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Relationships or Metrics? I Haven’t Got Time for Both

I heard it again today. I hear it in almost every workshop I do, and in every – bar none – big company sales organization I work with.  It sounds like this:

I believe in trust and relationships, but it’s a luxury problem. Here in the real world, the pressure’s on. I don’t have time to do all that nicey-nice stuff, I’ve got to hit my numbers. And even if I did have that kind of time, my clients don’t. The days of easy-going ‘what’s keeping you up at night’ conversations are over – they’ve got as much pressure as I do, and maybe more.

I just don’t have time to build trust-based relationships. Hopefully, someday I will.

But with that attitude, that day will never come. Because trust-based relationships don’t come when you’ve got plenty of time – they’re forged when you don’t have time, and have to trust someone. The whole relationships-vs.-metrics debate is based on four false beliefs. When will you get rid of them?

Myth Number One: You Don’t Have the Time

Maybe you’re old enough to remember an old ad for Fram Oil Filters: “You can pay me now – or you can pay me later.” It stuck because it rang very true – if you refused to pay for a cheap oil filter, you’d end up paying for much more expensive engine repairs later.

It’s the same here. Every phone call, conversation and meeting that you cut short to “save time” puts a label on your head. The label says, “I’m a transactional sales guy; I will never invest in my customer, and I’ll blame you for being the busy one.”

As Aristotle said, you become what you practice. If you never take time for relationships, if all you do is transact, then you become a transactor. And nobody suddenly decides one day out of the blue that they really want to have a trust-based relationship with someone who’s been transacting with them since forever.

The truth is, a little time taken now, up front, results in far more efficient use of time down the road – even just next month. Trust-based relationships aren’t just more effective, they’re more timely and less costly.

You do have the time; you’re just constantly refusing to invest it for returns in future time.

Myth Number Two: Your Client Doesn’t Have the Time

How do you know? Because they told you so? Get real. What client is about to tell you they’re not busy? They want to control their time with you, not give control over to you.

And the same logic applies: our customers are as short-sighted as we are, constantly failing to invest a bit of time up front for future gains of time. So they tell you they don’t have the time, and you believe it, and the two of you race off so as to cut the elapsed time of your transaction. And then do it all over again the next time you meet.

They have as much time or as little time as you do; and if neither of you breaks the vicious cycle, the cycle will stay unbroken.

Who should break it? That’s easy – you should.

Myth Number Three: Trusted Relationships Take Time to Create

The truth is, people form strong impressions of trust and relationship very, very quickly. Initial impressions get formed in much less than a second.

Think about someone you trust. If asked why, your first thought is not, “our trust has grown over the last 6 years.” It’s far more likely something like, “One day we were talking about XYZ and he said an amazing thing…ever since…”

Because trusted relationships are step functions, not continuous curves. They are based on events, moments, instances. Trust gets created in those moments. If you never let yourself be open to those moments, it will never happen.

Trust doesn’t take time. The only sense in which it does is the creation of a track record. All qualitative aspects of trust take virtually no time at all.

Myth Number Four: Relationships are Built on Quantity of Time

Wrong. Relationships are built on quality, not quantity. It’s true with your dog.  It’s true with your five-year old child. And it’s equally true with your client.

The quality of your time matters far more than the quantity. An hour on the golf course or hoisting a beer doesn’t hold a candle to sincerely asking a difficult question, and conveying to your client that you care about the answer, and that you’re a safe haven in discussing it.

A lot of the “I don’t have time for relationships” line is frankly a cover-up for fear of customer intimacy. Invariably, the workshop participants who tell me they haven’t got time are the same workshop participants who tell me that customer intimacy is too risky, and potentially unprofessional. Meanwhile, their compatriots who understand the qualitative basis for relationships are selling circles around them.

Haven’t got time to form relationships and still meet your metrics? If that’s what you’re saying, you don’t understand how to meet your metrics. In any medium timeframe, the person with the relationships will outperform on all business metrics the person without the relationships.

And being busy’s got little to do with it.

Relationship Inflation

photo“Now our global sales team can create customer relationships instantly from anywhere.”

