Can You Trust the Statistics on Trust?

The ZDNet headline is striking: “Americans trust Amazon and Google more than Oprah (and Trump).”

Wow! Ring the alarm bells, right?

The article goes on to cite the underlying study, from Morning Consult, called Most Trusted Brands 2020. Those brands range from the US Post Office to Hershey and Cheerios, from “religious leaders” and labels on food packaging to Oprah and Warren Buffett, from extreme weather warnings to Tom Hanks.

Both make a big deal about the validity of the study, averaging 16,700 interviews covering 2,000 brands. With such an impressive load of statistics, who could doubt the findings?

Me, for one. And so should you, after a minute’s reflection.

In fact, these ‘findings’ are about as meaningful as the results of a poll asking, “Which is nicer: a rhinoceros or a tricycle?”

Blurred Lines

The problem doesn’t lie in the statistics – it lies in the question being asked.

In this particular survey, the single question asked was, “How much do you trust each brand to do what is right?” The answer range was a lot, some, not much, not at all, or don’t know.

Whenever you encounter a study that offers to compare trust, you should ask yourself – trust to do what? The more specific the answer to that question, the more informative it is. The vaguer the answer, the less meaningful it is.

For example, “I trust Cheerios to avoid food contamination” would be fairly informative. You could compare the Cheerios score to Wheaties’ score. But you couldn’t compare it to Oprah or the Post Office, simply because neither has much to do with food contamination.

In this case, the question is “to do what is right.” But what does that even mean? Is there any “right thing” that covers both Warren Buffett and a weather forecast?

Comparing “the right thing” for religious leaders with “the right thing” for food packaging labels is not just apples and oranges: it’s apples and Sherman tanks. Any definitional overlap is at such a high level of abstraction as to render it nearly meaningless.

Proper Stats

Statistics like these do have two uses.

First, they are great clickbait. But, that’s the problem.

More seriously, they actually are good for tracking comparisons over time. If there is a decline from 2018 to 2020 in people’s ratings of how likely Tom Hanks is to “do the right thing,” that reflects a real shift in people’s perceptions of “America’s dad.” But comparing Hanks to Hershey? That’s just silly.

The ways people actually use words is an anthropological fact, one we can’t change. But that’s no reason responsible researchers shouldn’t use words with care. And this is not a thoughtful or careful use of the word ’trust.’

In this case, they’d be far better off talking about ‘brand image,’ or ‘reputation,’ or simply ‘positive feelings.’

For example, the ZDNet article says, “There was but one [brand] that was trusted ahead of Amazon and Google: the United States Postal Service.”

But – to do what?

If the answer is “to deliver packages” – a pretty core mission of the Postal Service – sorry, I give the nod to Amazon. Yet the article chooses to focus instead on Amazon’s connections to home surveillance and connection to police forces, suggesting that the Post Office is more ethical than Google.

If you can’t be precise in defining “trust to do what,” then it’s like any weak syllogism: from a false premise, any conclusion follows.

Sorry, this is just sloppy thinking. It’s akin to bar arguments about the greatest rock ’n roll band, or the all-time NBA dream team. Actually, it’s worse: it’s like arguing whether Tiger Woods or Serena Williams is the greater athlete.

Again, it all depends on answering “trust to do what?” The more vague the answer, the less useful the statistic – no matter how many decimal points you can point to in the data.

 

 

A (Better) New Year’s Resolution

Thirteen years have passed since I first wrote the following thoughts on New Years resolutions. Frankly, it was good. And frankly I haven’t been able to write a better one.

Next year, maybe (though, probably not).

So, apologies to those who have read it year after year – though I suspect some of you won’t mind.

Happy New Year.
——————————————-
My unscientific sampling says many people make New Years resolutions, and few follow through. Net result – unhappiness.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

You could, of course, just try harder, stiffen your resolve, etc. But you’ve been there, tried that.

You could also ditch the whole idea and just stop making resolutions. Avoid goal-failure by eliminating goal-setting. Effective, but at the cost of giving up on aspirations.

I heard another idea: replace the New Year’s Resolution List with a New Year’s Gratitude List. Here’s why it makes sense.

First, most resolutions are about self-improvement – this year I resolve to: quit smoking, lose weight, cut the gossip, drink less, exercise more, and so on. All those resolutions are rooted in a dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs – or with oneself.

