Being Offensive vs. Being Offended – and Trust

When you offend someone, someone is offended. That seems obviously, trivially true. But the two are very different events – each touching on a part of the human experience, and each teaching us something about trust.

The Social and the Psychological

Disrespecting someone is a social violation: it is not a nice thing to do. It goes against the rules of etiquette and ethics (most of if not all ethical precepts have to do with our relationships to others). Every society has its rules about how to respect others, and to violate them is a serious matter.

To disrespect someone is a matter of one of two things – ignorance, or deliberate malice and rudeness. Both are matters of personal choice.

Being offensive and disrespectful, then, deals with the social side of being human.

Being disrespected or offended, on the other hand, is an intensely personal event. It is experienced one person at a time, as an interior phenomenon.

Being offended and disrespected, then, deals with the individual side of being human.

How do we integrate, as human beings, these two realms? Where are the ’shoulds’ in our social behavior, and in our individual behavior?

The answer is a little paradoxical: We should strive not to offend or disrespect others. At the same time, we should also strive to not feel offended, or disrespected, for long. In other words, we should strive to be kind socially, and to feel free psychologically.

We should respect others, yet not take personally others’ disrespect of ourselves.

The second is often the harder of the two. Here are a few contrasts to help make the point.

  • Religions teach us to be good to each other – the social message. Twelve Step programs remind us “pain is inevitable; suffering is optional” – the psychological message.
  • MLK fought for human rights – the social side. Viktor Frankl reminds us that “human freedom is not a freedom from but a freedom to” – the psychological side.

What’s Trust Got to Do With It?

Quite a bit, actually.

In contrast to almost all you read about ‘trust’ as some all-inclusive thing, keep in mind this simple fact, obvious to anyone on reflection:

Like tango, trust takes two. Trust is a relationship between a trustor and a trustee. The trustor initiates trust by taking a risk. The trustee then responds by being trustworthy. The roles then shift, and the players reciprocate. Rinse and repeat, etc. etc.

First, the trustee side: If you disrespect or offend others, then others will not trust you. You become untrustworthy. Disrespect and offensiveness affects the trustee.

Using the Trust Equation, you will have low Intimacy scores, because others will not confide in you. You will probably have high Self-orientation scores as well (a bad thing), because you’re likely acting out of willful anger or resentment, or willful ignorance – all of which are about you, not about the Other.

Being offended works the other side of the trust dynamic, that of the trustor: it renders you incapable of trusting others. You cannot initiate a trust relationship if you live in fear of being disrespected or offended.

Being chronically prone to offense means you are not free to act fully as a human. Rather than risk being hurt, you choose never to engage. You will never enjoy trust-as-relationship if you cannot trust-as-action. Victimhood destroys trust as much as  rudeness.

The Human Conundrum

And so the sociological and psychological, aka human, conundrum. You should never disrespect others. And you should never allow yourself to (remain) feeling disrespected.

You should always be trustworthy. And you should also never depend solely on the Other to initiate a relationship of trust.

May you not offend, nor be offended. And both are entirely your choice.



When You Can’t Get No Respect

You Gotta Give Some, To Get SomeSome will recall comic Rodney Dangerfield’s catch phrase. Others may remember Aretha Franklin’s iconic spelling, R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

When you respect someone, it’s a verb.  When you get respect, it’s a noun. Either way, it has positive connotations.

But what’s the connection between respecting someone, and receiving respect from them?

Is it a chicken-egg thing? Does one cause the other? Is it inevitably one-sided, as in “respect for one’s elders,” where the relationship between respecter and respectee is a permanent one?

Is it like trust, where the trustor and trustee exist in a constantly reciprocating relationship? Is it like Jesus’s saying, “It is more blessed to [respect] than to [be respected]?”

Is it a Beatles-like thing, where “the [respect] you take is equal to the [respect] you make“? Is it like exercise, where no pain, no gain is the rule? Or is it like Bonnie Raitt sang, “I can’t make you [respect] me, if you don’t?”

And finally, what’s the connection with buying, selling, and the modern workplace?

Respect is Unconditional

We agree that we should respect others where respect is due (never mind who judges “due”). It’s much harder to agree that others should respect us. Particularly when the “others” are the ones we may be disagreeing with.

If I respect you, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you’ll respect me. Many cultures show respect for elders; it doesn’t follow that the elders must respect the young. Nor is it necessarily disrespectful if they don’t.  So respecting someone is no guarantee that they’ll respect you (sorry, John Lennon).