Jeremy Stoppelman, CEO of YELP, in an ad for the Salesforce1 Mobile App in the Economist.

“Run your business from your phone,” the ad goes on to say. Including the instant creation of customer relationships, with just a click.

Of course, we get what it means. Salesforce is a powerful tool; I use it. We’ve even got our own app on Salesforce for Trust-based Selling (and are proud of it).

But let’s just pause a moment and note the grade inflation that has come about with the use of the word “relationship.”

Relationship Inflation

Never mind the dictionary. Just use your own built-in definitions. What does the word “relationship” mean, and what does it suggest when we use it as synonymous with something clickable?

This is not a Luddite rant – I love my CRM-flavored apps as much as anyone. And I’m not going to bemoan the demise of deep connection at the hands of social media.

But I am going to protest the casual use of a rich word in ways that flatten and cheapen its meaning.

Dimensions of Relationships

When we think of relationships, we naturally think in two dimensions – depth and breadth. There is the sense of connection, empathy, shared knowledge, and the promise of more to come. That’s the deep part, and the deep part adds value.

The breadth part is equally important – because it shares value. The plural of relationship is network. Relationships times depth equals shared value.

The problem comes when we over-emphasize one dimension to the exclusion of another. The digital explosion has enabled both.  The ability to quickly scan and dive deep into data, or to quickly access past experiences (think your email history, think LinkedIn) can greatly help on depth.

But the emphasis in many ways has been far more on the breadth side of things. When zero marginal cost meets an ethos that says more followers/clicks/eyeballs are always better, that’s where the qualitative gets run out of town by the quantitative.  Deep gets beat by broad.

The Cost of Breadth at all Costs

When the intersection of Deep Street and Broad Street gets paved over by an expansion into Broad Boulevard, we lose something. The value of what we’re sharing diminishes. That means less value, less insight, less impact, less connection, less meaning.

In the world of sales, it’s no accident that we’re hearing about the power of insight – we’re starved for insight in a world that has been bingeing on breadth.  In the world of content, it’s no accident that we’re seeing an explosion of (often fairly good) TV programming enabled by online broadcast capabilities; we’ve been starved for it.

We need both dimensions for balance. Lately we’re out of balance, and it’s the deep content side that needs redressing.

The Number One Mental Illness in Business

Watch Your Blind Spot.Sometimes we don’t think right. Often we don’t think right, and we don’t even notice it. (This is well-described in a book called Blind Spot, by Banaji and Greenwald).

People in business have big blind spots, just as we do in other social milieu. Recently I’ve run across two items that, together, highlight one of the biggest blind spots of them all.  I don’t know what to call it, and I’d like your help in deciding that.

The two items popped up in neuroscience, and in business strategy.

Neuroscience

I’ve written before about How Neuroscience Over-reaches in Business. In response to that particular article, reader Naomi Stanford sent me a stunningly good academic critique of the “neuro-leadership” research. Sober, laser-like, and devastating, it lists a number of reasons why the neuro-leadership crowd is up to non-sense.

It’s called Not Quite a Revolution: Scrutinizing Organizational Neuroscience in Leadership Studies, by Dirk Lindebaum and Mike Zundel. It’s tough going unless you love philosophy of science, but worth it if you’re into this issue.

I want to highlight just one of the many points they make, because it jumped out at me so strongly. In their words:

… we argue that a predominant focus upon neuro-science to the study of leadership as an individual difference excludes further important units of analysis…a more appropriate ontological locus of leadership resides in the dyadic relationship between a leader and follower – as opposed to a leader-centric or follower-centric locus…Our appreciation of the dyadic nature of leadership, coupled with the need to be contextually sensitive, is incongruent with the predominant view of organizational neuroscientists who view leadership largely as residing in the leader.

In other words: leadership is a relationship. It’s not [just] a character trait, a skill, or a neuron path residing in an individual, any more than is love, or trust. It’s a 1+1 = 3 situation. You can’t get to the whole by just analyzing the parts.

In leadership, this suggests the key doesn’t lie in examining (or training, or selecting) one party, but in understanding multiple parties in relationship.

What’s the name of this blind spot in neuroscience? The authors suggest it’s reductionism – a desire to break things down to simpler parts.

