Fear and Forgiveness

This week our very own Lisa McArthur tackles the weight of fear and the weightlessness of forgiveness.


Reading the story of Dean Otto this week, it’s hard not to reflect on the power of forgiveness.  For those not familiar with his story, Dean was seriously injured when struck by a truck while riding his bike last September.  He had no feeling from the waist down.  Against the odds, last week Dean completed a half-marathon in under 2 hours.  But what makes this story so unique is that Dean ran that marathon alongside his surgeon and the young man who hit him.

Even while sitting on the side of the road, Dean forgave the driver.  “I accepted what had happened to me.  I forgave the guy that hit me so I wouldn’t harbor any resentment and being able to do that has really helped me throughout the whole process.”


A poignant example of forgiveness overcoming fear.  Fear holds us back and restricts us from working together and accomplishing truly inspiring things.  The ability to be gracious, to forgive, to move forward past a challenging event benefits everyone involved.  If Dean can forgive the driver of the truck that hit him…what’s stopping me? What grievances do you have in your workplace and what’s stopping you from moving past them? In a word…FEAR.

Fear makes us hold back, avoid situations and do nothing. But doing nothing has a cost a well. How do we move past our fears, forgive and build trust?

Step 1: Name your fear

Start by being explicit about what is holding you back. Here are 4 common ones:

  • Execution fear – I might make a mistake
  • Competence fear – I don’t how to do it right
  • Outcome fear – Everything might not turn out the way I want it to
  • Shame-based fear – They might not like or respect me anymore

Step 2: Write it, Read it, Say it

Once you can identify your fear, write it down, read it and say it out-loud. Don’t be tempted to skip this step. By writing things down and saying them out-loud, we move past our fight-or-flight emotional impulses and diminish the power of the emotion. I’ve often been in contentious meetings and have scribbled many such “verbalizations” in the margin of my notebook. Trust me…it works!

Step 3:  What’s the worst that could happen?

Think about your next meeting or conversation? What will you say or do? What is the worst thing that could happen? Could you be challenged? Yes. Could you be embarrassed? Possibly. What else might happen?

For many of us, the outcomes will not be life-threatening. They may be unpleasant for the short-term but will be things we can overcome. Thinking about outcomes rationally can help us maintain perspective and take the fear out of the situation.

Step 4: Identify the other person’s fear

Put your fears aside and try to see things from the other person’s perspective. Dean Otto told the young driver to not let this define or haunt him. He recognized the fear and impact of the event on both of them. Think about your personal situation…what fears might be driving the other person’s behavior? How might you be able to help them overcome their own fears?

This serves two key purposes…it may help you find new win-win ways to deal with the situation…but most importantly, it changes the sound of that little voice inside your head and lets you move beyond your fear.

Step 5:  Act

Most importantly, you need to act.

Understanding both perspectives, take honest stock of the situation, define what you can and cannot do, then take action. Remember, the fear of doing something wrong often stops us from doing something right. Be confident in your intent. As Dean said he “forgave…so I wouldn’t harbor any resentment.”

Team performance in any organization starts with collaboration. We must learn how to hold ourselves accountable to each other, get past our own fears and resolve conflict quickly. Fear holds us back and prevents us from working together. By acknowledging our fears and taking the risk of forgiveness, we create teams that can accomplish great things. What fears are holding you back from forgiveness and what risks are you willing to take to run your own version of a half-marathon?

Discomfort with Selling: Interview with Author Jeff Shore

Jeff Shore talks about being bold in the face of discomfort – a subject that quicklyBe Bold and Win got my attention.

Jeff is a sales expert, speaker, author and executive coach. He focuses far more than the usual person in this field on mindset issues, perhaps due to his combination of sales and cognitive behavioral therapy approach. Maybe that’s why I was so intrigued. His first book, Deal With It, was for salespeople coping with rejection.  His latest book, Be Bold and Win the Sale: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone and Boost Your Performance, is forthcoming from McGraw-Hill in January 2014.

Here’s our conversation:

Charles Green. The title of your new book, Be Bold and Win the Sale, sounds very upbeat and motivational. Yet the book is built very much around the idea of embracing discomfort. That sounds like a very negative approach. How do you get from discomfort to being positive in relation to sales?

