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.

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

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.

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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