Is Self-Orientation Killing Your Trustworthiness
When Maister, Galford and I wrote The Trusted Advisor in 2000 one of the more popular themes in the book was the Trust Equation.
TQ = Trustworthiness
C = Credility
R = Reliability
I = Intimacy
S = Self-Orientation
And within that equation, the factor that has stirred the most interest over the years has been the denominator, self-orientation. In the trust equation, since the S factor is in the denominator, a high level of self-orientation reduces trustworthiness. A low level of self-orientation serves to increase trustworthiness.
Let me explain this further.
Self-Orientation Is About Where Your Attention is Focused
When you are standing in front of a room presenting, and your pulse rate is high, your palms sweating, your breath shallow and fast – in those moments, your self-orientation is quite high, because you are focusing on yourself.
The key to successful presenting lies first and foremost in getting out of the trap of self-orientation. You need to have the calmness, confidence and curiosity to see the audience and its needs rather than to see them as instruments of torture for you.
For synonyms or drivers of high self-orientation think self-obsessed, self-conscious, self-loathing, self-aggrandizing, full of self, un-self-confident.
When we are operating from high self-orientation, we do not hear others. We do not hear their questions, desires, fears, or emotions in general. The noise inside our own head drowns them out.
The psychology goes like this: if your level of self-orientation is low, you can pay attention to someone else. If you pay attention to someone, they experience that as caring. If someone thinks you care about them, they are likely to trust you.
Conversely, if your attention is focused on yourself, others become acutely aware of it and infer that you do not care about them. Rightly or wrongly, they then decide you are untrustworthy.
It is hard to pay attention, therefore hard to care, and therefore hard to be trustworthy if your attention is all on yourself – your self-orientation is high.
Self-Orientation Does Not Mean Selfishness
You may be selfish, in which case you are probably pretty self-oriented. But you may also be highly unselfish yet attached to the idea of others seeing you as unselfish. That is also high self-orientation.
Sometimes people equate low self-orientation with passivity or with willingness to give away business, cut price, or otherwise let the other party “win.” It means nothing of the kind.
A low self-orientation is critical to legitimate client focus. You cannot be focused on customers for the sake of the customer if you are obsessed with the moral activity in your own brain. Since client focus is a driver of profitability, this leads to a wonderful paradox: if you focus on achieving profitability by way of client focus, you will sub-optimize. Yet if you focus on the good of the client, rather than the funds you can extract from their accounts, you will achieve greater profitability – by treating it as a byproduct rather than as a goal.
Low self-orientation is not some soft form of capitalism. It is rooted in the simple psychological observation that human beings return good for good, but only money for goods. Retention economics and returns to scale in the real world are driven heavily by a sense that parties are out to help each other, not to gouge each other. Low self-orientation drives higher profitability, not lower.
I will write another blog this week giving some practical examples of high self-orientation, so that you can spot them as they arise. In the meantime, let me offer a simple practical tool for diagnosing high self-orientation:
Seek humility. That does not mean thinking less of yourself; it means thinking of yourself less.
Great piece, Charlie. Good review and some sharp new highlights for me. I am especially attracted to the last sentence. From this, I am going to make signs for my two teenager’s rooms. The signs will read: "Do not think less of yourself; think of yourself less."
This is an excellent article, and particularly timely for me. I’m working on a keynote for a client (which I will also turn into several blog posts) on the topic of sales professionalism, and I am actually in the middle of your book, which has already given me several useful ways to look at the issue.
I call self-orientation "inside-out" thinking, and advocate that salespeople (and for that matter, speakers) should instead use "outside-in" thinking: asking, listening, learning and understanding before going into "selling" mode.
Thanks for the insights, and I may use your last sentence in my speech–with full credit given of course!
Thinking about these two Self-Orientation posts, I find myself wondering how Self-Orientation and Narcissism relate. In my mind, the Venn diagram has a lot of overlap, but the categories are still separate. Have you looked into this at all? And does the literature about narcissism shed any light on your concept of self-orientation? (I’m thinking here, among other things, about Hochkiss’ Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism.)
As you know, I’m not a psychologist. To my untrained brain, narcissism affects a relatively small portion of the population–2-3%, if I recall from past readings. Self-orientation, to me, is a much more common affliction, something we all suffer from, more or less, throughout our human journey through life.
I don’t think of narcissism as a venn diagram wholly within self-orientation, though there is clearly some overlap. To me, the big difference is that the narcissist is completely without negative self-perceptions. It’s high self-regard all the time, quite disconnected from reality. They are justified above all others in their minds.
Whereas, the average humanoid with a heavy dose of self-orientation is constantly flip-flopping between high self-regard and high self-loathing–with a significant chunk of time spent in the latter state. They are not disconnected from reality, they have the reality volume knob turned up to 11, with the distortion pedal heavily engaged on top of it all.
That’s my take on it anyway.
Please accept my belated thanks, Charlie, for your great answer. I think you really nail it in your third paragraph. Now I’m going to spend a long time thinking about the difference between (complete) disconnection from reality and a generous distortion pedal.
And speaking of self-orientation and narcicissm, did you happen to see The New York Magazine’s excellent piece on how the psychology of narcissism affects politics?
My take-away: the more you can get across the message about the value of low self-orientation, the healthier American politics will be.