Jeff Shore. Discomfort is an inevitable part of the sales process. The most successful sales people have learned to embrace discomfort as an opportunity for growth, vs. avoiding it. From the perspective of potential change and growth, discomfort is inherently positive.

We all know people who have found a way of enjoying discomfort in order to achieve a goal or to maintain their daily life. We may not think about it in those exact terms, but when we do, it isn’t hard to come up with a list of people who experience joy in the discomfort of their pursuits. (Professional athletes, humanitarian aid workers, the list can go on and on).

We tend to think that people who enjoy discomfort are simply made of different stuff than the rest of us. That’s a handy explanation, but completely untrue. People who enjoy discomfort have trained themselves to do so. They have learned, on a deeper level, how and why the gain is worth the pain and they have reprogrammed their knee-jerk reaction to discomfort in order to recognize it for what it is: the means to a greater good.

CG: You also write and speak extensively about being bold. What does being bold mean to you and how is it related to discomfort in sales?

JS: It’s different from what we sometimes think of as “bold,” in that it’s not about aggressive selling or plowing over people to reach our individual goals. It is a humble, servant-oriented mindset. But it’s also the strategy we use to dismantle what I call “comfort addictions.” Being bold is about focusing on strengthening oneself in order to be equipped to better focus on and serve one’s clients.

Every time we have a moment of discomfort we also have a moment of decision. It takes boldness and a willingness to embrace discomfort to peel back the layers of our habitual actions that are based on decisions we make so quickly that we don’t even realize we are making them.

CG: This is very similar to what I mean by lowering our self-orientation. If we can stop feeling personally attacked, or fearful, in high-stress situations, then we can be free to pay attention to and be of service to our clients.

JS: Yes, and when we take the time to be honest and examine what we are thinking (fearing) and then analyze how those thoughts are defining our actions, we can gain a new understanding for ways in which we can improve in not only sales, but all of life. It’s not at all comfortable to face one’s own well-worn rationalizations or to choose to take action that is not our norm.

CG: Interesting. This reminds me a bit of Julien Smith’s excellent eBook, Flinch: he suggests we need to face our “flinch” moments and drive through them. So, how does ‘trust’ come into play in your message of being bold?

JS: First, trust always has to do with complete honesty and that is what I encourage people to embrace as a starting point: total honesty with themselves. Sales professionals are busy people with demanding quotas and deadlines. Over time, out of a sense of survival and/or efficiency, sales people inevitably develop habits that are not based on self-honesty.

By that I mean, there are so many potentially awkward moments in the sales process that sales people learn how to largely avoid these moments by basing their actions on possible outcomes vs. what actually is. The fear of losing a sale or of experiencing an intensely uncomfortable situation is what largely motivates most sales people. I believe that if a person can change their level of honesty with themselves, they will be freed up to change their actions and then, as I always say, they will be able to change someone’s world.

CG: Fear is a great motivator, but ultimately a limiting one. We need to get over it to get to a higher, more client-focused level.

JS: Trust also comes into play in my message of being bold in that it is crucial for people to understand and believe (trust) that boldness is not an inherent personality trait that is possessed by only the “heroes” amongst us. Boldness is a choice and an action. It can be learned. I have learned, and continue to, that this is true for everyone, including myself. If I hadn’t seen evidence of this in countless aspects of my own life, including my work in sales, I wouldn’t be so convinced of it. But, I have…over and over!

CG: I would echo that. Personally, I’ve never learned as well from positive examples or even positive experiences as from negative ones.

JS: I am utterly convinced that there is no growth without discomfort. Period. If you want to accomplish big things you must first accept and then appreciate discomfort. Every time you find yourself in an uncomfortable position you can be assured that an opportunity for success is around the corner. My mantra is: a moment of discomfort ALWAYS leads to a moment of decision.

CG: And what about that “moment of decision?” Say a bit more about how people can best respond to a moment of decision?

JS: In the book, I explore, analyze and dissect all of the how’s and why’s behind the sequence of feeling discomfort and then making a decision. I talk at length about retraining one’s mind and making “pre-decisions.” Again, being bold has everything to do with being bold with oneself: taking the time to recognize those moments in the sales process that are uncomfortable and coming to grips with one’s fears in relation to them.