I think it also smacks of the cult of the individual.

Strategy

Until the 1970s, business strategy was thought of in metaphors of war, and distinguished largely from tactics. But in the late 1960s, Bruce Henderson took a backwater part of strategy – competitive strategy – and turned it into a quantitative, matrix-hugging bounded idea set. Michael Porter put the finishing touches on it in Competitive Strategy in 1979.  The triumph of this view was so complete that the adjective has been redundant ever since. We now think all strategy is competitive strategy.

The essence of BCG and Porter’s worldview eerily presages the neuroscientists decades later. They saw the essence of strategy as lying within the single, solitary organism of the corporation (or the business unit, if you will).

Strategy, by this view, is all about the solitary struggle of each company to gain and sustain competitive advantage over the Hobbesian hordes who would do it in.  Nearly all business strategy today assumes the solitary nature of the business – the corporation is the atomic unit of business.

But strategy makes the same mistake the neuroscientists would make later. We are increasingly seeing that the successful businesses are not those who see themselves as valiantly struggling alone against the odds – they are instead those who collaborate, form trust-based relationships, and basically get along with the rest of business and society – rather than constantly struggling to ‘win’ against everyone else.

Again, 1+1 = 3. Unless you insist on looking only at 1, and then at 1 – in which case you’ll always end up with 2.

Here’s a small example: the Top Ten most trustworthy companies, over a three year period, outperformed the S&P by 24%.

What’s the name of this blind spot? Perhaps it’s reductionism again. Perhaps it’s the delight that economists like Milton Friedman take in pushing abstract models to the hilt. Perhaps it’s the alienated angst of Ayn Rand lovers. Perhaps it’s the thrill of the old Wild West rugged individualism, or maybe it’s just protectionism.

But whatever – I think the blind spot is the same in both cases.  It is a case of looking to individuals, instead of to relationships, for answers to what are most completely seen and understood as relationship problems.

The blind spot we’re stuck in – focusing on individuals, not relationships – carries multiple penalties. We should interview people for how they get along in groups – but instead we scrutinize their individual performances. College admissions look mainly at SAT scores and grades, not at social abilities. And I’m not even going to mention Congress.

In strategy, Michael Porter is an interesting case. A brilliant mind, he knows full well that the imperative of businesses these days is to get along. But in his recent writings, he is struggling to square the circle – to explain why a company must get along with others in order to gain maximum competitive success. The goal is inconsistent with the tactics for getting there. Companies who “do good” in order to “do well” end up doing neither.

We really need to stop seeing things this way in business, as elsewhere. We live in a relationship world. Thinking we are solitary Robinson Crusoes floating around on our solitary islands is sub-optimizing at best, and destructive at worst.

The Fast Track to Partner: An Interview with Charles H. Green

Across the pond there’s a slew of interesting and driven professionals making strides towards building a stronger foundation for business–one built heavily on ideas of cultivating trust-based relationships and business practices. That group includes, though is not limited to, Ian Brodie, Sonja Jefferson, David Tovey – and Heather Townsend.

Heather’s just-published book is How to Make Partner and Still Have a Life. She also hosts an insightful audio-based masterclass series entitled, “Fast Track to Partner.”

This interview-based series is full of tips, action items, and stories. If you’re on partner track somewhere, or are wondering whether you want to be, you want to check this out.  And I’m not just saying that because in her latest edition, I happen to be the expert interviewee.

Heather and I spoke last week about how to be a trusted advisor.

Listen to the audio version of my Fast Track To Partner interview. Or, if you’re more of the reading type, we’ve included the full transcript of the interview.  

Thanks Heather, and best wishes on the book.

 

 

Story Time: Want a Relationship Breakthrough? Role-Play Your Client.

Our Story Time series brings you real, personal examples from business life that shed light on specific ways to lead with trust. Our last story proved that good intentions won’t keep you from screwing up. Today’s story highlights the business value of taking time to see the world from another’s perspective.

A New Anthology

When it comes to trust-building, stories are a powerful tool for both learning and change. Our new book, The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust (Wiley, October 2011), contains a multitude of stories. Told by and about people we know, these stories illustrate the fundamental attitudes, truths, and principles of trustworthiness.

