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The morning news is celebrating a minor triumph of civility in the United States Senate. Senator Susan Collins helped broker a (very) short-term deal by using a talking stick – a centuries-old example of early social engineering from Native Americans.
What’s interesting here is not the agreement itself, but how the use of the talking stick creates trust.
The Nature of Trust
Interpersonal trust is a bilateral, reciprocating relationship based on risk-taking. Let me unpack that in simple English.
Trust requires a trustor, and a trustee. The trustor initiates the relationship by taking a risk. The trustee then responds, or not, by being trustworthy. The players than reciprocate roles – it becomes the trustee’s turn to be the trustor. And so on.
As a visual metaphor, think of a simple handshake; one person extends their hand – the other (usually) responds in kind. A minor social ritual, but of the type that plays out dozens of times a day in simple respectful, reciprocating gestures. It is the stuff of etiquette, among other things.
The Critical Role of Listening
Trust formation follows the rule of reciprocity – but what is the currency of that reciprocity? A powerful component of it is very basic – listening. As in, “If you listen to me, I will listen to you.”
This is a familiar proposition to all of us. In sales, we have “I don’t care what you know until I know that you care.” In fields as diverse as hostage negotiation, terrorist interrogation, and suicide hotlines, we know the critical nature of listening in order to ensure the other person feels heard. (In the field of relationships, you’ve probably been on one end or the other of the familiar line, “Would you stop trying to solve the problem, I just want you to listen to me.”)
I’m not talking about “active listening,” or listening to find out the other person’s position, or to formulate a value proposition. I’m talking about something much more basic and fundamental – listening so that the other person feels heard, validated, understood. This is primal stuff.
The Talking Stick
What the talking stick does is to ritualize this fundamental human truth. The only person allowed to talk is the one holding the stick. The result – even though everyone ‘knows’ that it’s an artificial constraint – is that it works.
We are hard-wired to appreciate the civility of listening – and to respond in return. The talking stick is a physical reminder of a basic rule of trust creation: the critical role of listening. If you let me talk about my issues, I will then let you talk about yours.
It’s a rule all humans seem to respect; and a clever vehicle, even if transparent, for drawing on our better natures to create trust.
Today’s guest post is from Rick Lepsinger, President of OnpointConsulting. They are long-time friends of ours, and leaders in the field of leadership development. Rick addresses a key application for trust in the business world – cross-functional teams.
Trust is the foundation of any organization. On cross-functional teams, where collaboration between members of different functional units is a core part of effective day-to-day operations but when no one has direct authority over anyone else, trust is critical. However, it can be more difficult to build in a multi-functional team especially when team members are geographically dispersed.
Building trust among multi-functional team members is a key part of enhancing the overall productivity, profitability, and functionality of these teams.
Recognizing Trust Issues
Recognizing the signs of trust issues is crucial for diagnosing problems as well as guiding any trust-building efforts. Some of the danger signs of low levels of trust on a team include:
- Lack of Involvement. When team members do not share information or involve colleagues in decisions that may affect them.
- Lack of Interpersonal Interactions. When every conversation between team members is “strictly business” and team members do not connect on a personal level.
- Talking Behind Each Other’s Backs. When team members talk about the mistakes of others to everyone except the person who made the mistake.
- Focus on Functional Rather Than Group Goals. When team members are in it for themselves rather than helping one another meet goals for the good of the whole group.
- Team Members Avoid Asking for Help. When team members take on too much themselves and avoid asking for help because they believe that they cannot rely on others.
- Everyone Deflects Responsibility for Their Mistakes. When team members blame others rather than accept responsibility for mistakes or missed commitments.
- Micro-Managing. When team leaders, and even team members, scrutinize the work and progress of others and start to tell people how to do their work.
Odds are that if trust is lacking, then you may notice several of the above symptoms among your team members. So what can people do to build trust and increase the perception of their trustworthiness?