In other words: resolutions often have a component of dissatisfaction with self. For many, it isn’t just dissatisfaction – it’s self-hatred. And the stronger the loathing of self, the stronger the resolutions – and the more they hurt when they go unfulfilled.  It can be a very vicious circle.

Second, happy people do better. This has some verification in science, and it’s a common point of view in religion and psychology – and in common sense. People who are slightly optimistic do better in life. People who are happy are more attractive to other people. In a very real sense, you empower what you fear – and attract what you put out.

Ergo, replace resolutions with gratitude. The best way to improve oneself is paradoxical – start by being grateful for what you already have. That turns your aspirations from negative (fixing a bad situation) to positive (making a fine situation even better).

Gratitude forces our attention outwards, to others – a common recommendation of almost all spiritual programs.

Finally, gratitude calms us. We worry less. We don’t obsess. We attract others by our calm, which makes our lives connected and meaningful. And before long, we tend to smoke less, drink less, exercise more, gossip less, and so on. Which of course is what we thought we wanted in the first place.

But the real truth is – it wasn’t the resolutions we wanted in the first place.  It was the peace that comes with gratitude.  We mistook cause for effect.

Go for an attitude of gratitude. The rest are positive side-effects.

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?”

5 Short Phrases to Build Relationships: Part 3 of 5

This is the third 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) 

            “Help me understand…”

When your crocodile brain screams out, “What? How can you say such a thing?” this is the phrase to replace it with. 

When to Use It:

  • As noted above, this is a highly evolved way of dealing with an objection, with confusion, or with differing points of view
  • This phrase converts confrontation into collaborative joint inquiry.

Examples:

  • “Help me understand what’s behind the apparent resistance in the organization to the initiative as currently presented?”
  • Help me understand why you chose that element of the customer interaction to focus on as the primary driver?
  • “Help me understand more about the history and perspective of the marketing organization as they address this issue?”

Why It Works.

These three words convey a lot in a small package. They convey a willingness to collaborate, to overcome apparent disagreement, and a genuine curiosity – all while cultivating respect (which, if offered, tends to be reciprocated).  

Willingness to collaborate. Particularly because this phrase is used in a moment of potential confrontation, it marks a sharp turn in the conversation. It suggests that, rather than engaging in a battle between opposing ideas, you are willing to assume misunderstanding. Further, that the misunderstanding is likely yours, and not theirs. It signals graciousness, an unexpected reaction to confrontation.

Vulnerability. By explicitly asking for help, you indicate that you are not perfect, that you acknowledge it, and that you are not above seeking help from others. People’s response to being asked a favor is almost always to grant it – particularly if it is asked humbly, and even more particularly when they expected to be attacked instead.  

Respect. The subtext of “help me understand” operates as a signal of respect. By assuming any fault to be yours, and by leading with curiosity, you (contingency) show respect to the other person’s ideas. The natural human reaction to an offering of respect (think a handshake, a bow, a thank you) is too reciprocate. Again, the respect is magnified because of the combative circumstance in which you offer the gesture 

Next Blogpost:  Short Phrase #4 of 5: “Tell me more…please.”


Click Here To Read The Full Series:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

 

Mr. Rogers Does Trust

You may have heard about the just-released movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” starring America’s Hollywood Golden Boy Tom Hanks.

I saw it the other day, and share the very positive reactions of audiences and critics alike. It’s a straight shot to the heart. No kidding.

But you’ll make up your own mind about that. What I want to comment on is a line uttered near the end of the movie that made me sit up straight. It was this:

If you mention it, you can manage it. 

I’m too old to have experienced Fred Rogers as a child; my kids grew up with him, but perhaps like many older-adult parents, I didn’t pay much attention. I did not know until after seeing the movie and looking it up, that the “mention/manage” comment was apparently a well-known and central part of his philosophy.

Others picked up on it earlier than I did; for example, here; and here.

In any case, that formulation is precisely what I speak about in Name It and Claim It. As I put it in 2008:

Think of a big bad truth; an elephant in the room. The thing that everyone knows is true, but no one wants to talk about. Name It and Claim It is for getting those “elephants” out in the open. Because the thing about elephants is that if you don’t speak them, they take control. But if you can Name It—that is, speak the elephant in the room—then you can Claim It—you can recover control.