Today’s story is excerpted from our chapter on training for trustworthiness. It vividly demonstrates how a little role-playing—walking in your clients’ shoes—goes a long way.

From the Front Lines: Role-Playing Pays Off

The value of role-playing couldn’t be highlighted any better than the example that one of our course participants experienced in real time at one of my (Charlie’s) sessions. The exercise asked a group of business leaders to play the role of one of their most challenging clients while a colleague held a typical meet-and-greet.

One male partner chose a woman who was then a presidential appointee at one of Washington’s largest government agencies. The partner was flummoxed by two aspects of the relationship. One, a number of her direct reports were using the services of his organization, so he had to be careful of jumping the chain of command. Two, she kept asking for feedback, and what others inside and outside the organization were saying about her, a question he didn’t feel he could answer without jeopardizing the firm’s relationship.

The exercise got off to a good start, but then the ‘client’ asked over and over: ‘How are we doing?’

The other executive in the role play finally said: ‘Why do you keep asking that?’

The ‘client,’ the senior partner, answered quickly: ‘I’m just looking for information.’

A light bulb went off: she hadn’t been asking about how her staff felt about her; she was looking for information outside her own glass bubble as a senior official.

The senior partner immediately shot off an e-mail asking his client to have coffee and catch up. She answered right away with: ‘I’ll buy.’

—Charles H. Green, about Greg Pellegrino (Global Industry Leader for the Public Sector Industry, Deloitte)

Connect with Greg on LinkedIn or read his blog.

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Read more stories about trust:

A Separation: a Cinematic Tale of Truth and Lies

This past weekend I saw A Separation, an Iranian movie with more awards to its credit than a dictator’s military jacket. It deserves every one of them.

You’ll never find better screenwriting. Rolling Stone rightly calls it “a landmark film.” Filmcritic calls it a brilliant political metaphor. Roger Ebert praises it as a critique of religion. The Irish Times calls it “a thoughtful film that also works as a crackling melodrama.”

It is all those, and something else. It’s a poster child for the corrosive influence of lying and the power of truth-telling.

Relationships in Disarray

I’ve often quoted (and will again here) Phil McGee’s brilliant insight that “all business problems flow from a tendency to blame, and an inability to confront.”

In A Separation, we see a couple struggling with their relationship. The wife wants to leave Iran; the husband refuses to leave his ailing father. The wife goes to stay with her parents. Their daughter is caught in between.

A woman, hired as a caregiver to the ailing father, brings her volatile husband into the mix. A small set of events trigger a progressive breakdown of relationships among these five key characters.

It is the breakdown that is portrayed so brilliantly. All five are shown as partly sympathetic, and the incidents are so trivial that it doesn’t feel like a deus ex machina. And so the plot feels inevitable – the situation falls into disarray like water forming a funnel down the sink.  How could it be otherwise?

The Truth Shall Set You Free

Until, that is, you realize that every one of these people is fundamentally, deeply, living a lie. One’s lie is about honor; another’s about God; a third about loyalty to family. All the lies seem trivial, and understandable. But they all collide; irresistible forces meeting immovable objects.

And I realized, walking out of the theater, that every single one of those characters held the power within them to change everything – simply by being willing to tell the truth. And the power they held was not just to change themselves, but to change everyone else as well – the entire situation.

A Tendency to Blame, and an Inability to Confront

Back to McGee’s thesis. Dysfunction in groups is rarely about one stubborn person gumming up the works. That is the blame game. The one bad apple spoiling the barrel.

More often, it’s a group conspiracy that’s at fault; the entire organization opting to point fingers, rather than engaging in confronting the true issue at hand. And as the movie reminded me, a conspiracy doesn’t need to be undone by everyone – a single defector can do the job.

All it takes is one person to Speak the Truth, to point out the emperor’s new non-clothes. If that can be done, everyone else immediately recognizes that truth has been spoken. Then, whether from shame or from gratitude at someone else having taken the first step, the healing can begin.

Is this too abstract? What about you? What tangled webs are you a part of? What truth might be spoken by others caught up in the web that would set everyone free?