The 4 Essential Elements of Trust
Many of the aforementioned symptoms of a team with low levels of trust can be attributed to the lack of one or more of the following components (ref the Trust Equation):
- Credibility. How much team members believe what a person says.
- Reliability. The extent to which team members “follow through” on commitments.
- Intimacy. The extent to which team members empathize with others and feel they can confide in one another.
- Self-Orientation. How much a team member thinks that someone else has his or her best interests at heart.
Actions to Build Trust
Trust takes time and effort to build on any team. Although not always easy, some methods for building trust in a cross-functional team include:
- Arranging Face to Face Meetings. At least once early in the team’s development, arrange a direct, face-to-face meeting so everyone can put a face to a name. In addition, host online video-conferencing to replicate the characteristics of face-to-face interactions. This provides opportunities for team members to connect and build relationships.
- Partnering Team Members. Have team members at various locations work closely together on different projects. Then, rotate the teams so that everyone will, eventually, be partnered with everyone else at least once. This provides team members with opportunities to establish credibility (by demonstrating competence), demonstrate reliability (by meeting commitments), and build relationships and demonstrate intimacy.
- Clarifying Shared Goals and Common Ground. Self-orientation is greatly improved when the entire team is focused on the same objectives. Common ground creates a situation where it is no longer “your” goals or “my” goals but rather “our” goals, which makes cooperation and collaboration desirable.
- Using Action Plans. Actions plans outline who is responsible for what activity and when that activity is targeted for completion. They can be seen as “contracts” that document agreements. As a result, action plans improve reliability — they increase the likelihood that commitments are top of mind and that people will deliver on their promises.
- Celebrating Wins as a Group. Whenever a team member or the team as a whole has a major accomplishment (meets a particularly tough deadline, makes a big sale, solves a big productivity challenge, etc.), celebrate that win as a team. This provides a forum for team members to recognize the contributions of others and can enhance the perception of credibility and reliability.
- Encourage Team Members to Voice Their Concerns. If a problem is ignored, then it won’t get fixed. Such problems eat away at productivity and erode trust over time. Creating a culture where it is expected and safe for team members to voice their concerns and complaints—and acting on them when feasible—is a major part of improving self-orientation and intimacy among the team. When concerns are constructively raised and addressed, team members will feel that they can confide in others without fear of retribution and that their interests are being taken into account.
Using these methods, it is possible to increase trust between team members on a multi-functional team.
Monitoring Team Trust
It’s important to be on the lookout for the danger signs of low levels of trust. But, identifying specific issues can be difficult for team leaders who are not co-located with all or some of the team members and for Human Resources experts who may not be active members of the cross-functional team.
One way to monitor team trust is to use OnPoint’s GRID survey to collect insights and feedback from cross-functional teams. The survey includes questions on elements that impact trust, such as shared goals and clear roles, as well as questions specifically designed to address the quality of relationships and trust among cross-functional team members to help identify problems so they can be corrected.
For more information and advice about building trust within a matrix organization, contact OnPoint Consulting!
Transparency is one of the Four Trust Principles for creating trust-based organizations. The other three are other-focus, collaboration, and a medium-to-long term perspective (aka relationships over transactions). Here’s the business case for transparency.
The article Is Transparency Always the Best Policy? first appeared a few years ago in Harvardbusiness.org. The article is about Paul Levy, President and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and the answer to the blog’s question, based on this sample of one, would appear to be a resounding ‘yes.’
In matters great and small, Levy has simply made it an operating practice to behave transparently. His great results may surprise many, but they make a great deal of common sense.
If you are transparent about your activities, you are saying you have nothing to hide. If you have nothing to hide, then people trust what you do.
If you are transparent about what you say, then you don’t risk saying one thing to one person and another to another. You don’t appear to be two-faced; you appear to have integrity—you say the same thing to all persons. (And, it’s a lot easier to remember what you said if there’s only one version).
If you are transparent about what you think, then people can observe your thinking, and see that you are not editing what you say. They feel you are available to them, that you are not segmenting them off.
