Trust in a Coffee Cup – The Intimate Actuary

I’ve often wondered: is our real workplace office the coffee shop?

Many years ago, when I started work as a management consultant, the smoking area was the place where information was exchanged, relationships forged, and informal deals brokered. There’s an informality when people congregate without agendas; barriers are dropped, titles mean less, and deeper social connections get forged.

Is this ‘informality’ the key to the Trust Equation’s key component of Intimacy?

Coffee Shop Intimacy

Being a Brit, we often think they’re the same thing. The beers after work and the ‘Cheeky Nandos’ (see here for our befuddled American friends) is our default to creating intimacy; but perhaps we should think a bit more deeply.

Intimacy as a component of trustworthiness is actually more about security and a sense of empathy, a less boisterous and socially connected emotion. It’s individual and personal, and is expressed differently from person to person. One size definitely doesn’t fit all.

I learnt this the hard way over a series of weeks working in a large financial services client. My personal default style is always openness and candid sharing of the personal (full disclosure: I’m Irish). I’m always looking for that connection. So – what happens when that openness meets The Actuary?

Actuarial Intimacy

I’m not suggesting by any means that actuaries are not able to display intimacy, but by the very nature of their work they are not emotional risk takers. Instead, they must be able to be analytical and reflective. The profession tends to attract those who feel simpatico with those requirements.  Social settings are rarely the default home of The Actuary. And yet – for them, as for all of us, Intimacy is still key to trust.

Throughout the weeks we worked together my daily routine began with a visit to the inhouse Starbucks; and every day (maybe 2-3 times a day) I’d offer to buy a coffee for my actuarial friend and client. And (of course) every day he would decline, much to my frustration. I wanted nothing more than to sit down with him and understand what his passions were, his family situation – who he was as a person.

We worked together closely, and made great progress, but for me it was like wading through cement – no conversation, no social interaction. It was killing me. Worse still, I had no idea if I was even making an impact with the work. His only foray into ‘real’ communication was to starkly tell me one afternoon, after my third coffee of the day, “You spend on average £7 a day on coffee; that’s close to £2,000 a year.” (I suspect he even worked out my life expectancy on the back of that).

Yet I couldn’t have been more wrong. In hindsight, this was his conversation starter, though it took me until the project was finished to recognize it as such. We delivered on time and with (to my mind) a great result. His expressed view was that we had delivered what was expected.

On our final day working together, before I left for a new client, I was sitting with colleagues both client and peers. We were engaging in what we knew best, that snappy ‘cheeky Nandos’ social interaction, and of course I was comfortable again – back to normal.

Just before lunch my actuarial friend paid me a visit. And, he came with a gift – a very risky gift for him, a branded insulated coffee-mug. Initially I thought, “Yes! I’ve converted him, he’s a social coffee drinker now.” But again, I had misread him.

He looked me in the eye and said to me, “Johnny, I’ve really enjoyed working with you. I’ve brought you something to say thank-you for making this a success for me, and for my team.”

Suddenly I was the one without words. I defaulted to my informal social style, we exchanged some trivial social niceties, and we said our farewells.

You Can’t Buy Intimacy

It took me months to realize that for him intimacy wasn’t about being social. It wasn’t bonhomie or office banter. In fact, it was much deeper than that. For him it was about me understanding him, including what was important to him and how he felt about it. That then translated to what needed to be done, by when and with what outcome.

Success wasn’t beers and back slaps: it was me realizing how important it was to him that the job be done well, and him being comfortable that I had understood that about him.

We had created intimacy and we had built trust – slowly and painfully for me, measured and appropriately for him. Ultimately, he felt safe knowing that we would get where we were headed, together, and that he could trust me to share that commitment.

I still see him in the airport lounge on my regular commutes between Edinburgh and London, and every six months or so he’ll introduce me to a colleague. He’s always polite, measured and professional. As for me, well, I always have a coffee in my hand.