When we honestly recognize how our actions are based on our perceived fears, it is then that we can make a plan for change and improvement. I encourage people to be very practical and pro-active in this process. In the book, there are spaces for readers to record what their usual responses (actions) to discomforts are and write down exact plans for different actions. This is part of the pre-decision process. When someone takes the time to foresee discomfort and plans for it by pre-deciding a positive response vs. their usual response, life changes for that person!

CG: You mentioned your work in sales. Can you give us a brief description of your career in sales and how you came to be an author?

JS: My sales career spans almost 30 years and in that time I’ve done it all – sales, sales leadership, executive leadership, consulting, training, speaking and writing. I wrote my first book, Deal With It!, to help salespeople overcome objections (a specialty of mine).

Be Bold and Win the Sale is my legacy book, my vocational ambition for many years. So much of a salesperson’s success is mental. I want to help high achievers to break through barriers and find the real prize.

CG: Jeff, thanks so much for taking the time to share with me today; I love your approach.

For more about Jeff Shore:

Learn more at
follow Jeff on Twitter
pre-order Jeff’s book Be Bold and Win the Sale: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone and Boost Your Performance

Riding the Shark: Vanquishing Fear in Selling, part 2 of 4

4 Sharks Of Fear (photo via Iggy.)There are many ways to think about sales and selling. You can focus on value propositions, sales processes, sales management, motivation, techniques, and models. In this blogpost series,  I focus on something else that’s common in sales – fear.

In Part 1 I talked about the importance of dealing with fear in sales. Here I’d like to talk about how to recognize and categorize fear. In Part 3 I’ll talk about solutions, and in Part 4 I’ll talk about Shark-proofing your market – how to replace fear permanently.

The Four Sharks of Fear

There are many ways to categorize fears, just as there are ways to categorize sharks. I like to lump them in progressively more fearful categories, from relatively tame to terrifyingly fearful.

  1. Execution Fear. “I might mess up in doing this sale; I might not do it right.”
  2. Competence Fear. “I might not know how to do this sale right; I may not even know what I don’t know.”
  3. Outcome Fear. “I might not get the deal at all – everything I wanted to happen won’t happen.”
  4. Shame-based Fear. “They’re not going to like me or respect me anymore; and they’re probably right.”

The first thing you’ll notice about that list is that it gets “worse” as you go down the list – it starts off with incomplete education and ends up with self-loathing. All of us find it a lot easier to deal with the former than the latter.

But they all can drive equally negative impact on sales.

How Fear Affects Selling

Whether your fear is tactical, existential, or in between, it will keep you from doing something right.

  1. If you have execution fear, you are likely to not make the call, schedule the appointment, or send the email. You will be physically not present. You will miss opportunities and appear undependable.
  2. If you have competence fear, you are likely to appear ragged, unconfident, changeable and second-guessing.
  3. If you have outcome fear, you are likely to annoy everyone around you, because you try to over-control, micro-manage, obsess, and frequently blame others; you are in a bad mood because the world doesn’t obey your commands.
  4. If you have shame-based fear, you are mentally not present; you are probably chronically sick, or often busy elsewhere; you are probably inconsistent, moody, and often a poor listener. And in sales, the inability to listen is a major handicap.

Have you been mentally jotting notes?  Write them down. Which type of fears do you seem particularly prone to?

Negative Feedback Loops

One of the most pernicious aspects of fear is its self-fulfilling nature. If you don’t make the appointment for fear of making an error, you have made an error. If you’re afraid of appearing competent, almost anyone will perceive that fear and interpret it as – incompetence.

If you’re afraid of a bad outcome, some kind of karmic rule of life intervenes – you nurture what you fear. And if you are ashamed of yourself, nobody will be comfortable  being around you; which of course is more fish-food for the shark of shame.

This feeds-on-itself aspect of fear is powerful – picture a feeding frenzy when sharks congregate around some little piece of distress, compounding the terror.

The Wrong Shark Repellent 

Unfortunately, people are almost hard-wired to respond badly to the Sharks of Sales. In the real world, if we see a shark in the water – we run.  Good call; avoiding the shark is the right thing to do.