If you are not transparent in your actions, your words, and your thoughts, then people wonder about your motives. Why are you doing what you’re doing?
What is it you really mean when you say something? And what are you really thinking when you’re thinking?
Suspicion about motives colors every aspect of trust—it affects your credibility, your perceived reliability, and the degree to which people confide in you. The antidote to a bad case of suspicion is transparency. It’s as true in the financial and regulatory world, in the world of negotiation, and in the world of accounting, as it is interpersonally.
So Why Aren’t We All Transparent?
With all the obvious advantages that transparency conveys—why aren’t we all more transparent more often?
There are a thousand answers, varying in particular, but with some common threads in general. At the root of it, I think, is fear.
Fear that others will take advantage of us. Fear that we will be misunderstood, or shamed. Fear that others will see the true inner “me” and thus steal the faux power we foolishly think we maintain by being opaque.
Transparency is both a result of lowered fear, and a cause of lowering fear. Sharing information with another encourages another to share with us. Disclosing information within a company—as Paul Levy did so frequently—begets teamwork and lowers suspicion.
The willingness to be transparent in negotiation helps the other party figure out what it is that you want—so the paradoxical result of taking a risk is that you increase the odds of getting what you want.
Transparency is an invitation to collaboration and connection. It lowers fear, it increases trust.
It feels like taking a risk, but it’s really risk-mitigation in disguise.
Operating transparently isn’t just a hospital procedure.
An old business friend told me the other day that the thing he most remembers me saying was, “What problem are we trying to solve?” As he put it, “That little phrase is the key to unfreezing more off-course conversations than any other technique I know of.”
I can’t claim invention. I got it from the United Research side of Gemini Consulting, one of several pieces of clever social engineering they brought to business. Here’s how, and why, it works.
How Business Conversations Go Astray
To hear us tell it after the fact, many business meetings follow a logical flow. They start with an agenda or problem definition, data are then presented, discussions held, and conclusions reached. Then pigs fly.
It’s not that those individual elements don’t happen – they do. It’s that they happen like a Tower of Babel, randomly and all at once. When everybody’s got an opinion and a vested interest, and nobody’s a designated facilitator – a description of most meetings – we shouldn’t expect much else.
Have you ever been in a planning board meeting? A condo association meeting? A meeting within your firm’s HR department? An inter-departmental meeting? A sales call with an interested but wary client?
Then you’ve seen the following dysfunctions:
- People pursuing their own agendas as sub-text to a given issue
- Aimless wandering around various problem definitions
- Randomly proposed solutions without grounding
- A social struggle for air time
- An airing of pet peeves as they manifest in the given issue
- A game of dominance and submission playing out in an issue.
And I’m sure there are more. All are forms of incoherence, lacking sequence or structure, generating more frustration from which to feed more incoherence.
It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way
If the root issue is incoherence, then there are several ways to tackle it. You can agree on an agenda. You can enforce sequencing. You can apportion air time.
But one way seems to work better than others. When the babble begins to peak, and the frustration level is palpable, raise your hand, furrow your brow, and ask, genuinely, “Hey folks – what problem are we trying to solve?”
Notice what this simple formulation does.
First, it is socially neutral-to-positive. Logically it has the same effect as saying, “You fools are all over the map – you can’t even define the problem” – but the emotional effect is totally different. You’re not claiming the moral high ground or fighting for your point of view – you’re simply observing a phenomenon, and asking a question.
Second, it’s a very good question. Asking a group to gut-check a problem definition almost immediately elicits an answer – and often it’s the same answer. In which case, collaboration is restored – you all have a common mission again.
And if it’s a different answer, voila, you’ve distilled the essence of the debate – “we have two competing problem definitions, no wonder we were having such difficulties!” In either case, the group becomes re-centered around a dynamic goal – problem definition and resolution, rather than bitching and moaning, or power games.
The net effect of all this is claiming, centering, and norming. A group becomes a group again, with common goals, moving forward, rather than a fractious collection of squabblers.