But we both know.

An Old Standby for a New Normal

To say there is no shortage of COVID-19-related “best advice” out there is an understatement. Which means one thing that’s in short supply is focus. This post aims to help fill that void as we manage our new normal while also tending to our relationships, both personal and at work.

Enter The Trust Equation—a time- and recession-tested framework for personal trustworthiness (from The Trusted Advisor, by Maister, Green and Galford).

Source: The Trusted Advisor by Maister, Green, and Galford, The Free Press, 2000

Here are a few pandemic-sensitive tips on what to pay attention to, in order of priority.

Self-orientation (S). The biggest trust de-railer for us all right now is also the biggest driver of high self-orientation: fear. When it comes to trust triage in a crisis, this factor deserves the bulk of our attention.

Low self-orientation, which is what we should strive for, equates to a focus on others by (1) putting our attention on them, and (2) making choices that are motivated by their best interests, not ours. Consider it icing on the cake if there’s mutual benefit to be found.

Pandemic-induced fear can trigger our basest instincts: we default to protecting ourselves, obsess about stuff, avoid relationship risks (or any risks, for that matter), and more. Yet true trusted advisorship demands that we find ways to lead from our higher selves instead.

Here’s a starter list of simple strategies for keeping our self-orientation as low as possible:

  • Reach out to people—clients and beyond—for one simple reason – to inquire how they are. Period.
  • Make generous offers. What’s something concrete that you can give away that would be helpful right now? Think in terms of ideas, resources, even work. Bring value at a time when it’s sorely needed because you can, and because you want to make a difference. No strings attached. No. Strings. Attached.
  • Get and stay grounded. If ever there were a time to stay centered, to keep stress levels as low as possible, and to maintain perspective, that time is now. Too many professionals were already wrung out before the you-know-what hit the global fan. Whatever helps you be your best, do it and do it regularly: exercise, meditation, music, dancing, reading, cooking, art, any form of play, a gratitude practice … the possibilities may not be endless right now, but they are numerous.

Things to avoid include anything that might smack of ambulance-chasing from where they sit (even if your intentions are noble), and conversations that focus only on the task at hand. It’s fine, even good, to channel our energy into productive work right now, but not at the expense of leading with genuine caring about the people in our lives.

Intimacy (I). Intimacy equates to safety, and there are many ways to achieve it in relationships. The first two S-lowering strategies above are really two-fers as they not only demonstrate caring, but also increase intimacy by building rapport and connectedness. Here are two additional tools:

  • Listen masterfully. Treat every conversation you have right now as an opportunity to hone your empathetic listening skills. It just may be the simplest and most powerful route to building intimacy quickly.
  • Let others get to know you. Our current circumstances are a forcing function when it comes to revealing our humanity. Who hasn’t been video-bombed by a small child or a needy pet in the past week? Even journalists broadcasting live from home are making news in unexpected ways. Embrace the opportunities to give others a little insight into your life. You might be surprised at how readily and voluntarily they reciprocate.

Reliability (R). The extent to which your actions are consistent and predictable determines how reliable others deem you to be. I’d normally call this trustworthiness dimension a distant third. Absent a crisis, reliability is table stakes, and generally far too heavily relied upon by services professionals at the expense of other variables. In a pandemic, though, its relative importance increases because of our basic human need for certainty. And while none of us holds the power to answer big questions such as, “When will we be able to go to a live concert again?” we can do things like:

  • Make small promises, then routinely follow through. And when plans get derailed, that’s OK, just get in touch immediately to reset expectations.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate.Meetings and touch-points that occur at a regular cadence provide a sense of stability, even if you don’t have new information to share.

Credibility (C). Credibility is fundamentally about words: what you say, and how you say it. Knowing stuff might be helpful to others right now, but unless you’re Tony Fauci it’s not likely to set you apart. Zero in on being honest about your limitations and errorsinstead. For example, be willing to say, “I screwed up in how I handled that,” or “I don’t know”—straightforwardly and with a blend of ego strength and humility.

