can’t stop multiple myeloma.

Winning with a Losing Hand

Over a hundred people attended her celebration this Saturday; it opened with the Shaker hymn Simple Gifts, and closed with drums and trumpet playing When the Saints Go Marching In.

The eulogy, and a dozen people who testified, all said the same thing: she had managed to win, despite having been dealt a losing hand. The longer she lived, the more imminent her death seemed, the more she became kind, open, giving, caring, appreciative, and often joyful.

As the minister said, “She found a way to hold on to every precious moment of her life at the same time that she released her hold on it and let it go.” As her sister said, Priscilla was an old soul since childhood; she was a caretaker, sharing easily of her emotions.

She found her way, everyone agreed, through a focus on simplicity and flexibility: living in the moment by focusing on nature, caring about others, and accepting life on life’s terms. At the same time, her journey involved finding her own boundaries, trusting her own instincts. The minister again:

There are people who become bitter and angry when cancer comes and death looms. They resist help and communication about their illness. Not Priscilla. She embraced her lot in life, her destiny, and took us along on the journey with her.

Some people say it takes a village to raise a child. I think – it takes a village to live a life.

To the last days and even hours of her life, Priscilla remained this way: engaged, and in love with life and with those in her village.

That village, represented at the ceremony, included her first husband, with whom she had forged a deep friendship, all five children she had helped raise, members of all churches she had been part of, and innumerable micro-communities she had touched.

I truly don’t think Priscilla ever lost a friend she’d ever made, and she made many.

She played a losing hand and won, not just for herself, but for everyone else who had placed a side bet by being part of her life and her village.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trust Tip Video: Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Taken

We all spend an awful lot of time, money and effort trying to convince others of our attributes. We want them to see us as we imagine that we want to be seen.

We underestimate the power of doing exactly the opposite – letting people see us just as we are.

That’s what this week’s Trust Tip video is about.

For more on the general subject of authenticity and honesty, look at Trust, Honesty and Authenticity, a blogpost from two years ago.

If you like the Trust Tip Video series, and you like our occasional eBooks, why not subscribe to make sure you get both? Every 2-4 weeks we’ll send you selected high-quality content. To subscribe, click here, or go to http://bit.ly/trust-subscribe

———————————————————————————–

Many Trusted Advisor programs now offer CPE credits.  Please call Tracey DelCamp for more information at 856-981-5268–or drop us a note @ info@trustedadvisor.com.

A Tendency to Blame and an Inability to Confront

I am on vacation this week, and will be going back to the vault for some ‘oldies but goodies’ posts. I hope you enjoy them: I’ll be back in a week or so with new material.

Over a delightful lunch last week, a client said to me, “I don’t remember where I got this, but I have a saying I keep nearby in my office:

"All management problems boil down to two things: a tendency to blame, and an inability to confront."

“I know where you got it from,” I said; “you got it from me, and I got it from Phil McGee.” Credit where credit’s due, Phil.

And here’s why credit is due.

A tendency to blame. To “blame” someone means to falsely suggest that they are responsible for some negative thing. The problem starts with ‘falsely,’ and gets worse.

To lie about someone makes you a liar. It means we cannot believe what you say. It means your motives are suspect, and therefore all actions that follow from them.

And lying about someone’s responsibility isn’t just lying–it’s lying about someone. It is an indirect form of character assassination. “Blamethrowing” is an apt pun, for blaming is ferociously destructive.

Finally, it’s evasive. “It-was-him” means “it-was-not-me.” Blaming means manipulating the listener—for the blamer’s own hidden purposes.

Inability to confront. Blame goes hand in hand with an inability to confront others directly with the truth. “The truth” is very simple—it’s what happened, what someone felt, what is. It’s reality.

I mean “confront” here not in a negative sense, but in a sense of being able to speak, to another human being, that which is true. Inability to confront means inability to have an honest conversation with another about the truth.

Evasion. Insinuation. Insincerity. Implication. Avoidance. Dodging, fudging, skirting, deception, fabrication, distortion. These are accusations we level against those who cannot confront.

