Operating Transparently

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 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.

Trust Takes a Long Time to Create, a Short Time to Destroy. Not.

There are two kinds of mistakes we make with trust. One is to trust mistakenly – the other is to fail to trust at all. One is a failure of commission, the other a failure of omission.

The former gets all the press – but it’s the latter that is the bigger problem.

Let me explain.


One of the bigger myths about trust this one: “Trust takes a long time to create, but only a moment to destroy.” There’s no need to name names here, but you can see examples of it here and here and here and here.

Here’s why that myth isn’t merely annoying, but positively harmful as well.

The Truth.

Let’s start with the truth. Most human relationships, like most emotions, take roughly as long to get over as they took to develop. Marriages or friendships don’t end overnight. There may be a flash point, a straw that breaks the camel’s back. But we cut slack for people we trust. We don’t dump them abruptly.

If trust were lost in a minute, many victims of relationship abuse would leave their abuser at the first incident; but things are often a little more complicated than that.

If trust died quickly, the SEC would have investigated Bernie Madoff when Harry Markopolos first lodged charges against him. If trust died quickly, the steady drip drip drip of evidence at Penn State, Enron, and Wells Fargo would have ended at the first drip.

Most examples of “trust lost quickly” turn out to be either just the last drip in a long series of drips – or a delusion about trust’s existence in the first place (you don’t “violate the trust” of a subscriber to your email list by sending them a worthless referral; the relationship you have with a name on your email list may be many things, but “trust-based” is probably a stretch).

Trust formed quickly can be lost quickly; trust formed at a shallow level can be lost at the same level.  But trust formed deeply, or over time, takes deeper violations, or a longer time, to be lost. The pattern looks more like a standard bell curve than a cliff.

But, you might say, so what?  Why is that harmful? What’s the big deal? 

The Harm.

If you believe that trust can be lost in a moment, then you likely believe you must be cautious and careful about protecting it. You are likely to think about trust as a precious resource to be guarded against being tarnished. You are inclined to institute rules and procedures to protect it and to give cautionary lectures about the risk of losing trust.

Yet these are precisely the kinds of behavior that result in trust lost.

I don’t trust the man who talks with me while pointing a gun at me‬ – partly because he looks threatening to me, but also because he clearly does not trust me.

Trust, at a personal level, is like love and hate: you tend to get back what you put out. You empower what you fear. Those afraid of getting burned are the most likely to get burned.

This works at a corporate level too. I remember vividly the convenience store chain that gave monthly lie detector tests to store managers to prevent theft – and then wondered why the theft kept on happening.

I recently heard from a company wanting to modify the Trust Equation by “toning down” the component called Intimacy to something more bland, like affability or good manners. Why? They didn’t want to be seen as encouraging employees to have sexual liaisons with customers. This falls in the same category with multi-paragraph email signature caveats, and the fine print on retail customer receipts. Fear of trust not only doesn’t save trust – it actually causes low trust.

Trust is a Muscle.

Thinking of trust as something you can lose in a minute makes you cautious and unlikely to take risks. But the absence of risk is what starves trust. There simply is no trust without risk – that’s why they call it trust.

If your people aren’t empowered, if they’re always afraid of being second-guessed, then they will always operate from fear and never take a risk – and as a result, will never be trusted.

Trust is a muscle – it atrophies without use. And the repetition of the mantra “trust can be lost in a moment” just tells people not to use it.

Turns out the stupidest, craziest trust is the trust you never engaged in because you were too afraid of losing it. The smartest trust is the trust you create by taking a risk.

Tips, Tricks and Trust

In the spirit of the season, I recently started thinking about a question I used to get asked frequently: what are some tricks to becoming more trusted?

Here’s the thing: Trust is a Treat. Not a trick.

Let me elaborate.

When I give seminars or training sessions, I often begin by asking for participants’ expectations. And reliably, at least one of the first few will say, “I’d just like to learn some tips and tricks to become more trusted.”

Tips and tricks to become more trusted.

My first reaction—which I’ve learned to stifle—is to think, “Who do you think you’re kidding! You’re not going to get anyone to trust you with some slick trick!”

Occasionally, if I’m feeling testy, I’ll ask the participant, “Tell me—when was the last time you went to a session like this where you actually got a great “tip” or “trick”—and what was it?” Usually, I get a panicked, blind stare.

But the truth is, who am I to get sarcastic? Because I do the exact same thing myself.  And, some of the most popular posts on this blog have been my  “trust tips” series.

When I listen to others’ DVDs or speeches or articles, I too am looking for that one little “aha!” that will give me some kind of great insight. And if not a great insight, I’ll settle for something that gives me an incremental nudge in the right direction.

Something that’s pretty easy to do.

So, it would seem that my attendees and I are all looking for the same thing. Ideas that are low investment and fast payback. In fact, we value those over high return. Fast, easy, and directionally right beats high ROI – if it requires high I.