But with Sales Sharks, that’s exactly wrong. In almost all cases, fear of doing something wrong drives us to not do something that is right. Think sins of commission and sins of omission.

We are so afraid of saying the wrong thing that we say nothing. We may not lose what we have (dignity), but we create a much bigger failure to get something we wanted (the sale).

Imagine a lifeguard who sees someone drowning. If the guard dives in to save the person, and it turns out the person was just playing, the lifeguard may be slightly embarrassed, and feel put out.

But what if the person really was drowning and the lifeguard thought, “Well, I’d look stupid if I dove in after them and it was a false alarm, let me wait a bit longer and see.” Wrong answer!  Yet that is the mistake that fear drives us to make in sales.

The pattern is clear: fear drives us to avoidance, which ensures failure. You can probably envision some of the solutions to fear in sales, but in any case, that’s the next post. Stay tuned.

Riding the Shark: Vanquishing Fear in Selling. Part 1 of 4

photo by: Steve GarnerThis is the first of a four-part blogpost series. In Part 2, we’ll discuss the 4 types of fear. In Part 3, I’ll go over how to fend off the sharks of fear. And in Part 4, you’ll learn how to shark-proof your market and vanquish fear altogether.

There are many ways to think about sales and selling. You can focus on value propositions, sales processes, sales management, motivation, techniques, and models. I’d like to focus on something else that’s common in sales – fear.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back in the Market 

Remember the first time you saw the movie Jaws? The tale of a giant shark tapped into a primal human fear. The follow-on, Jaws 2, raised the ante with one of the most famous taglines in movie history – “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.”

Who could look at the beach again without some kind of shiver? Selling has some of that same flavor. We’ve all had some negative experience in selling – and like Jaws, it keeps some sort of control over us ever after. “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the market…” is all too real.

All kinds of selling involve some fear. Some forms of selling involve more fear than others.  Fear comes in many flavors; the form it takes varies by industry, by products being sold, and of course by the individual salesperson. There are multiple ways to deal with fears. None is always better than the others; and often more than one approach is necessary to overcome fear.

Fear is the Enemy

But with all this diversity around fear, one thing is unambiguously clear: fear is the enemy. Fear destroys sales. It separates you from your customers, makes you behave in narrow ways, lowers the value you can add, and in a thousand ways cuts your sales effectiveness.

Some may disagree.

  • Some say, “Fear helps keep me on edge, sharp, focused.” But if you require fear to keep you sharp and focused, then you lack any positive customer-based motivation. That means you’re sub optimizing – for your customers, and for yourself.
  • Some say, “Fear keeps me on my toes, always looking around for new trends and issues.” But if you seek new trends and issues only to assuage your own fears, then simply feeling comfortable will make you oblivious to trends and issues.
  • Some say, “Fear gives me adrenaline, energy, passion, things that my customers pick up on and love.” Note that drug addicts and alcoholics also believe that they are flat, boring and uninteresting unless hopped up. Are you different?

No. Fear, in all cases, is the enemy. If you’re fearful, you’re not selling as well as you can. And if you’re not selling as well as you can, someone else will. And you should be afraid of that. (And if you are, you increase the odds of precisely the thing you fear, because fear of fear is just as destructive as any other kind).

Unless you can ride the shark – vanquish your fears – you will always be sub-optimal and at risk – always afraid to go back in the water. It’s a lousy way to live.

It also doesn’t have to be that way. That’s what this four-blogpost series is about.

In the second post, The Four Sharks, I’ll tell you where to look for fear in sales. The first rule in shark-fighting (unlike Fight Club) is – we talk about Sharks. I’ll go through the Four Fears – the Big Sharks that account for about 95% of our fears. That should give you an acute sense of pain for just “where it hurts most” in terms of your fears, and help you zero in the issues unique to you, in your business, in your industry.

In the third post, Riding the Shark, I’ll go through solutions.  There are four of them, but they don’t match up one-on-one with the Four Sharks. Instead, they are comprehensive, and offer differing ways to fend off “shark attacks,” making you less vulnerable and more able to sell correctly.