What truth might be spoken by you?

Real People, Real Trust: A Learning Consultant’s Approach to Leadership

Heber Sambucetti is a senior learning consultant with Accenture, working routinely with some of Accenture’s most seasoned executives. Find out what Heber sees as the distinguishing traits of a trusted advisor, and learn how he has successfully turned the most challenging relationships into prosperous ones.

Foundations

Heber (pronounced EH-ver) and I met in 2010 when I led a Being a Trusted Advisor program for the team he works with. I was immediately struck by his candor, caring, and professionalism.

I began my Real People, Real Trust interview with Heber in the same way I’ve done in the past, asking, “What does it take to be a trusted advisor?” Heber’s immediate response was remarkably similar to Anna Dutton’s; he said, “Above all else, you need to be sincere and genuine.”

Heber continued, “That’s the only way you can create the right type of environment for a business relationship to prosper. You need to come with a pure intent to help others, and truly care about the person across from you.

“Secondly, don’t be afraid to bring emotions to the business environment. That’s a necessary element to create a certain level of intimacy—and by that I mean a sense of familiarity, closeness, and an understanding of each other. That way, not only do people see who you really are, but it makes it possible for you to ask the tough questions and deal with the tough stuff when it counts. If someone’s angry, you should be able to address that—as in, ‘What’s got you angry? I sense frustration.’ Sometimes people are afraid to explore this side of things. Validating other people is important. Sticking to the task only gets you so far.

“Those are your foundational pieces—the genuineness, the pure intent, and focusing on more than just the tasks at hand. And then you need to be able to consistently deliver whatever it is you’ve agreed upon, and bring something better for their business. That requires understanding what success is for them. And don’t forget about what you care about too. If it’s a one-way relationship it will never work.”

Fighting Fires

During our conversation, I discovered that Heber was a firefighter and Emergency Medical Technician in a prior life—something I never would have guessed, having interacted with him exclusively in a corporate environment. I asked him what parallels he saw between the world of consulting and the business of saving lives.

“In the fire department, I really learned first-hand the importance of establishing an environment of trust. When you feel like you’re part of a family, then you don’t want to let the family down, and you genuinely care about people you’re helping. You’re taught how to bring the best of yourself every day. The consequences of failure are extreme—your team member or a citizen loses a life. There is an unwritten rule that you all go in and you all come out; you don’t leave anyone behind.

“Sure, the stakes are different in business—mistakes in the corporate world won’t cost a life, no matter what the pressures you may feel inwardly, and I remind my team of that every day. But I still live by all those principles: be of service and always give it your best.”

Surviving the Heat

I asked Heber if he had a “proudest moment”—a time when he knew something important had shifted in a relationship.

“Once I turned a relationship from the individual being incredibly chastising and critical of everything—someone much more senior than me—to that person being a champion and educator. One day, after a series of interactions, I just had to lay it on the table. I said, ‘If you want to make me feel like sh** and perspire every time I talk to you, then you’re on target. But here’s the thing: I think I can learn from you. It’s true I don’t know everything, and we have a common goal of success with this project, so I need you to teach me instead of criticizing me.’ The person was taken by complete surprise and the relationship took a dramatic turn for the better. It was an intense moment. I ran out of deodorant. But I just had to say what was there.”

Heber then made a point to speak about taking responsibility for relationships gone wrong.

“When a relationship isn’t working, it’s easy to approach it from the perspective that you’re not doing anything and this person is beating you down. The question I always ask myself is, what am I doing to make the relationship better—or worse? What’s my piece to own? How have I let it fester? Holding yourself and others accountable are keys to relationships that work.”

Best Advice: You Snooze You Lose

I asked Heber for his best advice for someone who’s trying to increase trust in a relationship.

“First, ask yourself why you want to improve the relationship with that person; what’s in it for you. Always ask why. If the answer is, ‘Because I need to make my numbers and have them sign on the dotted line,’ think again. Would you want someone to approach you that way? No. OK, then try again from a different perspective. Put yourself in their shoes.