It’s my first pandemic, and there’s a lot I don’t know right now. One thing I do know is that the trust equation is a simple and profound framework that offers guidance in the best of times and the worst of times.

May we all use it well.

Trust in the Time of the COVID-19 Pandemic (Episode 38)Trust Matters,The Podcast

Welcome to the newest episode of Trust Matters, The Podcast. Listeners submit their personal questions about professional relationships, trust, and business situations to our in-house expert Charles H. Green, CEO, Trusted Advisor Associates and co-author of The Trusted Advisor.

A leader in a consulting firm writes in desperately trying to figure out how to manage business development and clients during the COVID-19 pandemic. She asks “Do you have any ideas about how to build trust with potential clients in a time of crisis like this?”

Do you want to send your questions to Charlie & Trust Matters, The Podcast?

We’ll answer almost ANY question about confusing, complicated or awkward business situations with clients, management, and colleagues. Email us: podcast@trustedadvisor.com

Building Client Trust During a Crisis

As the Novel Coronavirus pandemic disrupts business across the globe, companies are scrambling to  assess and mitigate the near-term impact to their business. One of our clients recently shared an email he sent to his team of client relationship partners, reminding them to take a trust-building approach: reach out with information, but foremost with humanity.

Dear [name],

Last week we sent some information to share with your clients regarding COVID19. In addition to the technical support information that we should be sharing, I want to reinforce the importance of communicating directly with our clients on a personal level as well. While it is natural, and even responsible, for us to see how we can support their business, now can be the defining moment to make personal connections and establish long-lasting trust.

While there will be immediate opportunities to help clients with risk assessments, supply chain optimisation, cost reduction and resource augmentation, etc., the objective of contacting them TODAY should be to see how COVID19 is affecting their job, but more importantly to simply see how they are doing personally. Some questions to consider:  

  • How is COVID19 impacting their day-to-day life?  
  • How is this impacting how they are making near-term business decisions?
  • How is this impacting their direct reports and completing short term projects?
  • What other pressures is this putting on them, both professionally and personally?
  • How is this impacting them and their family?

During our conference last June, Charlie Green talked to us about what we can do to become our client’s Trusted Advisors. If you recall the “Trust Equation”, two key elements to establish trustworthiness include increasing “intimacy” while lowering our own “self-orientation”. Taking the time to personally call your clients – and not profiteering during crisis – is a good step towards gaining their trust and will pay dividends in the future.

Now is the time to speak with your clients and talk to them as a person and not as a target/fee source.

 Kind regards,

 Scott

While Scott specifically highlights intimacy and self-orientation, two factors of trustworthiness found in the trust equation, this email is also an excellent illustration of the four trust principles in practice.

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Trust in the Job Hunting Process (Episode 37) Trust Matters,The Podcast

Welcome to the newest episode of Trust Matters, The Podcast. Listeners submit their personal questions about professional relationships, trust, and business situations to our in-house expert Charles H. Green, CEO, Trusted Advisor Associates and co-author of The Trusted Advisor.

A technology project manager writes in and asks, “I’ve been responding to postings in my field, I’ve got a solid resume, and I’m getting interviews, but – I’m not getting call-backs. In my interviews, I make sure to highlight the project management fits in my resume with the specific requirements they cite. But something isn’t working. Any advice?”

Looking for more advice on how to improve your interview skills?  Join our next webinar How to Influence a Skeptical Audience: 3 Simple Steps

Do you want to send your questions to Charlie & Trust Matters, The Podcast?

We’ll answer almost ANY question about confusing, complicated or awkward business situations with clients, management, and colleagues. Email us: podcast@trustedadvisor.com

 

Does Trust Differ From Salesperson to Sales Management? (Episode 36) Trust Matters,The Podcast

Welcome to the newest episode of Trust Matters, The Podcast. Listeners submit their personal questions about professional relationships, trust, and business situations to our in-house expert Charles H. Green, CEO, Trusted Advisor Associates and co-author of The Trusted Advisor.