In the last post, Shark-Proofing Your Market, I’ll write about what you need to replace fear – to stop being vulnerable to shark attacks altogether. Because you can’t just fight defensive battles all your career – you need to come from a place of security and confidence.

Stay tuned for the next three parts: and I welcome your comments about the subject in the meantime.

Hitting a 7-Iron from the Tee Box

This weekend I joined a dozen school buddies for an annual golf outing. Now, I took up golf late in life, which explains why I’m pretty much the worst player in the group.  At least, that’s what I tell myself.

Nobody minds much, except for me; everybody respects everyone else’s level of play. After all, that’s why handicaps exist. That said, once per outing, I will ask one good player for some advice. This time, I got some great advice from Dave.

“Charlie, your drives are too erratic. When they’re good, they’re as long as anyone’s, but much more often they end up in the woods on either side. Put away your driver club and just hit a 7-iron off the tee. You’ll give up 100 yards in distance, but you’ll always be in the fairway.”

An Insult? Or a Challenge?

As golfers know, on the face of it, that’s a bit of an insult. A 7-iron is made for much shorter shots than the driver.  Telling me to use a 7-iron from the tee is like telling a cyclist to use training wheels, or a poet to go work on rhyming. But I know Dave, and he knows me, and I knew he was just trying to challenge my thinking in a creative way. And thinking is at the heart of the matter.

All sports are about one’s mental state to some degree; but no other sport can touch golf in the attitude-to-performance linkage. How can you miss a two-foot putt? Easy – start worrying about missing it.

For most golfers (me included), the tee shot leads the list of stress-inducing moments. There are a thousand ways to think wrongly about your tee shot – and every one of them can make for a self-fulfilling prophecy. The trick is to leave your thinking behind when you finally approach the tee, and let the habit of your muscle memory take over. Over-thinking is the root of all evil in golf.

Over-thinking: a Metaphor for Life

There was no way I was actually going to hit a 7-iron from the tee – these are my buddies, and I’m not all that ego-free! But I realized Dave had given me a gift. All I had to do was envision the result of a 7-iron from the tee – and duplicate it with the driver.

Mechanically, that meant slowing down, dialing back the swing, not trying to kill the ball. Mentally, that meant feeling relaxed, staying within my comfort zone, not pushing the limits – and especially not fearing all the bad things that could happen .

The result was powerful. I gave up some distance (less than 100 yards, though) but stayed within the fairway much more often. Result, better scores.

The Tee Box of Life

How often do you invite failure – because you’re pushing the limits on a dozen variables, living in fear of missing on one of them? Does it happen in sales calls? Client progress meetings? Presentations? Performance reviews?

Maybe you should try hitting a 7-iron from the tee box. Dial back the rough edges; stay within yourself; be very clear about the core message, the core values, the core parts of the relationship. Find your swing, and learn to trust it. Be clear and simple about what you’re doing. You may not make the occasional spectacular shot; but you’ll miss a whole lot of disastrous shots, and improve your score.

Insecure Egomaniacs

Stern Woman BWIn April 2007, the New Yorker published an article by John Calapinto called The Interpreter. It describes Dan Everett, a linguistic researcher who lived for many years with a remote Amazonian tribe in Brazil, the Parahã.

The Parahã consider their language to be vastly superior to all others, and show no interest in learning other languages. In fact, as far as they’re concerned, nearly anything that isn’t part of their culture is completely un-interesting – planes, movies, radio. They are entirely self-absorbed, in a very profound and fundamental way.

Meanwhile, back in the “civilized” world, the field of linguistics is dominated by the theory of Noam Chomsky, which I won’t attempt to describe except to say it posits a universal characteristic of human propensity to form language. In other words, it says all languages must have this one thing (recursion) in common.

Well, surprise, surprise. The Parahã language, according to Everett, appears to be a counter-example. All attempts at demonstrating recursion fail. Chomsky would appear to be wrong.

But the Chomsky-ites are undeterred. Something must be wrong – wrong with the data, wrong with the researchers, wrong with the methodology. Because something can’t be wrong with the theory.

And so the linguistic theorists are just like the Parahã they study: convinced of the utter un-interesting-ness of the world around them – and blissfully ignorant of the irony.