Give it a try next time you’re in a meeting that’s driving you a little batty – just ask, “Hey folks – what problem are we trying to solve?”
Is technology killing trust in your organization? Are we heading for a dehumanized, low-trust business world? Can technology itself come up with trust-enhancing ways to guard against this trend?
I’m getting asked these questions lately. And while there’s some merit to the question as framed, the news is not nearly as bad as it sounds – provided we remember a few basics.
The Technological Threat to Trust
Think of your own business – how is it being affected by:
- Social collaboration
- Big data/analytics
- The cloud
- Process automation
- Internet of Things
- 3d Printing
- Cognitive systems
- Digital wallets
- P2P lending
Since trust is largely personal – so the logic goes – and the thrust of most of those technologies is to reduce the human connection, if not eliminate it entirely, then we must be heading into a dangerously low-trust future.
- How can you trust a robo-planner the way you trusted a CFP? Alternatively, maybe the robo-planner is actually more trustworthy?
- How can you establish customer relationships when the customer has walked themself through half the buying process online without speaking to anyone? And what if the customer no longer wants those relationships?
- What happens to trust when my firm automates a process? Doesn’t going from trusting a person to trusting a process create an inherent reduction in trust?
What We Forget
In this way of framing the problem, we forget two major offsetting benefits of technology – each a significant cause for optimism.
The most obvious is that there is trust, and there is trust. In particular, there is “soft” and “hard” trust. These correspond to the Trust Equation components as follows:
“Soft trust” — Intimacy and Self-Orientation
“Hard trust” — Credibility and Reliability
In many of the technologies we talk about, there is a direct trust trade-off. What we lose in human contact, we often gain in reliability (in particular). It wasn’t that long ago that people stood in lines to get cash from their checking accounts. You had to walk a distance; banking hours were restricted; and you never knew how long the lines would be.
Would anyone – bank or customer – ever want to give back the freedom that ATMs gave us? In trading off the polite chit-chat with your friendly neighborhood teller, you got reliable convenience, reliably availability, (pretty) short lines, and reliable accuracy. A net plus.
Such is often the case with automation, CRM, the cloud, and other technologies. What we lose in one part of trust, we gain with another.
The Multi-part Solution.
The least obvious offsetting benefit is that all the technologies above have not affected by one iota the basic biology of humans. We still are complex, non-linear, and emotionally-driven in our fundamental approach to people, risks, relationships, and business. Neither Steve Jobs nor Stephen Hawking have come anywhere near close to rewiring humans.
And humans have always resisted purely logical reasoning. Whether you prefer the observations of Daniel Kahnemann or of StarTrek’s Dr. Spock, we like to make decisions based on emotion – then rationalize them after the fact with linear logic.
–We buy with the heart, and justify it with the brain.
–We don’t care what people know until we know that they care.
–The fastest way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him.
What does this mean for the technology v. trust conundrum? Plenty. It means that it’s impossible to engineer out all “soft” trust in most situations – we humanly resist it. And if we have less of an opportunity for ‘soft trust’ creation, then the entire weight of the soft trust creation will rest on the few remaining opportunities for interaction.
In other words – fewer trust opportunities does NOT mean lower trust – it means more trust weight and emphasis being placed on fewer personal interactions. The trust-importance of those interactions is actually increased, not decreased.
Trust Design Implications
What’s to be done? There are two false solutions, and two better ones.
- The technical temptation. It’s tempting to ask technology to solve its own problem, but it’s nearly always the wrong answer. More metrics won’t help if your values are wrong (see Fargo, Wells). Customer sat surveys are as bloodless as the technologies they’re deployed to measure. And no matter our Hals, Siris, and Alexas, we know they’re not ‘soft,’ they’re just software. You can’t get intimate with an avatar (yet, anyway).
- The specialist temptation. Similarly, it’s tempting to view technologists as hopeless cases, and to bring in a special squad (group, team, unit) whose job it is to do trust. Wrong: you’re far better off training technologists to get a little better at trust than you are training poetry majors to talk to technology clients. Anyway, you can’t fix a technologist’s low trust by pointing to someone else’s high trust.