Dr. Peter Johnson, Clinical Professor of Marketing at Fordham’s Gabelli School of Business in New York. Dr. Johnson writes in to suggest we talk about the role of trust in a critical business transition –  from a salesperson to a sales manager.

Learn more about the basic tools of trust and professional relationships. Play the podcast episode above and register for our next webinar on February 25.

 

Professional Trust 101 (Episode 35) Trust Matters,The Podcast

Welcome to the newest episode of Trust Matters, The Podcast. Listeners submit their personal questions about professional relationships, trust, and business situations to our in-house expert Charles H. Green, CEO, Trusted Advisor Associates and co-author of The Trusted Advisor.

A sales manager from Florida writes us in regards to the podcast’s material, “Great podcast but I feel like I’m operating three levels down in a larger system. Is there a bigger way of looking at trust? Did I miss the session on Trust 101?”

Learn more about the basic tools of trust and professional relationships. Play the podcast episode above and register for our next webinar on February 25.

Do you want to send your questions to Charlie & Trust Matters, The Podcast?

We’ll answer almost ANY question about confusing, complicated or awkward business situations with clients, management, and colleagues.

Email: podcast@trustedadvisor.com

We post new episodes every other week.

Subscribe to get the latest episodes:

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Move Qualified Sales Leads Down the Funnel by Bringing a Risky Gift (Episode 34) Trust Matters,The Podcast

Welcome to the newest episode of Trust Matters, The Podcast. Listeners submit their personal questions about professional relationships, trust, and business situations to our in-house expert Charles H. Green, CEO, Trusted Advisor Associates and co-author of The Trusted Advisor.

The owner of a small consulting firm writes in and says: “We’re getting great inquiries but, after the first phone call or meeting, we’re not converting them. We’ve got great credentials and I know we can do the work. I’d guess that we’re only moving about 25% of our good leads into serious contention. Have you got any ideas?”

To read more about this topic read a recent post:

Do you want to send your questions to Charlie & Trust Matters, The Podcast?

We’ll answer almost ANY question about confusing, complicated or awkward business situations with clients, management, and colleagues.

Email: podcast@trustedadvisor.com

We post new episodes every other week.

Subscribe to get the latest episodes:

iTunes
Android
Google Play
Spotify
Via Email

5 Short Phrases to Build Relationships: Part 5 of 5

This is the fifth in a series of five posts on short (seven words or less) powerful phrases. Each phrase distills the essence of a key part of approaching trust-based relationships in business.

Why focus on short phrases like this? Because the concise expression of several emotionally powerful concepts packs a punch. Such phrases feel profound. They catch the listener’s attention. They force the listener to reflect. They are short enough to remember every word, and they resonate in the mind of the listener. 

Today’s Phrase: (Three words) 

            “What’s behind that?”

When you find yourself wondering either, “What is he hiding? That can’t possibly be the whole truth!!” or, “I don’t think she’s thought this through,” this is the phrase to use. 

When to Use It:

  • When you feel there is a deeper level of explanation or motivation for what the other person is saying;
  • When you suspect the issue is being discussed at a shallow level, and needs to be explored more fundamentally.

Examples:

  • “I know you’ve said that you don’t trust suppliers in this industry; what’s behind that?” 
  • “I notice that you and your team have very well-developed procedures for vetting new hires – much more than usual. What’s behind that?
  • “Your corporate values statement puts emphasis on ‘client first.’ Can you tell me, what’s behind that?

Why It Works.

These three words transform a potentially critical or antagonistic question into one of respect and curiosity. They work because of a sub-text of Respect and Curiosity.  

