Five Short Phrases to Build Relationships: Part 2 of 5

This is the second 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 therefore to resonate in the mind of the listener.

Today’s Phrase: (Four words) 

            “At the risk of…”

What then follows is a short list of your fears about what will happen if you say what you are about to say.  (And usually your fears are shared by the others in the conversation).

When to Use It

  • A key technique for calling out the “elephant in the room,” the thing that everyone is thinking about but no one feels comfortable saying
  • As a way of announcing an emotionally risky statement, thereby defusing the risk.

Examples

  • “At the risk of revealing my complete ignorance about this organization – what does the acronym QRP stand for in this paper?”
  • “At the risk of delving way too deep into personal relationship issues – it feels to me like there’s a bit of a breakdown in communications between you and Susan…”
  • “At the risk of grossly misreading your reaction, Susan, you seemed a little startled by that last part of the conversation?”

Why It Works.

These four little words pack an emotional punch well beyond their weight. They work because of the relationship between Transparency, Vulnerability, and Risk-taking, and because of the power of Ironic Over-statement.

Transparency. The opposite of transparency is opacity. When interactions are opaque, there is room for all parties to imagine all manner of bad motives, monsters lurking under the bed. When someone chooses to be transparent – to reveal their true motives, to shine a light on the ‘monsters’ – we relax. We feel more intimacy with that person, and our mistrust fades away. By speaking of the ‘elephant in the room,’ we deprive the elephant of its emotional power over us.

Vulnerability. By choosing to be the first to challenge the ‘rule’ about not speaking of the elephant, you are overtly taking a risk – the risk that every fear you listed may in fact be true.

      • But paradoxically, stating those very fears out loud in the form of a caveat (“at the risk of…”) robs them of their power – you have already acknowledged out loud the worst of your fears.
      • Having done so, the worst that others can say is, “Well, yes, that does reveal ignorance / get too personal / misread me.” In which case you simply say, “OK, got it, won’t make that mistake again.” You have converted an elephant into a mere checked-as-completed task.

Risk-taking. All trust starts with someone taking the risk. If you always wait for the other person to take the first risk, you are passively defaulting your power (the analogue in sales is “aggressively waiting for the phone to ring”). These four words not only announce your intent to take the first risk, but mitigate the risk you are taking (see the bullet points in ‘vulnerability’ comments above).

Ironic Over-statement. Note the adjectives and adverbs in the examples above: complete ignorance, way too deep, grossly misreading. We all know the lesson of Watergate: the cover-up is always worse than the crime.

By ironically over-stating our fears, we are immunizing ourselves against the Watergate error. No one can mistake your intent for a flimsy excuse, a lame apology, or an almost-but-not-quite admission. It evokes a response of, “All right, OK, we got it, let’s move along” – which is precisely what you want.

 

Next Blogpost:  Short Phrase #3 of 5: “Help me Understand…”

 

 

 

Five Short Phrases to Build Relationships: Part 1 of 5

 

This is the first 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 thus to resonate in the mind of the listener.

Today’s Phrase: (Seven words) 

“I could be wrong about this, but…”

What then follows is an observation, hypothesis, or point of view, that you wish to put forward to your client.

When to Use It

  • When you are attempting to distill key elements of a discussion and move toward framing an issue
  • As a way to establish thought leadership or credentials in a pitch or sales presentation
  • As a way to present an alternative point of view in a conversation.

Examples

  • “I could be wrong about this, but in my several forays into the retail industry, the merchandising function has generally had a pretty powerful voice…”
  • “I could be wrong about this, but my sense is that you may be attributing more energy on this issue coming from Bob than he might have – I wonder if he really cares that much?”
  • “I could be wrong about this, but it strikes me from what you’ve said that the downside risk sounds pretty small compared to the upside benefit…”

Why It Works

This little phraselet triggers four key concepts behind trust-based interactions: Low Self-orientation, Respect, Reciprocity, and Risk.

Low Self-orientation. By explicitly acknowledging up front your possible fallibility, you show that you are willing to subordinate your ego for the greater good of the team (paradoxically demonstrating that you are comfortable enough in your own skin to withstand being perceived as wrong).

Respect. By overtly confessing that you might not be right, you are deferring to the client as a possible arbiter of the real truth. It invites a correction if one exists. At the same time, if the client doesn’t have the right answer, it lets them off the hook, allowing them to save face – because at worst, they are your equal in ignorance.

Reciprocity. Reciprocity is a fundamental dynamic of human relationships, forming the template for such interactions as etiquette, influence, and trust. If you do X first, I will do the same in return. If you listen to me, I will listen to you; if you treat me well, I will treat you well; if you humble yourself to me, I will humble myself to you.

    • In this case, you are offering a gift of sorts – a gift of your insight, presented with humility. The natural reciprocative response is, bare minimum, to consider your gift; and often to, in return, engage in dialogue about the issue you have raised.
    • Note that in this context, it is critical that you really might be wrong, and you know it; the whole thing doesn’t work if you flat-out believe you couldn’t possibly be wrong (in which case you’re being hypocritical), or if there’s really no risk at all to your gift.

Risk. At nearly every point in nearly every relationship, each party fears taking a small risk to go deeper. Short term loss always overwhelms long-term gain in our emotional short-sightedness. But “I could be wrong, but…” says to the other party, “It’s OK – I’ll take the first risk. I’ll test the water, I’ll risk the humiliation – I’ll put myself forward to lessen the risk to you.” And, as per the reciprocity point above, this willingness to take the first risk results – paradoxically – in greater willingness of the other person to join you.

Next Blogpost:  Short Phrase #2 of 5: “At the risk of…”

Trust Matters, The Podcast: Kick-Starting a Relationship with a New Boss (Episode 20)

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Trust Matters, The Podcast: Trusting a Team Member on a High-Profile Project (Episode 19)

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Trust Matters, The Podcast: How to Establish Trust When Managing a New Team (Episode 8)

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Why the Talking Stick Creates Trust

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.

 

How to Build Trust Within a Cross Functional Team

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!