- The transparency solution. However, technology can help in two particular ways. One is simply to leverage the informational power of technology, and move radically in the direction of transparency.
The reason is simple. A big component of people’s trust is whether they think you have something to hide. That is true at the personal and the institutional level. If we sense that the person, process or organization has no axe to grind, no hidden agendas, and no secrets, then we are inclined to trust them.
This kind of transparency is evident even before we meet someone – in our website designs, in our employee and customer policies, in our public responses. In an evolving world, when we start by assuming confidentiality, we are setting ourselves up for failure. The right beginning question is “Why shouldn’t we be sharing this?”
- The design solution. A technical world is one in which users have power. Users include employees, customers, suppliers, neighbors. Most cases are not like the ATM, where zero contact is required. In most cases, some contact is required. The key is to give the participant maximum power over the timing and nature of that contact.
In a sales process, this means make everything feasible available without personal contact – eg. online. Then, when the customer gets to the inevitable point where they actually need, and want, a real-person interaction, make that interaction available:
- immediately (e.g. within a click for text support, two rings if phone)
- with high quality (i.e. a qualified, unscripted support person authorized to talk.
Digitization is not immutably opposed to trust – we’re just not thinking about it rightly. The challenge is for us to get better at trust in the remaining interpersonal situations, and to design the non-personal interactions in ways that respect our analog nature.
Integrity, like trust, is something we all talk about, meaning many different things – but always assuming that everyone else means precisely the same that we do. That leads to vagueness and confusion at best – and angered accusations at worst. Particularly in this time of elections, a careful examination of how we use the words in common language is useful.
Integrity and the Dictionary
Merriam Webster says it’s “the quality of being honest and fair,” and/or “the state of being complete or whole.”
If you’re into derivations of words (as I am), then it’s the second of these definitions that rings true. The root of “integrity” is Latin, integer. That suggests the heart of the matter (integral), and an entirety. “Integer” also has the sense of a non-fractional number, i.e. whole, not fragmented, complete.
In manufacturing, we have the idea of “surface integrity,” the effect that a machined surface has on the performance of the product in question: integrity here means keeping a package of specified performance levels intact. Similarly, a high-integrity steel beam is one that will not break or otherwise become compromised within certain parameters of stress.
Related also to this theme of wholeness is the idea of transparency, of things being whole, complete, not hidden – in this sense, we have high integrity to the extent we appear the same way to all people. Think of the phrase “two-faced” as an example of someone without integrity. (For a somewhat different and nuanced take on this issue in cyberspace, see @danahboyd on Mark Zuckerberg and multiple online identities).
Sometimes when we say someone has integrity, we mean they act consistently, in accord with principles. We say someone has high integrity when they stick to their guns, even in the face of resistance or difficulty.
Which raises an interesting question: where’s the line between integrity and obstinacy? For that matter, can a politician who believes passionately in the art of compromise ever be considered to have high integrity?
Then there’s that other common use of integrity that has a moral overtone – honorable, honest, upright, virtuous, and decent. Some of it has to do with truth-telling; but some of it has to do with pursuing a moral code.
Yet that raises another interesting question: can a gang member or a mafioso be considered to have integrity? Can an Occupy person ever consider a Wall Streeter to have integrity? Or vice versa? There may be honor among thieves, but can there be integrity?
Integrity – Your Choice?
So which is it? Does integrity mean you tell the truth? Does it mean you operate from values? Does it mean you always keep your word? Does it mean you live a moral life? Does it mean your life is an open book?
Let’s be clear: there is no “right” answer. Words like “integrity” mean whatever we choose to make them mean; there is no objective “meaning” that exists in a way that can be arbitrated.
But that makes it even more important that we be clear about what we do mean. It just helps in communication.
For my part, I’m going to use “integrity” mainly to mean whole, complete, transparent, evident-to-all, untainted, what-you-see-is-what-you-get.