Yet the accused doesn’t hear them—because their inability to confront extends to themselves. “I didn’t mean to hurt,” they say—often sincerely. But partially "good" motives do not excuse wrongful actions—or inactions.

Is Phil overstating the case when he says “all management problems can be reduced” to these two? Let’s see. What about:

• Giving and receiving feedback
• Interviewing
• Delegation
• Teamwork
• Engagement
• Leadership
• Morale
• Collaboration
• Crisis management
• Persuasion
• Trustworthiness
• Problem definition
• Project management
• Relationship management

Blame and inability to confront affect each item on that list, and that list covers a multitude of management issues.

What is the opposite of a tendency to blame and an inability to confront?

Someone who speaks the truth. Who speaks it in a way that can be heard by all. Someone who accepts his own responsibility—no more, no less. Someone who simply sees things as they are. And who is willing to assign responsibility exactly where it belongs, equally whether it’s his or someone else’s.

When we can see things as they are, and confront them as such, “blame” disappears. There is simply truth, and our various roles in dealing with it. Once seen, it is easily spoken.

The trick is to see things as they are.

A Tendency to Blame and an Inability to Confront

I am on vacation this week, and will be going back to the vault for some ‘oldies but goodies’ posts.  I hope you enjoy them: I’ll be back in a week or so with new material.

Over a delightful lunch last week, a client said to me, “I don’t remember where I got this, but I have a saying I keep nearby in my office:

"All management problems boil down to two things: a tendency to blame, and an inability to confront."

“I know where you got it from,” I said; “you got it from me, and I got it from Phil McGee.” Credit where credit’s due, Phil.

And here’s why credit is due.

A tendency to blame. To “blame” someone means to falsely suggest that they are responsible for some negative thing. The problem starts with ‘falsely,’ and gets worse.

To lie about someone makes you a liar. It means we cannot believe what you say. It means your motives are suspect, and therefore all actions that follow from them.

And lying about someone’s responsibility isn’t just lying–it’s lying about someone. It is an indirect form of character assassination. “Blamethrowing” is an apt pun, for blaming is ferociously destructive.

Finally, it’s evasive. “It-was-him” means “it-was-not-me.” Blaming means manipulating the listener—for the blamer’s own hidden purposes.

Inability to confront. Blame goes hand in hand with an inability to confront others directly with the truth. “The truth” is very simple—it’s what happened, what someone felt, what is. It’s reality.

I mean “confront” here not in a negative sense, but in a sense of being able to speak, to another human being, that which is true. Inability to confront means inability to have an honest conversation with another about the truth.

Evasion. Insinuation. Insincerity. Implication. Avoidance. Dodging, fudging, skirting, deception, fabrication, distortion. These are accusations we level against those who cannot confront.

Yet the accused doesn’t hear them—because their inability to confront extends to themselves. “I didn’t mean to hurt,” they say—often sincerely. But partially "good" motives do not excuse wrongful actions—or inactions.

Is Phil overstating the case when he says “all management problems can be reduced” to these two? Let’s see. What about:

• Giving and receiving feedback
• Interviewing
• Delegation
• Teamwork
• Engagement
• Leadership
• Morale
• Collaboration
• Crisis management
• Persuasion
• Trustworthiness
• Problem definition
• Project management
• Relationship management

Blame and inability to confront affect each item on that list, and that list covers a multitude of management issues.

What is the opposite of a tendency to blame and an inability to confront?

Someone who speaks the truth. Who speaks it in a way that can be heard by all. Someone who accepts his own responsibility—no more, no less. Someone who simply sees things as they are. And who is willing to assign responsibility exactly where it belongs, equally whether it’s his or someone else’s.

When we can see things as they are, and confront them as such, “blame” disappears. There is simply truth, and our various roles in dealing with it. Once seen, it is easily spoken.

The trick is to see things as they are.

 

 

 

SubText Messaging

Recently I had a conversation with a friend. He asked me what I thought about a marketing piece he sent me the day before. After our conversation,which was tedious, we analyzed it. Here is part of the conversation we had, and the same part of the one we didn’t have:

Sam: What did you think of that piece I sent you yesterday?