By being able to speak about difficult, emotional things – elephants, if you will – you can bring them into shared discussion with others. The power of the elephant over you dissipates. Sunshine and disinfectant. Pick your metaphor.

Fred Rogers was speaking to young children. I was speaking to adult professionals. But on some levels – we’re all the same.

There are very few Big Truths. But there are a thousand ways to state them. And only one way to experience them – Your Way.

 

Navigating a Morally Compromising Situation (Episode 32) 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 customer service manager at a B2B SAS company is in a tricky situation: “I just started a role at a new company. The way they manage aspects of customer service feels a bit sleazy to me. It seems to be part of a larger culture. There is a lot I like about this company and my new job otherwise. How should I handle this situation?”

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.

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Is It Ever OK to Recommend a Competitor to Your Client? (Episode 31) 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 tech consultant asks, “My boss wants to outsource parts of our client project to several vendors and a competitor. This gives me a gut feeling of being very wrong and deceptive. What should I do?”

Charlie offers insight for leveraging honesty and credibility as well as managing expectations.

And if you want to read more on this topic, here is a recent blog 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.
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Are trust-building conversations different for women? In at least one case, absolutely.

We had a really interesting discussion in a team meeting the other day about a trust-building technique that we’ve been espousing for years (one that Charlie Green first wrote about in Trust-Based Selling in 2005 and has been a favorite of mine ever since he taught it to me). We talked about how that technique, when used by women, might unintentionally compromise their trust-building efforts in a big way. This week’s tip digs a little deeper into the issue and proposes a solution that actually applies to women as well as men.

The technique in question is a caveat, which is a short, emotionally honest statement that precedes a tough message—like, “This is awkward …” or, “At the risk of embarrassing myself … ”.

The questions that arose were (1) Can caveats hurt a woman’s credibility and (2) Should women therefore avoid them entirely?

The answers I’ve since come to, thanks to colleague and coach Stewart Hirsch’s thoughtful input based on the work he’s done on implicit bias, is (1) quite possibly, yes, and (2) no.

Caroline Turner, former General Counsel of Coors and author of Difference Works (with whom Stewart has collaborated), helps us understand the why behind both answers.

In Caroline’s article, “Masculine-Feminine Difference: How We Talk,” she describes a masculine-feminine continuum and distinguishes what she calls masculine and feminine language. She reminds us that both men and women operate on both sides of that continuum, and each has its own language. In short, masculine language is marked by declarative statements. Feminine language uses more questions, and, as noted in Caroline’s article, often relies on what Dr. Pat Heim calls disclaimers, hedges and tag questions. Feminine language used in a masculine environment—and vice versa—are where trust issues can arise.

With caveats, which can sound a lot like disclaimers, a more feminine style of speaking could in fact hurt credibility in a more masculine-dominated setting. (A disclaimer has the effect of discounting the message, though that’s not the intent of a caveat.) Examples of problematic caveats in this case include:

  • “I could be wrong …”
  • “I may be missing something …”
  • “I’m not sure how to tell you this …”
  • “At the risk of embarrassing myself …”

Similarly, more masculine-style caveats, like, “You’re not going to like this …” could hurt intimacy in a more feminine-dominated setting. (Side note: I had great difficulty coming up with a lot of masculine-style examples as I am definitely more feminine-style oriented. Suggestions are always welcome.)

The solution is the same for both women and men: know your audience and tailor accordingly. Interestingly, the caveats above could be very effective when applied in the other setting. And when you’re not sure, you could go more neutral:

  • “Heads up …”
  • “I’m not sure how you’re going to react …”
  • “There’s no easy way to say this …”

The solution is definitely not to avoid caveats altogether. That’s because they serve as a warning to the recipient that bad news is on the way, and that warning is an intimacy-builder in and of itself. And intimacy—especially in the face of bad news—is a critical aspect of trust-building for us all.

Trust Matters, The Podcast: The Ghosting of Business Future (Episode 27)

The owner of a small tech consultancy talks about her recent experience being ghosted by a contractor she hired. She asks “What should I do about being ghosted?  How can I prevent this from happening again in the future?”

Want to learn more about how to handle ghosting in business? Read recent blog by Charles H. Green.

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’ll be posting new episodes every other Tuesday.
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