Linguistics is hardly the only example of this self-centricity. We are literally born with it; our world starts off as hardly larger than our mother’s arms. Our view of astronomy was earth-centric until very recently in terms of human development.

To this day, maps of the world tend to be centered around, surprise surprise, the country they’re sold in. China was called the Middle Kingdom. Mutual funds in the US tend to be heavily weighted toward US stocks, while those in the UK are UK-weighted – yet each describes itself as global in view.

So, we think we’re the center of the universe. Let’s call that arrogance.

But arrogance has a helpmate, who often shows up at the same time and place.


We all like to be liked. The need for affiliation runs deep in our species, and not just for propagation. As far back as archaeology can inform us, we have tried to present ourselves to others in the best favorable light. Women wear makeup, men strut. So it goes.

In modern society, this reaches abstract levels. Some develop neurotic obsessions about the likelihood of their newborn offspring getting into Harvard, and nearly all of us are prey to teen-age angst – they like me, they like me not, my life is over.

Truth be told, very few of us ever achieve complete escape velocity from this insecurity. We still channel our inner teen-ager with depressing regularity. The urge to measure our insides by the metric of others’ outsides is powerful.

Insecure Egomaniacs

When self-centricity meets insecurity, we get Insecure Egomaniacs. In my experience, it’s not that some people are IE’s and some not – it’s that we all are IE’s, more or less, at different times. The struggle is to be less of an IE, more often, in more situations.

When we are in our IE phase, we reciprocate like alternating current between worrying that no one notices us, and that everyone is looking at us. We think ‘dance like no one’s watching,’ but we aspire to dance so well that everyone watches. We want to be at the center of the crowd, but we sit in the back row, on the side.

It’s as hard to trust an IE as it is for an IE to trust. Both arrogance and insecurity are a form of alienation, cutting us off from another, and from others. In our IE modes, we see risk everywhere, and can’t bear the thought of intimacy or vulnerability – it would either deflate our arrogance, or frighten our insecurity.  And so we rotate, iterate, prevaricate.

We are not doomed by our IE predilections, not by any means. But that’s another story.


Why It’s So Hard To Collaborate

Many words are written in an attempt to describe the next new thing. These days that list includes: trust, authenticity, collaboration, holistic, personal, sustainability, engagement, and relationship capitalism.

You could make a case that the ‘most likely to succeed’ is collaboration.

Why Collaboration Seems An Obvious Winner

For one thing, the economic benefits of collaboration seem somewhat obvious. Philip Evans of BCG has written about the massive cost advantage accruing to Toyota vs. the US auto producers due to their ability to collaborate with their suppliers. Steven M.R. Covey Jr. has written about the stark cost and speed savings available to those who seek it. I’ve written about it at some length too and in fact collaboration is one of the Four Trust Principles in my own work.

Furthermore, it’s not hard to understand what collaboration looks like. It means cooperating, not fighting. Our mothers taught us that regarding our siblings, and our teachers taught us about playing nicely together in the playground. There’s a sense that ‘we know how to do this.’

So—Why Don’t We Collaborate?

We know why to do it. We know how to do it (or at least we think we do). So why don’t we do it? I learned an axiom about ten years ago from Phil McGee: if you see negativity happening, the odds are good that you’ll find fear at the heart of it. Personal fear.

At this level, I can’t presume to speak for others, so I’ll have to just put out there why I fail to collaborate. And I do fail—constantly. The more calm I get, the more I am capable of noticing just how anti-instinctive it is for me to collaborate.

Let’s say someone calls me to say, “Hi, I see you wrote something about collaboration; maybe we could collaborate on writing more about that, get to know each other, maybe work together in some way?”

My first instant reaction—if I’m honest—is negative. This person is trying to steal my thunder, trying to get something from me. I careen back and forth between dismissing the person and fearing they’ll overpower me. Are they worthy of my time? Worse yet—am I worthy of theirs?

I know the benefits: I’ll learn and grow, and have more chances for good things to happen by behaving collaboratively than not.

And I know how to do it: just say, “Hey that could be really interesting, let’s talk,” and then do so, from a place of curiosity.

And yet—those first instincts rise in me.