Subtext: I’m looking for your big picture thoughts

Me: I liked it

Subtext: Uh. Oh. He wanted me to give him comments.

Sam: Well – what did you like about it?

Subtext: Please give me a little more – your big picture comments.

Me: I didn’t read it that carefully – I did think it looked good

Subtext: I feel really badly. He looked at something for me and gave me exactly what I asked for. I should have done more.

Me: [getting defensive] – I didn’t realize you wanted me to provide comments – I can do that. Isn’t it out already?

Subtext: I really would like to fix this – and I still feel badly – maybe he’ll give me another opportunity to make it right.

Sam: Yeah – it’s out already. Never mind.

Subtext: All I wanted was a couple of thoughts, and he’s trying to make a whole project out of it.

After another couple of minutes of this conversation that went nowhere, we stepped back and I asked what he really was asking. I asked him for the subtext. And I told him mine.

We quickly reached an understanding, and avoided further misunderstanding. He didn’t care that I hadn’t really read it. He just wanted a little more of the big picture comments.

I had felt badly that I hadn’t read it and given him deeper comments, and he didn’t even want them.

How much easier it would be if all our conversations were the subtext, rather than the text. If we were simply transparent and said what
we really meant.

When I do role plays in workshops I facilitate, I often will stop the action and ask: "What do you really want to say?" That gets to the subtext.

Instead of texting each other, maybe we should start subtexting.

Transparency and Selling

President Obama directly links transparency to economic performance.

In his inauguration address, he asserted “…those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.”

Lately transparency has been in short supply.

Offices for sale. Ponzi schemes. The former mayor of Baltimore has just been indicted on charges that she accepted illegal gifts, including gift cards intended for the poor that she allegedly used instead for a holiday shopping spree.

Whether with respect to government, or to building client relationships, transparency is at the very root of trust.

That may seem obvious. Motherhood and apple pie. But for those of us with a career background in sales, transparency requires deprogramming. We were taught:

• Never share a weakness
• Never admit a competitor strength
• Never share cost information
• Always get as much margin as you can
• Don’t share information that could decrease your ability to close a sale

Oh yeah, and be customer focused.

What goes around comes around. In the long run, the truth inevitably bubbles to the top. You can get credit for saying it—or blame for resisting it.

As Charlie Green said in a HuffingtonPost piece, “If we see someone as being transparent, then nagging questions about motive disappear. We no longer speculate about, ‘What’s in it for him? What’s the hidden meaning? Why’d he say that? Is he lying?’ and so on. We accept the person at face value for what they say, even if—sometimes, particularly if—what they say reflects imperfection. That works in sales and in politics.” 

Yet, we’re trained to go in come back with information that will close the sale. Hunt it, kill it and bring it back to eat.

• What if, instead of dancing around an answer we don’t know, we just admit we don’t know?
• What if, instead of promising something we probably can’t deliver, we admit that and then tell them what we can do?
• What if, instead of offering “teaser” pricing and then covertly getting it on the back end, we share our cost structure?

These examples are counter-intuitive—downright treasonous in some circles.

Without the pretension, void of false promises and out on a limb – we are, admittedly exposed, naked and vulnerable.

But wouldn’t you rather buy from a seller who is willing to show you his cards, even if—perhaps because—you both know it might cost him the sale? That visceral reaction works in reverse when transparency dominates relationships (think Madoff, Blagojevich).

Transparency creates a powerful pull toward you. It also, by the way, lets you sleep easier.

A Country Music Star as a Trusted Advisor?

I saw Vince Gill in concert. First time. I was pretty sure I’d enjoy the music, but I had no idea I’d walk away having learned something from a country music celeb about being a Trusted Advisor.

The concert was magical. Sure, the music was good (if you like country, and I will confess I do). Vince is talented, as is his entourage. But he created something with his band and his audience that turned a good concert into an extraordinary experience of community and connectedness. How? By how he was being: humble, self-deprecating, intimate, vulnerable, and totally transparent.

There were several bands listed on the playbill that night, presumably warm-ups for the Big Guy. At curtain time, a lone man appeared on stage, dressed in blue jeans and a T-shirt, and simply started playing guitar and singing.