But I’m not sure I’ve got it right, and I don’t want to give in too easily to the desire for “fast, easy and directionally right.” Not entirely anyway.

I do believe that becoming trustworthy is at least as much about mindset as it is about skillset. You actually have to change your attitude. You can’t fake it ‘til you make it, or just act your way into good thinking.

But since I’m guilty of the same desire—let me take the cotton out of my ears and put it in my mouth, and listen to you.

What’s the role of tips? What are some great “tips” you have heard? What made them great? And what is the right balance between serving up “tips” and the harder work of becoming trustworthy? Let’s get some dialogue going.

4 Behaviors that Help Delivery People Be Better Business Developers

It’s an age-old challenge in the consulting industry: how to get your delivery people to develop more business. After all, who’s in a better position to bring in more work than the people who labor side-by-side with the client? But first there are barriers to break through. Read on for four specific strategies that will help your delivery people execute on both project plans and business development plans.

Old Problem: Those Closest to The Client Don’t Want to Sell 

The other day I was chatting with Jonathan, the Chief Growth Officer for a boutique consulting firm. He spoke about the long-standing challenge of getting delivery people to think and act like business developers.

We talked about how:

  • Many are 100% focused on delivery. They’ve got their eye on their target: project results. So they naturally pay the most attention to delivering on project promises, sometimes missing what’s in the periphery.
  • Some don’t see business development as their job. This mindset is common and understandable: Generating new work is for salespeople or business developers; delivery is for project teams. And there’s certainly a case to be made for spending time where you excel and have expertise.
  • Some aren’t sure how to sell. They may have a “deer in the headlights” reaction at the thought of selling, even though they know they should be looking for new opportunities, and even though they genuinely want to get better at it.
  • No one wants to be seen as smarmy. They’ve developed trust based on project execution and may see it as a breach of that trust to switch to “sales mode.”

Looking through the lens of delivery, all of these perspectives make sense. And all of them hinder business growth—for consultants and clients alike.

New Mindset: It’s a Disservice Not To Sell 

One way to get delivery people to develop more business is to change their mindset—to help them think their way into behaviors that will naturally open doors. I think that’s the right place to start. Make it your job to remind them—again and again—that everyone in the organization has a higher obligation than delivery: client service. “Selling” then, is part of the professional obligation to serve the client. Not paying attention to the clients’ business needs as a whole is a disservice. Don’t miss an opportunity to beat that drum.

I also believe that’s the beginning and not the end. Overcoming the concern about being seen as smarmy—which I suggest is the biggest barrier—will take more than a steady drum beat.

New Approach: Behaviors That Take the “Sell” Out of “Selling” 

Let’s be honest: selling is perceived as a less-than-meritorious endeavor more often than not. There are widely held stereotypes on the part of buyers and sellers alike that influence our thoughts, feelings and actions when we’re on either end of anything that feels like a sale.

Delivery people may falter because they’re just not sure how to approach opportunities in an un-smarmy way—even if they’re clear it’s the right and good thing to do. You owe it to them to provide specific tools and approaches to help take the “sell” out of selling. Try these four:

1. Ask permission. Telling a client about new opportunities to improve their business is a hundred times easier when you have set the expectation early on that you’re going to do it. At project kickoff, this could sound like this:

“Aria, we’re going to be working together closely for four months. We are totally committed to achieving the results we’ve defined in our project plan. Along the way, we might see opportunities to improve your business that fall outside the scope of our work. Would it be OK with you if we bring those to your attention when we see them?”

Then when the time comes, it’s natural to start with, “Aria, remember when we said…”

Anyone on the team can set this expectation and anyone on the team can follow through.

2. Sell by doing. One of the reasons sales gets a bad rap is that it’s seen—fairly or unfairly—as a process of mostly talk and little action. Selling by doing is a distinct approach that gives your client the actual experience of working with you. This is particularly valuable for professional services and is an easy transition when delivery people are already working shoulder-to-shoulder with a client. It gives the client a taste of what it might be like to go in a new or different direction, without obligation or pressure to move forward.

3. Sell the right solution, not your solution. The purpose of traditional selling is to help others buy from you; the purpose of trust-based selling is to help others make the best decision for them right now. Suggest that your delivery folk unreservedly explore all options with the client—not just your company’s solution. This frees them of the concerns they feel about having a company agenda. A trusted advisor, after all, is a safe haven for tough issues, not just ones for which you have a product or service or that fall within the scope of your work. Paradoxically, the chances are excellent that you’ll win more client loyalty—and more business in the long-run—when you approach opportunities with this mindset and the behaviors to back it.

4. Use caveats. Sometimes we feel things even when we know we “shouldn’t”—like feeling awkward or smarmy when it’s time to talk about being of greater service. Suggestion: say something about that. “Geez, at the risk of coming across as salesy…” That’s what we call a caveat, and it’s a conversational jewel. It dispels the yuck that you’re feeling and communicates that you care about how your message is received. It simultaneously smoothes over what could be an awkward shift for the client—although truthfully is more likely awkward for the one delivering the message.