For other common meanings of “integrity,” I’m going to stick with synonyms like credible or honest; or moral and upright; or consistent.
What do you mean when you think of integrity?
Most salespeople will agree – there is no stronger sales driver than a client’s trust in the salesperson. Further, the most successful route to being trusted is to be trustworthy – worthy of trust. Faking trust is not easy – and the consequences of failing at it are large.
But is it possible to know if your client does trust you? Is there one predictor of client trust? Is there a single factor that amounts to an acid test of trust in selling?
I think there is. It’s contained in one single question. A “yes” answer will strongly suggest your clients trust you. A “no” answer will virtually guarantee they don’t.
The Acid Test Of Trust In Selling
The question to you is this:
Have you ever recommended a competitor to one of your better clients?
If the answer is “yes” – subject to the caveats below – then you have demonstrably put your client’s short-term interests ahead of your own. Assuming you sincerely did so, this indicates low self-orientation and a long-term perspective on your part, and is a good indicator of trustworthiness.
If you have never, ever, recommended a competitor to a good client, then either your service is always better than the competition for every client in every situation (puh-leeze), or, far more likely, you always shade your answers to suit your own advantage; which says you always put your interests ahead of your clients’; which says, frankly, you can’t be trusted.
Here are the caveats. Don’t count “yes” answers if:
- The client was trivially important to you;
- You were going to lose the client anyway;
- You don’t have a viable service offering in the category;
- You figured the competitor’s offering was terrible and you’d deep-six them by recommending them.
The only fair “yes” answer is one in which you honestly felt that an important client would be better served in an important case by going with a competitor’s offering.
If that describes what you did, and it is a fair reflection of how you think about client relationships in general, then I suspect your clients trust you.
This is the “acid test” of trust in selling. To understand why it’s so powerful, let’s consider the factors of trust.
Why This Is The Acid Test
My co-authors and I suggested in The Trusted Advisor that trust has four components, and we arrayed them in the “trust equation.” More precisely, it is an equation for trustworthiness, and it is written:
T = (C + R + I)
T = trustworthiness of the seller (as perceived by the buyer)
C = credibility
R = reliability
I = intimacy
S = self-orientation
Credibility is probably the most commonly thought-of trust component, but it is only one. Think of credibility and reliability as being the “rational” parts of trust. Believable, credentialed, dependable, having a track record – these are the traits we most consciously look for when screening vendors, doctors, and websites.
The third factor in the numerator – intimacy – is more emotional. It has to do with the sense of security we get in sharing information with someone. We say we “trust” someone when we open up to them, share parts of ourselves with them. We trust those to whom we entrust our secrets.
But all pale beside the power of the single factor in the denominator – self-orientation. If the seller – the one who would be trusted, who strives to be perceived as trustworthy – is perceived as being self-oriented, then we see him as someone who is in it for himself. And that’s the kiss of death for trust.
At its simplest, high self-orientation is selfishness; at its most complex, self-absorption. Neither gives the buyer a sense that the seller cares about any interests but his own.
Self-orientation speaks to motives. If one’s motives are suspect, then everything else is cast in a different light. What looked like credible credentials may be a forged resume and false testimonials. What looked like a reliable track record may be an assemblage of falsehoods. What looked like safe intimacy may be the tactics of a con man. Bad motives taint every other aspect of trust.
The acid test aims squarely at this issue of orientation. Whom are you serving? If the answer is, the client, then all is well. No client expects a professional to go out of business serving them — the need to make a good profit is easily accepted.
It’s when the need to run a profitable business is given primacy in every transaction, every quarter, and every sale, that clients call your motives into question. How can they trust someone who’s never willing to invest in the longer term, never willing to compromise, never willing to gracefully defer in the face of what is best for the client? They cannot, of course.
Passing the acid test suggests you know how to focus on relationships, not transactions; medium and long-term timeframes, not just short-term; and collaborative, not competitive, work patterns.