I kept looking at the program, trying to figure out who he was. I also wondered why this guy was playing a song I recognized as Vince’s when the star himself would be on stage in an hour or so. Turned out it was Vince. All by his lonesome. No fanfare, no glitz – just showed up and started doing what he does best.

At one point he traded his guitar (for which he is known) for a fiddle. I don’t remember the song as much as I remember what he said as soon as it ended: “Boy, am I glad that’s over!” Everyone laughed, and he shared with us how he is a novice with the fiddle and always nervous about playing it on stage – especially in the company of one of his band-members who is very accomplished with the instrument. He told us that he hates how, due to some recent weight gain, it gives him a triple-chin.

Later, he introduced a song he wrote after his father’s death with a story about his father. He knows how to weave a good story, so that made a difference. But what really drew us in was the authentic and loving way he shared about the trials and tribulations of their relationship. We could all relate. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house at the end of the song.

I will remember this concert for years to come. Why? Because this country music expert created something magical for me and several thousand of my closest friends because of how he was being. And I, and you, and every other expert in the corporate world have available to us the ability to have the same kind of impact.

Forget about your decades of experience and advanced degrees – just for a moment. Put aside your To Do list. What possibilities are you going to create for your clients today out of how you are being?

 

 

Faking It Doesn’t Make It

Remember Leave it to Beaver’s Eddie Haskell? Always nice to Mrs. Cleaver—but always working an angle. The unctuous, silver-tongued slickster—devious, always in it for himself.

Haskell played the role of evil in a morality tale—the black-hat guy of the adolescent crowd. When he got his come-uppance, Good triumphed (though of course we were titillated by his escapades on the way).

What Eddie Haskell did best was to fake sincerity. He couldn’t fool us, of course; though poor Mrs. Cleaver was a reliable sucker.

Haskell was TV’s tame version of Hollywood’s innocent; the rural rube with a pure heart, dazzled by the sophisticated city slicker/ hustler—until (s)he finds, as everyone had warned, that he’s a cad, a con, a hustler.

He was faking sincerity.

An Eddie Haskell phenomenon has been coalescing in business. Business is becoming adept at mouthing sincerities about relationships—but in service to itself, not to the nominal objects of those relationships—customers, suppliers, employees.

Have we succeeded in faking sincerity so well that we have fooled ourselves?

Some examples:

1. From an article by UC Berkely Business School professor Lynn Upshaw:

Marketers need to consider a new calculus: "return on marketing integrity"—that is, a new type of "ROMI"—which can lead to stronger business performance.

Traditional return on marketing investment is calculated using gross margin generated by marketing efforts (GM), minus the marketing investment (I), divided by that investment: ROMI = (GM – I) ÷ I. The calculation for return on marketing integrity is identical, except that investment is replaced with marketing integrity.

This language comes awfully close to suggesting that integrity is a virtue insofar as and to the extent it pays off on the bottom line.

 

2. From a Wall Street client seated next to me before my after-dinner talk on being a Trusted Advisor:

“Trusted Advisor? If it gets me greater share of customer wallet, I’m all for it.”

The implication: trust is a virtue—if you can make money on it.

3. From a posting by Steve Yastrow on Tom Peters’ weblog:

In an age of interchangeable products and easily duplicated services, customer relationships have become one of the most powerful competitive advantages available to a business—one of the best ways to keep the competition away from your customers.

I doubt Yastrow intends it—but the language can be read as suggesting that relationships are justified by their ability to competitively advantage a company. (Consider a parallel: "darling, the main reason I want to marry you is you’ll give me a competitive advantage in the business world").

 

4. Steven Covey, Jr., in an interview on branding, says

trust is a hard-edged, economic driver—a learnable and measurable skill that can give your business a competitive edge.

Covey doesn’t say the sole goal of trust is to provide a competitive edge; still, why does that phraseology come so easily to us? (And not just to Covey—I’ve said much the same myself on occasion).

 

5. From a Harvard Business School Publishing email advertising a seminar titled “Authenticity: Are you Delivering what Consumers Want?”