Though frequently, it does work that way. To show respect to another can be a form of etiquette.  This function is powerful in sales, where it’s easy to disrespect customers’ knowledge, even if we don’t intend to.

Demonstrated respect for the customer is rare enough that respect can be a source of differentiation.  Too many sellers don’t follow the Kantian rule of treating others as ends in themselves, treating them instead as means to our own ends. That’s disrespect, and it’s not uncommon, given that selling is potentially a manipulative, secretive black art – if not handled from trust.

Respect should be unconditional. If I respect you only on condition that you respect me, that is faux respect. If you merit respect, I should respect you, regardless of whether you return it to me.


So far, you’re likely agreeing with most of what I’ve said.  But how about this. What happens when you should, by any objective measure, be respected – and someone disrespects you?

The key question is: do you return disrespect for disrespect? Let me be a little controversial here:

  • If you are holding a resentment against someone who has disrespected you, the salient point is that you are holding a resentment.
  • If you are upset by the lack of respect from others, as should be your due, the only relevant point is that you are upset.
  • If you lose all respect for someone who has disrespected you, then either you misplaced your respect in the first place, or you gave in the desire for revenge.
  • If you demand respect, you will most likely not get it. If you continue to demand it, you will continue to drive down the odds of getting it.

Respect is a virtue – when paid.  When respect is received – treat it as a gift, a gift of grace.

Act so as to earn respect – but give up attachment to the outcome.

Be grateful for the respect you earn – but don’t treasure it.

Respect others – but do so without conditioning it on being respected in return.

It is better to respect than to be respected.

If you can’t get no respect – that’s your problem. And you can fix it anytime you want, by detaching from the outcome.

Go respect someone.







Destroying Trust with Just a Verb

The Associated Press decided to drop the term “illegal immigrant” from its reporting. Their point: the term ‘illegal’ should be applied to actions, but not to persons. It’s the immigration equivalent of, “hate the game, not the player.”

Of course, that’s red meat to a lion for some. Senator John McCain said, “You can call it whatever you want to, but it’s illegal. There’s a big difference…I’ll continue to call it illegal.” And so the battle is joined. Where one side sees respect, another sees absurd political correctness.

This is a worthless, useless, and totally unnecessary argument. It is also typical of a great many pretend arguments – full of energy and fury, truly signifying nothing.

And who’s the culprit? A verb. To be precise, the verb “to be.” I’m not kidding.

The Tyranny of the Verb “To Be”

In Spanish (and other Romance languages, I think), the English “to be” actually has three forms: estar, tener, and ser. Estar refers to a temporary condition: he is tired, she is in Europe, I’m sick. Tener refers to “having” a passing state – I have hunger, you have thirst, he has luck. Ser, the third form of “to be,” has to do with permanence: he is a man, you are virtuous, she is from the US.

In English, all those forms translate into one word, to be: I am, you are, he is.

Why is that a problem? Consider these interactions:

“The new Bond movie is great.” “No it isn’t, it stinks.”

“He is always negative.” “No, he’s just realistic.”

“You’re not serious.” “I am totally serious!”

“He’s an illegal.” “How can you be so judgmental?”

Because we have only one verb in English to cover so many situations, we end up bludgeoning each other. Since we can’t distinguish our several meanings, we assume others mean the same thing we do.  And when it turns out they meant something else, we chalk it up to obtuseness and  bad will on their part.

Which explains why I always have good intentions – but you! You’re always working some angle.

The American Burden

We’re not about to add two new verbs to American English (I can’t speak for the British or the Strines). But it’s not like we’re handcuffed. All we need is a little clarity of thinking.

1. Distinguish between actions and actors. The AP had this one right. You can still morally condemn people if you want – just don’t be sloppy about your definitions of morality.

2. Distinguish between your preferences and the other’s characteristics. I am not annoying – you are annoyed.

3. Avoid using personal pronouns with “to be” except for “I” and “it.” We have a right to say “I am __.”  We don’t have the same right to say “you are __” or “he is __.”  Only a rocking chair is oblivious to the difference.

I am fairly confident it’ll work for you. Unless you’re seriously pigheaded, that is.

If I Were You…

Mike O. explains how he came to understand what it means to be a trusted advisor.


Getting It Right

I had been a consultant for many years. I had a good sense of what client service meant – that I should pursue the right thing for my client, rather than just what I thought was the coolest idea.