Flunking the acid test means clients doubt your motives. Whether you are selfish or self-obsessed makes little difference to them – the results are self-aggrandizing, not client-helpful.
The paradox is: in the long-run, self-focused behavior is less successful than is client-helpful behavior. Collaboration beats competition. Trust beats suspicion. Profits flow most not to those who crave them, but to those who accept them gracefully as an outcome of client service.
This post first appeared on RainToday.com
Establishing trust is not a one-way street. Trust takes risk. And that risk doesn’t just come from your clients taking a leap of faith when you hand them a proposal and a firm handshake. To build trust, especially with your clients, YOU have to take the risk too.
So, you want your clients to trust you? Read on…
If you’re trying to sell your services, you already know the value of being trusted. Being trusted increases value, cuts time, lowers costs, and increases profitability—both for us and for our clients.
So, we try hard to be trustworthy: to be seen as credible, reliable, honest, ethical, other-oriented, empathetic, competent, experienced, and so forth.
But in our haste to be trustworthy, we often forget one critical variable: people don’t trust those who never take a risk. If all we do is be trustworthy and never do any trusting ourselves, eventually we will be considered un-trustworthy.
To be fully trusted, we need to do a little trusting ourselves.
Trusting and Being Trusted
We often talk casually about “trust” as if it were a single, unitary phenomenon—like the temperature or a poll. “Trust in banking is down,” we might read.
But that begs a question. Does it mean banks have become less trustworthy? Or does it mean bank customers or shareholders have become less trusting of banks? Or does it mean both?
To speak meaningfully of trust, we have to declare whether we are talking about trustors or about trustees. The trustor is the party doing the trusting—the one taking the risk. These are our clients, for the most part.
The trustee is the party being trusted—the beneficiary of the decision to trust. This is us, for the most part.
The trust equation is a valuable tool for describing trust:
But where is risk to be found? How can we use the trust equation to describe trusting and not just being trusted? How can we trust, as well as seek to be trusted?
Trust and Risk
Notwithstanding Ronald Reagan’s dictum of “trust but verify,” the essence of trust is risk. If you submit a risk to verification, you may quantify the risk, but what’s left is no longer properly called “trust.” Without risk there is no trust.
In the trust equation, risk appears largely in the Intimacy variable. Many professionals have a hard time expressing empathy, for example, because they feel it could make them appear “soft,” unprofessional, or invasive.
Of course, it’s that kind of risk that drives trust. We are wired to exchange reciprocal pleasantries with each other. It’s called etiquette, and it is the socially acceptable path to trust. Consider the following:
“Oh, so you went to Ohio State. What a football team; I have a cousin who went there.”
“Is it just me, or is this speaker kind of dull? I didn’t get much sleep last night, so this is pushing my luck.”
“Do you know whether that was a social media reference he just made? Sometimes I feel a little out of the picture.”
If we take these small steps, our clients usually reciprocate. Our intimacy levels move up a notch, and the trust equation gains a few points.
If we don’t take these small steps, the relationship stays in place: pleasant and respectful, but like a stagnant pool when it comes to trust.
Non-Intimacy Steps for Trusting
The intimacy part of the trust equation is the most obvious source of risk-taking, but it is not the only one. Here are some ways to take constructive risks in other parts of the trust equation.
- Be open about what you don’t know. You may think it’s risky to admit ignorance. In fact, it increases your credibility if you’re the one putting it forward. Who will doubt you when you say you don’t know?
- Make a stretch commitment. Most of the time, you’re better off doing exactly what you said you’ll do and making sure you can do what you commit to. But sometimes you have to put your neck out and deliver something fast, new, or differently.To never take such a risk is to say you value your pristine track record over service to your client, and that may be a bad bet. Don’t be afraid to occasionally dare for more—even at the risk of failing.
- Have a point of view. If you’re asked for your opinion in a meeting, don’t always say, “I’ll get back to you on that.” Clients often value interaction more than perfection. If they wanted only right answers, they would have hired a database.