Taking the “sell” out of selling—employing four specific strategies to reduce the perception of sales as smarmy—leads to greater value and better results.

Isn’t that the ultimate delivery?

Trust Tip Video: Trust Takes Time?

One of the more common sayings about trust is, “Trust takes time.” In fact, like several other truisms about trust, it’s far from true.

Moreover, the way we use that phrase–“trust takes time”–is often more by way of excuse than explanation.

To see why, listen to this week’s Trust Tips Video: Trust Takes Time? That’s a Cop-Out.

For more information on this week’s Trust Tip Topic, you might also enjoy reading Top Trust Myths: Trust Takes Time.

If you like the Trust Tip Video series, and you like our occasional eBooks, why not subscribe to make sure you get both? Every 2-4 weeks we’ll send you selected high-quality content. To subscribe, click here, or go to

Trust Tip Video: The Four Most Trust Creating Words

Building trust can be as easy as saying four simple words: Tell Me More, Please.

When you ask a client or colleague to tell you more–you are acknowledging that you are listening to them, and more importantly, that you care what they have to say. This small action creates big waves when it comes to creating trust.

That’s what this week’s Trust Tip video is about: Creating Trust with 4 Easy Words.

If you like the Trust Tip Video series, and you like our occasional eBooks, why not subscribe to make sure you get both? Every 2-4 weeks we’ll send you selected high-quality content. To subscribe, click here, or go to


Many Trusted Advisor programs now offer CPE credits.  Please call Tracey DelCamp for more information at 856-981-5268–or drop us a note @ [email protected].

15 Ways to Build Trust…Fast!

In case you missed it, here’s your opportunity to get a copy of our latest eBook, “15 Ways to Build Trust … Fast!”

It’s the first in the new Fieldbook series, celebrating the forthcoming release of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust (Wiley Books, October 31, 2011), by Charles H. Green (@CharlesHGreen) and Andrea P. Howe (@AndreaPHowe).

These eBooks are distillations of some of the content from our Fieldbook, which is designed to provide you with a complete set of tools to improve your ability to lead as a trusted advisor. “15 Ways to Build Trust … Fast!” debunks the myth that trust takes time to develop, and provides concrete tips for accelerating trust in any business relationship. Next up: selling to the C-suite—how to put the executive first, the relationship second, the sale third, and your own ego last.

If you’re not already receiving these in your inbox, please sign up here.

Don’t forget to check out our Trust Tip collection for more quick tips on building trust.

Accelerating Trust: Woo Woo before you Do Do (Part II)

Last week in Part I, I proposed a simple three-step approach to building trust quickly. I addressed the first two steps, which I suggested are the most important and least practiced (because they seem a little woo woo). Here’s the CliffsNotestm version:

1.     Mind your mindset. Take stock of the stories you’re carrying in your head—about trust-building, about the people you’re meeting with, about yourself. Be vigilant. Bust the myths.

2.     Set your intentions carefully. Be committed, not attached, to a specific outcome. Give people the psychic freedom to choose. Be someone around from whom they experience freedom, not pressure.

Today brings the next and last step:

3.     Prove you’re trustworthy. Take action. Show ‘em who you are, and who you aren’t. This is the step where the pragmatic, concrete, achievement-driven parts of us get to breathe a sigh of relief.

How do you prove it? Here’s a list, based on Chapter 22 of “The Trusted Advisor” which identifies the highest impact and fastest payback things you can do to build trust. I’ve organized it by the four variables of the Trust Equation and zero-ed in on actions that require moments, maybe hours, but certainly not days or months:









·      Show you’ve done your homework

·      Take a point of view

·      Speak the truth, including ‘I don’t know’

·      Answer direct questions with direct answers

·      Express your passion for your subject

·      Combine your words with presence


·      Make small promises and consistently follow through

·      Be on time

·      Use their terminology

·      Dress appropriately


·      Be willing to name the proverbial elephant in the room

·      Listen with empathy

·      Tell your client something you appreciate about him or her

·      Address your client by name

·      “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” — (a quote from “Trust-Based Selling”)


·      Build a shared agenda

·      Practice ‘thinking out loud’ with your client

·      Give away ideas

·      Steer clear of “premature solutions” (courtesy of Neil Rackham, author of SPIN Selling)

·      Ask great questions, from a place of curiosity.

Remember that according to our research, trustworthiness requires good ‘scores’ on all four variables in the equation. Choose a combination of actions, based on your audience and your own strengths and weaknesses. And don’t forget Steps 1 and 2—the woo woo before you do do—because the choices you make and the impact you have in the realm of doing are directly tied to your mindsets and intentions.

Think trust takes time? Think again. Unlearning our old ways of being in relationships with others takes time. Trust—not so much.