“Most people have a gut feel for what others are thinking and feeling, they’ve just hit the snooze button on it. They don’t want to look at it—it’s too raw, too emotional, too difficult, so snooze it is. And then they’re surrounded by alarm clocks all on snooze. That’s not sustainable.

“This applies personally as well as professionally. If I ever hit the snooze button with my son, he tells me right away. Children have a magical way of reminding you straight out that you’ve hit snooze—‘You promised me we’d play soccer, Dad.’ ‘We’ll do it tomorrow.’ ‘That’s what you said yesterday, Dad.’

“So I do what I can to minimize how many snooze buttons I have in life.”

Warming the Heart

Heber’s approach to building relationships reminds me of Heber: straight up, wise, humorous, warmhearted.

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad to have the Hebers of the world to keep me honest and out of danger.

Connect with Heber on LinkedIn.

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The Real People, Real Trust series offers an insider view into the challenges, successes, and make-it-or-break-it moments of people from all corners of the world who are leading with trust. Check out our prior posts: read about Chip Grizzard, a CEO You Should Know; Ralph Catillo: How One Account Executive Stands Apart; and Anna Dutton: A Fresh Perspective on Sales Operations.

Warren Buffet on Envy and the Seven Deadly Sins

Berkshire Hathaway held their annual bash in Omaha a few weeks ago, as delightfully reported by Laura Rittenhouse. 

As happens at that time of year, Buffet and his even-more-quotable-if-that’s-possible partner in investing, Charlie Munger, make themselves available to be interviewed. Which is where I first heard their rundown of the seven deadly sins.

Buffet: As an investor, you get something out of all the deadly sins—except for envy. Being envious of someone else is pretty stupid. Wishing them badly, or wishing you did as well as they did—all it does is ruin your day. Doesn’t hurt them at all, and there’s zero upside to it.

If you’re going to pick a sin, go with something like lust or gluttony. That way at least you’ll have something to remember the weekend for.

This isn’t just good homespun Buffet humor. It’s deeply meaningful on at least three levels.

Why Envy Is Bad For Your Investments

First of all, you can make a case that envy actually destroys your investment portfolio. Turns out Buffet and Munger have used this standup routine before, and it was brilliantly detailed five years ago in a blogpost by Sanjay Bakshi.

Basically, if you’re really knowledgeable about a business in which you can get a 19% return, but have heard about some other business in which you can get a 21% return, you’d be stupid to forsake the 19%. Which is why good investors say things like “stick with what you know.” (Buffet himself goes into more detail in his Chairman’s letter of 1993, in the section on equity investments, even quoting Mae West).

Envy, in other words, can hurt you financially.

Why Envy is Bad for Your Relationships

Buffet aside, envy and its kissing cousin resentment are equally culpable in the softer realm. Like customer relationships. Here’s why.

If you’re envious of a customer—of anyone, really–it poisons your relationships with that person. What are you envious of? Their money? Their status? Their social ease? Their romantic partner? 

Regardless of the object of your envy, your level of envy is likely to be most acute when you’re with the envied person—and particularly if the money, status, social ease or romantic partner are in play or close at hand.

In those cases, our envy oozes out of us in the most dishonest ways. We sneak furtive glances, make snide comments, look for favor, disparage the things we covet, and subtlely beg. All the while, of course, maintaining plausible deniability about what we are doing. Or so we think.

In fact, we kid only ourselves. The customer may not follow every twisted inward thought we have (why would they want to?) but they know the result. We are absent; we are not genuinely focused on them; we are obsessed by our own needs, and cannot focus on theirs.

Envy can hurt your commercial relationships.

Why Envy is Bad for Your Own Self

As if it weren’t enough that envy hurts us financially and commercially, it rots us as people too. Envy, festering, becomes resentment. The Latinate derivation of resentment is re-feeling. Feeling after the fact, revisiting the past, dwelling negatively on history—the one thing over which we have precisely no control.

Resentment is akin to playing God, groveling in the fiction that we can alter the reality of time past. It’s no accident that the 12-step program literature refers to resentment as “a grave matter,” and “the number one offender.” 

Living in resentment means you are living outside reality. Living in a fictional world between your ears just removes you from humanity, and from the moment. Alone and out of time is no good way for a human being to live.