…your company must grasp, manage, and excel at rendering authenticity. Learn how to manage customers’ perception of authenticity by…

• Recognizing how businesses "fake it”
• Appealing to the five different genres of authenticity
• Charting how to be "true to self" and what you say you are
• Crafting and implementing business strategies for rendering authenticity

What does “manage customers’ perception of authenticity” mean? Is it the same as “be authentic?” And if not—isn’t it then inauthentic?

Is authenticity best “rendered” by “crafting and implementing business strategies?” Is authenticity-as-strategy the same as authenticity-as-values?

This is not just about a clash of values—the greedy vs. the needy. It’s deeper. It’s about two world-views of business.

One—the dominant ideology of the 19th and 20th centuries—says business is a Hobbesian place. The dominant relationship is competition—everyone against everyone, including you vs. your suppliers and your customers. The goal is to win, defined as sustainable competitive advantage, and measured by shareholder return on equity.

In this worldview, the role of relationships is as means to an end—winning.

In the other worldview, business is about interdependencies, linkages, networks. The dominant relationship is commercial collaboration. Those who prosper are those who play well with others.

By this worldview, relationships aren’t means to an end—relationships are the end. Successful businesses are the consequences, outcomes, byproducts of successful relationships.

The world is dragging us toward collaboration; but our belief systems are still rooted in competition.

The result shows in our language. We know the right words to say, but we can’t help sounding like Eddie Haskell, trying to fake sincerity.

After all, if your sole goal is to win, how can “relationships” possibly be sincere?

Trust and Radical Honesty

The July, 2007 issue of Esquire (not yet online as of this date) has a story called “I Think You’re Fat,” by A. J. Jacobs. It asks—and answers—the age-old question, what do you say when your wife asks you if this dress makes her look fat?

And that’s just for openers.

It describes writer Jacobs’ encounters with a movement called Radical Honesty; actually, with its founder Brad Blanton. And it’s a trip.

Trust Matters readers know I’ve written about honesty and lying before (most recently with Andrea Howe in Truth, Lies and Unicorns.)

But Blanton takes it to another level. Higher? Well, certainly a different level.

Blanton urges—and lives by—a very simple rule. Flat-out, no holds-barred, absolute, unquestioned honesty. About everything. Period. Open mouth, exit thought. No excuses, no caveats, no handholding, no cover-ups, no being nice. Just truth.

Author Jacobs confesses a white lie he told someone to avoid hurting that person. Blanton’s take on it: “Your lie is not useful to him. It’s simply avoiding responsibility. That’s okay. But don’t bullshit yourself about it being kind.”

Blanton’s got his own site, books and programs. He’s ex-Esalen, about 60, and a gruff hedonist, among other things. Easy to be put off by, but hard not to like. Here are some of his own words:

The heart of the message of Radical Honesty is that we can come to recognize each other as beings in common. We do this by being honest and by demanding honesty from others. This is the fundamental faith of both Radical Honesty and it’s corollary religion, Futilitarianism…Futilitarianism is about the futility of any belief whatsoever…

…beings who relate as beings, one to another, can work out the problems that come from having minds and personalities and cultural and religious and traditional differences, since those differences are all bullshit anyway! We can change how we live together by acknowledging the being we are, (nothing mysterious or mystical—just the sensate being in the body), as the universal context in which the mind occurs. We recognize each other as alike. One pathetic, mind-controlled, culturally conditioned pitiful sonofabitch, anywhere in the world, looks just about like another. Underneath all that confusing and alienating bullshit we are beings in common.

Who I am, is a present-tense, noticing being, and the idea of me—my case history and culture and values and beliefs—is secondary to my fundamental identity as a noticing, present-tense being. I can see, at the same time, that this is true for everyone else. I relate to everyone else as equals in this way. I relate to these fellow beings by being true to my own experience. This being-to-being relatedness is what allows me to make compassionate, collective decisions with my fellow cripples—I mean human beings.

Think you can justify not telling your spouse something? The white lie to your subordinate? The truth about your attraction to your office-mate?
Go ahead, test it. Check out Blanton.

You may not agree with him, but you’ll have a helluva hard time justifying why you don’t.