Respect. Given the situation in which you use this phrase – typically one where you suspect either avoidance or weak thinking on the part of the respondent – it’s very easy to let those suspicions bleed out into the appearance of antagonism, critique, or diminution of the respondent. 

“What’s behind that” positions you as assuming positive intent and clarity on the part of the respondent. By making that assumption, and by showing that you are simply ignorant of the presumably good reasoning background or rationale behind the statement, you show respect. This defuses the negativity. 

Curiosity. Along with the respect conveyed by the words, you are complimenting the person by suggesting that not only do they know something you don’t, but that you are motivated by genuine curiosity – you too want to know what is behind the surface statement, and the respondent is in the position to enlighten you. 

A caveat. It’s important to note that you are potentially putting someone in a difficult situation. If they in fact haven’t thought the issue through, or their motives were hidden for a self-serving reason, then you are putting them in a position of self-indicting embarrassment. Unless that is your intent (which unless you’re a prosecutor, I recommend against), you need to be ready to save their self-respect by empathizing with their situation. If you do that rightly, you will end up with a deeper level of shared intimacy, as well as appreciation from the respondent that you have treated their issue with care and respect.   


Click Here To Read The Full Series:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

5 Short Phrases to Build Relationships: Part 4 of 5

This is the fourth in a series of five posts on short (seven words or less) powerful phrases. Each phrase distills the essence of a key part of approaching trust-based relationships in business.

Why focus on short phrases like this? Because the concise expression of several emotionally powerful concepts packs a punch. Such phrases feel profound. They catch the listener’s attention. They force the listener to reflect. They are short enough to remember every word, and they resonate in the mind of the listener. 

Today’s Phrase: (Four words) 

            “Tell me more – please.”

This is the best, universal, skeleton-key phrase for getting your counterpart in a conversation to continue the dialogue, and in fact to go deeper.

When to Use It:

  • A key technique for getting a dialogue to continue, gain momentum, and go deeper.
  • Not at the outset of a conversation, but after two or three interactions, when you want more.

Examples:

  • “So, this is your third job in this industry? Interesting…tell me more – please.” 
  • “That sounds a little different from what I usually hear people say about this topic: tell me more – please.
  • “You know both John and Mary? My my – tell me more – please.”

Why It Works.

These four words draw on several aspects of personal relationship as it develops in a conversation. Those include Open ended questions, Gift giving, and Reciprocity.   

Open-ended Questions. Both open-ended and closed questions have their place. In this context, an open-ended question allows the respondent to define the terms of his or her answer – as opposed to the questioner defining them. Among other things, this suggests that the questioner is giving up his or her control over the conversation, and turning it over to the respondent. 

Gift-giving. Use of this phrase early in a conversation conveys that the questioner is prepared to offer the gift of time. It’s the opposite of suggesting that you have limited time, and that you intend to control the meeting.  

    • This gift-giving sense of the phrase can be amplified with body language. You might lean in, put your pen or pencil (or laptop) to the side, and indicate that you are prepared for as much time as the respondent might want to spend on the topic.

Reciprocity. The “please” at the end of the phrase, coupled with the sense of giving the gift of time discussed above, establishes that you are engaged in simultaneously giving a gift, and asking a favor. But the favor is actually a form of another gift, cleverly disguised as a favor. It suggests that you are so interested in the respondent’s answer that you are asking for it – as a favor to you. (A favor, sincerely asked for, is a compliment; it ‘obligates’ the respondent to return the favor in some form). 

The effect of this double-gift offering is to set up a pattern of reciprocity. If you are on the receiving end of this gift (“take as much time as you want, I am truly interested for my own sake in what you have to say, and want nothing other than to pay attention to you”), it leads the respondent to want to return the favor. We all appreciate sincerely being paid attention, and become inclined to, afterwards, listen as carefully to what the speaker in turn has to say. 

Next Blogpost:  Short Phrase #5 of 5: “What’s behind that?”