I had learned the importance of communication. You had to be clear on your thinking in the first place, then be articulate about getting points across. I knew about body language, about using graphics and not just data, and about dramatic presentations.

I knew all this was hard work and that even with good effort and skill, it was still not an easy task to persuade clients of what I knew to be in their best interest.

Then one day something happened.

Getting It Inside Out

I’d gotten to know Manuel reasonably well. We had spent time together “thinking aloud” and had gained respect for each other as thinkers.

We were talking about some business issue, I honestly don’t recall what. Toward the end he asked me what I thought he should do about a particular angle.

At that moment I was completely at ease. The job was going well. He and I got along nicely. It was a sunny day.

I knew the issue inside out. I knew what Manuel was good at and not good at, what he liked and didn’t like, and how he was likely to respond to the particular situation.

In that moment I could envision exactly what would work for him – while still from my perspective as an outsider. It was like being him, but without any attachment to either his limitations, or to my ego. I knew what would be exactly right for him to do.

“If I were you,” I began – and suddenly everything changed.

He leaned in toward me, relaxed, but focused and intent on what I was going to tell him.  He really wanted to hear what I would say next – and I knew he was going to do exactly what I suggested.

Now, I know how to read body language. I realized this had not happened before. Every other time I gave advice to clients, they leaned back or sat up straight; they stiffened their back, rather than relaxing. Their eyes narrowed, rather than opening up; they were preparing to evaluate what I had to say.

But Manuel wasn’t in evaluation mode; he was going to accept exactly what I said, and we both knew it.

If I Were You…

I realized later those words both triggered and expressed a new perspective. Until then, I had always thought of consulting as telling the client what I thought they should do. I was the expert, they were paying me to get my expert advice. I packaged my advice to maximize the chances they’d do the right thing.

But it was always me, advising them. With Manuel, for the first time, I’d gotten outside myself. I’d realized what I would do if I were him.

I no longer had to be me, telling my clients what to do. I could tap into being them, imagining what it was like, what would work, and what wouldn’t. All I had to do was imagine putting myself in their shoes.

I realized they really did want my advice – if I was a steward about it, really reflecting their take on things.  I became more careful about giving my advice, waiting until I not only had the facts and the problem straight, but had a chance to empathize with the client as well.  That way, when the time came, I knew I could sincerely say, “If I were you…”

Consulting began to get a lot easier. I still had to do the leg work, the thinking, the presenting. But I no longer felt it was a struggle. I now know, my best advising comes when I’m able to put myself in the other guy’s shoes.


Thanks, Mike, eloquently said.

A New Cybercrime…Spying On Your Spouse?

In his introduction to the Trusted Advisor Mastery Program launched in November, 2010, Charlie Green talks about the skills for being a trusted advisor including “doing the right thing, in the moment, as it’s called for.”

What does this have to do with cybercrime and spouses? According to an article posted by the Detroit Free Press, and a follow up article posted a few weeks later, a husband is currently being prosecuted under a state statute designed for trade secret theft. His alleged crime? Reading his wife’s emails; he used her password and found out she was having an affair. Of course, there’s more to the story in the articles. They’re divorced now.

As a former practicing lawyer, I find the legal issues interesting – see Peter Vogel’s technology law column in the e-Commerce Times. More intriguing to me as a business development and executive coach are the boundaries of privacy in relationships and what doing “the right thing” really means. After all, not everything we do in life can, or should be, regulated by law.

In a family, talking about boundaries help clarify expectations and behaviors. Respecting boundaries can engender trust; violating boundaries destroys it. In my home, my wife expects me to open her snail mail relating to financial or family matters, even if they are addressed solely to her. However, I don’t open her personal mail. For emails, Social Media communicating (including texts and Facebook), unless they ask, I don’t look at my wife’s or kids’ computers or cell phones. When I’m in front of their computers or cell phones for a reason, I may glance at the screen, but even that feels intrusive. It’s just the wrong thing to do in my family because of how we’ve chosen to respect each other’s privacy.

So while the criminal court determines in the Detroit case whether a statute has been violated, the rest of us need to pay attention to “doing the right thing in the moment, as it’s called for.” And when that involves boundaries in relationships, as I often ask my coaching clients, “What’s the best way to find out how other people feel, believe, or think?” about these types of issues. There’s only one right answer: ask them.