It all starts with envy. Buffet was right. Go get you some good sins, if you must, at least there’s some pleasure in them. As to envy—as Buffet put it, there’s no upside to it.

Being Right is Vastly Overrated: Part II

In yesterday’s post, Being Right is Vastly Overrated: Part I, I talked about the folly of trying to be right in business.

And wouldn’t you know it–the same rule seems to apply in our personal lives. But with some interesting twists about how humans relate to each other.

Being Right is Doubly Seductive

In business, I suggested yesterday, we are taught from our early days that the goal is to win and succeed, and that you generally do so by being right, or at least more right than the other guy.

In life, it’s the same–only different. We are attracted to those who are right. They are the successful ones, it seems, particularly early in life; they are the ones winning the social battles of ‘rightness.’ They are the ‘smart’ ones. They get the good grades, the good jobs. Being right really is seductive.

But Being Right Backfires in Personal Relationships

Just as in business, however, something goes awry when we bring our supposed life lessons back home with us. How many people marry the person they thought was ‘right’—academically, athletically, socially—only to find out that the passion to be right can be the worst form of obnoxious.

The desire to be right—on the surface so valuable outside relationships—turns toxic within them. How many of you—well, let’s just say, how many of you have a friend—a friend whose spouse just has to be right? All the time.

It doesn’t have to be a shout-down. There are ways to get a spouse’s goat while convincing everyone, particularly including yourself, that you’re doing no such thing. You’re just trying to make a point, see? You’re just trying to make sure your particular angle on the subject is understood. You’re just trying to carry on a stimulating conversation, there’s no need to get all huffy about it, it’s not personal, and you know that, right?

Where Does the Desire to Be Right Come From?

When I was a kid, I heard adults say that bullies were just afraid themselves and were acting out of bravado. It made no sense to me at the time; they sure didn’t look afraid to me.

But with age comes perspective. And now I believe it. People who act badly—I learned this from Phil McGee—are almost always fighting a fear. Find out what that fear is, and you’re likely at the heart of the issue.

The insistence on being right—on winning arguments with one’s spouse, one’s kids, one’s friends—almost always derives from an insecurity, a fear that those other people are in fact disrespecting us. A fear that they do not, in fact, think we are right. 

And lurking even beneath that, there is a fear that we ourselves, might in truth, Not. Be. All. That. Right.   And so we fight to deny giving those thoughts consciousness.

Worse yet: in our better moments, we can see our desire to be right as a mask for our insecurities. We even say, with fake humility, as if it were an excuse, “well, I do suffer from low self-esteem.” But that’s not how others see it.

Others see it as self-obsessed, narcissistic, immature, hurtful on occasion, insensitive, rude, and above all, no fun to be with. 

And so we’re full circle. Just as in business, the desire to be right results in exactly the opposite of what was intended. It drives away the very people whose respect and companionship we wanted. And it does so for the same reasons we talked about yesterday.

Being right is all about me. But you like me better when I make it all about you. And ironically, if I’m all about you, you’re more likely to be all about me. That way we each end up getting what we wanted–but in a far more delicious way.

The antidote? Get over yourself. There is a god, and you’re not it.  Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less. What you get back is roughly equal to what you put out. To be trusted, try trusting.  Treat words like dessert cookies; leave the last one for your partner.

Dare to be you; everyone else is taken anyway.  

Trust and Martin Luther King Day

Today is Martin Luther King Day, a United States holiday.

Much has been written about the holiday, and about King. I won’t attempt to add much, other than to highligh one quote from this complex man.

"Life’s most persistent question is, what are you doing for others?"

If there’s any one thing that predominantly accounts for low trust these days–particularly in business–it is the sense that everyone is in it for himself. This view has even been glorified in business in recent years. An ethicist recently commented to me that he was shocked at the recent bitterness of some in the financial professions. "They don’t even apologize for selfishness anymore," he said; "they feel it’s legitmate."

Trust is by nature a relationship. Part of that relationship is willingness to be of service to others. King’s quote also speaks to relationship: it’s as timely today as it ever was.

That’s what I’ll be thinking about today.