- Try on their shoes. You don’t know what it’s like to be your client. Nor should you pretend to know. But there are times when, with the proper request for permission, you get credit for imagining things.”I have no idea how the ABC group thinks about this,” you might say, “but I can imagine—if I were you, Bill, I’d feel very upset by this. You’ve lost a degree of freedom in this situation.”
While trust always requires a trustor and a trustee, it is not static. The players have to trade places every once in a while. We don’t trust people who never trust us.
So, if we want others to trust us, we have to trust them. Go find ways to trust your client; you will be delighted by the results.
This post first appeared on RainToday.
We learned in grade school not to lie (probably just a bit after we’d already learned how to lie – sometimes you have to know a vice before you can see the virtue that counteracts it).
But even if we learned it – the lesson didn’t seem to stick. (Check daily newspaper headlines). As we see headlines about LIBOR, Volkswagen, drug pricing and you name it, are we losing the ability to be shocked by lying?
When in doubt, look to humor – particularly sarcasm. Here’s Dilbert on trust and lying:
Scott Adams nails it. And with a surgical sledgehammer, as usual. The pointy-haired boss is ethically clueless, and blatantly so.
We all get the joke, much the way we get the old George Burns line, “the most important thing in life is sincerity – if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”
But sometimes it’s worth deconstructing the obvious to see just what makes it tick. So at the risk of stepping on the laugh line, let’s have a go at it.
Lying and Credibility
The most obvious problem with lying is that it makes you wrong. Anyone who knows the truth then immediately knows, at a bare minimum, that you said something that is not the truth, aka wrong.
The shock to credibility extends even to denials. Think Nixon’s “I am not a crook,” or Clinton’s “I did not have sex…” or the granddaddy of them all, the apocryphal Lyndon Johnson story about getting an opponent to deny having had sexual relations with a pig. In each case, the denial forces us to consider the possibility of an alternate truth – and the damage is done.
But credibility is the least of it. There are two other corrosive aspects of lying: evasiveness and motives.
Lying and Evasiveness
When you think someone is lying to you, you likely think, “Why is he saying that?” Evasive lying is rarely as direct as the Dilbert case; more often it shows up in white lies, lies of omission, or lies of deflection. “You know, you can’t really trust those damage reports anyway,” “I wouldn’t be too concerned about the service guarantee if I were you,” and so forth.
If the first response to a lie is to doubt that what is stated is the truth, then the second response is to wonder what the truth really is. And we sense evasiveness as we run down the list of alternate truths, each more negative than the last.
Lying and Motive
But the most damning aspect of lying is probably the doubt it casts on the liar’s motives. We move from “that’s not true!” to “I wonder what really is true,” to “why would he be saying such a thing?”
To doubt someone’s motives is to add an infinite loop to our concerns about the lie. First of all, motive goes beyond the lie, to the person telling the lie – who is now incontrovertibly a liar.
Second, the rarest of all motives for lying is an attempt to do a greater good for another. Despite frequent claims that “I did it for (the kids / the parents / justice), almost all motives for lying turn out to be self-serving at root. (Including the lies we tell ourselves about why we’re telling lies). Why would he do such a thing? Because there was something in it for him, that’s why! It’s almost always true.
And if people act toward us from selfish motives, then we know we have been treated as objects – as means to an end and not as ends in ourselves. This is unethical in the Kantian sense.
Worst of all, bad motives call everything else into question. “If he lied about this, then how can I know he was telling the truth about that? Or about anything else?” This is why perjury is a crime, and why casting doubt on someone’s character is a common way to counter their statements.
Recovering from Lies
We’ve all told lies. At least, everyone I know has. Okay, I have. We can often be forgiven, just as we can forgive others their lies to us. To forgive and to be forgiven, the liar must express recognition and contrition around the full extent of the lie, and then some.
This can be done more easily for the wounds of credibility and evasiveness. “I was wrong to do that, I know it, and I am sorry.” It is harder to forgive the part about motive, because it goes to something much deeper. How can someone be believed about changing their motives? How easily can you change your own?