Giving and Getting Respect

Respect is a theme I run across in my work with trust. Many people say they want to be trusted. Yet they feel disrespected by those from whom they seek trust.   In such cases, “they don’t trust me” quickly breaks down into “they behave disrespectfully toward me.”   A desire morphs into a resentment. 

The unconscious implication is that “if they don’t trust me, it’s their fault, because they don’t respect me in the first place. And if they don’t respect me, then I won’t respect them either. Their lack of trust in me is their fault, not mine.”

There’s a lot going on in that little circle of mis-logic. How is it that we respect others, and that they respect us? What does disrespect have to do with trust?

Note the grammatical parallels between trust and respect. Both are used as verb, as adjective, and as adjectival phrase:

I trust you; I am trustworthy; I am trusted by you

I respect you; I am respectable; I am respected by you

Are there causal links here? And if so, what are they?

There’s an old truism: the fastest way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him. This is one truism that has been proven true to me.

Of course, there is a loose correlation between being trustworthy and being trusted, just as there is between being respectable and being respected.

But – and this is critical – there is no guarantee with either one. Not only can you not always get someone to trust or respect you, but the harder you try – the less likely you are to succeed. This is why trust-based selling is so much more powerful than linear, logic-based selling.

Giving Respect and Trusting

Both trust and respect must be freely given. If demanded or coerced, the results are the opposite–distrust and disrespect.   This is why I tell my clients never to call themselves trusted advisors—let your clients make that determination for themselves, and make it public, or not, on their own. Being called a trusted advisor is great marketing, but only if never suborned.

The ability to trust and to respect is a sign of an evolved ability to relate to others. That doesn’t make blind trust or respect a virtue: there is nothing noble about trusting a thief, or respecting a scoundrel. That’s just stupid.

But equally stupid, and more common, is a refusal to trust or to respect others. That refusal is driven by fear and, by way of paranoia, gums up the works of human interactions and commerce.

Being Respected and Being Trusted

Just as trusting others helps but doesn’t guarantee being trusted by them, so does respecting others not guarantee being respected by them. And that’s where we end up feeling “it’s not fair.”

Let’s be clear. When it comes to trust and respect, fairness is not an issue. If your spouse buys you a gift for the holidays, do you think of it as ‘fair’ or not? (Hint: the right answer is ‘no, of course I don’t, Charlie, what do you take me for!’)

Give Respect to Get It? Or Give Respect and Detach?

Too often we try to put conditions on what must be freely given. You can’t reduce trust to a controlled conditional transaction: “If you give me this, I’ll trust you to do that, but you’d better be fair.” There is no trust without risk; if you try to control the outcome, you’ll destroy the trust. 

I’m coming to think respect is the same. To respect someone is good; partly because it can make the other person feel respected–but mainly because it shows you’re the kind of person who has an evolved ability to relate to others.

The distinction becomes important when we look for others to respect us. If we crave respect from others, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. But worst, we are trying to force (via guilt trip) others to do what we want them to

What’s Trust Got to Do With Respect?

On the one hand, the connection between trust and respect seems clear. As Thomas Friedman put it:

I’m often asked how I, an American Jew, have been able to operate so successfully in the Arab world. My answer is simple: it is to be a good listener. It has never failed me. Listening is a sign of respect. If you truly listen to the other person, they will then listen to what you have to say.

Aretha Franklin just spelled it out.

Behaving respectfully toward others is likely to increase your trustworthiness in others’ eyes, and to make them more likely to trust you.

But should it work the other way? What if someone is disrespectful to us? Should we then behave in a less trustworthy way toward them? Should we trust them less?

There’s an equally venerable point of view that says get over it, sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me, someone can hurt you emotionally only with your permission, hear other people but do not allow your emotions to be held hostage by theirs.

Of course, sometimes name-calling is a prelude to violence; disrespect can signal untrustworthiness. Only a fool doesn’t look for a nearby exit door in such situations.

But we over-rate how often that is true.

This territory of trust, listening and respect is rife with opportunities for self-improvement. Strive to respect others—not in the ways you would be respected, but in ways the other person would consider as being respected. Which means listening, very attentively.

But when disrespected, strive to rise above it. Return respect for disrespect, by listening for motives and for understanding.

Does this mean holding ourselves to a higher standard than others? And is that disrespectful in itself?

I’d like to think not. On some absolute scale, all of us are awful at this. When you behave disrespectfully, notice it and resolve to do better in future. When someone is disrespectful towards you, notice how much like them you are, and resolve to overlook it on the spot.