I’ve gotten much better at it. I almost always notice those instincts now, right away. Not that long ago, I just lived in them.

Sometimes I get over it and say/do the right thing within 30-60 seconds. Other times it may take up to a day of thinking on it before I end up doing the right thing.

Yet there are still those times I have managed to put things off indefinitely. Or others where the opportunity is now long-gone, and exists only on my should’ve guilt list.

The Logic of Avoiding Collaboration

I don’t really think it’s just me. In the face of astonishingly obvious economic benefits, and a fairly obvious set of “how-to’s,” I think the main reason we don’t collaborate is simple. Simple fear.

There are two simple approaches to lowering fear. One is to mitigate risk. The other is to stop being so fearful. The first one is getting most of the press; we need more of the second.

The Dark Side of Trust? Not!

This blog regularly sings the praises of trust. It greases the wheels of commerce, ennobles human interactions, and generally makes the world go round.

Could it possibly be that trust has a downside? Omigosh.

From the always-provocative Harvard Business School Working Knowledge series  comes another  case of good data, flawed interpretation. This time it’s about plumbers in Philadelphia.

The Dark Side of Trust  summarizes research by Harvard Business School professor Felix Oberholzer-Gee and Victor Calanog, a doctoral student at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, in "The Speed of New Ideas: Trust, Institutions and the Diffusion of New Products."

They researched the introduction of an innovative new product (a plumber’s product called TrapGuard) to 596 plumbers and plumbing firms in Philly.

Now, some of those plumbers had strong relationships of trust with their suppliers—who presumably hadn’t told their customers about TrapGuard.  As HBSWK puts it:

The basic question at hand: Would TrapGuard encounter significant barriers to entry from plumbers who enjoyed trusting relationships with their suppliers? In other words, would plumbers be less likely to consider new products, even though innovative, because they were content with their current suppliers?

It should surprise no one that, indeed, plumbers who strongly trusted their suppliers were less inclined to pursue a promotional brochure for TrapGuard when sent one in the mail.

Here’s Oberholzer-Gee:

I wanted to see whether there was a downside to building trusting relationships between buyers and suppliers. In some sense, the study reveals a dark side of trust.

Trust is a double-edged sword. In the short run, working with trusted suppliers reduces transaction costs and furthers the buyer’s competitive standing.

But trust can also make you blind because it can make it harder to see opportunities that arise outside established relationships. The managerial challenge is to build trusting relationships without losing sight of outside opportunities.

Oberholzer-Gee clearly sees the double-edged sword nature of trust.

But presenting this as some kind of  “fair and balanced” offset to the positives of trust is at least a blinding flash of the obvious, and more likely disingenuous.

For example:

• The dark side of trusting your spouse to be faithful is you might not notice him consorting with that hottie;

• The dark side of a child trusting his parents is they might be homicidal maniacs;

• The dark side of loving (as any oldies station will tell you) is a broken heart.

Trust without risk is not trust at all. But of course. Trust is human risk management, a response to uncertainty—but one wholly unlike the rational, risk-parsing quantitative techniques typically taught and used in academia.

And here’s where it gets insidious.  HBSWK summarizes:

trusting relationships can also have a negative side that managers must take into account

HBSWK, and HBS, and Every Business School preach the Gospel According to Analytics. According to this gospel, managers “must take into account” some analytic cognitive insight at pretty much every turn, every transaction.

Never mind that “must” reeks of arrogance.  Note simply that if you subject every micro instance of trust to a micro-consideration of its worth, you destroy trust at the macro level.

Want a philandering spouse? Let her know every day how much you fear her infidelity. Want a suspicious, self-serving supplier? Constantly check them for suspicious, self-serving behavior.  Want thieving employees?   Give them all monthly lie detector tests. 

You empower what you fear.

Trust is a macro-response to life’s micro-issues.  You’d better evaluate it from time to time, like you would a marriage.  But if you constantly subject trust to the cognitive microscope, you destroy its essence.

“Must” you see the dark side of trust?  Don’t look too hard, you’ll miss all the glory, and ruin it in the looking.

FUD – Why Sell Is Still a Four Letter Word

Greg Milliken tells us about the origin of FUD—Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.  Think “Nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM.”

In other words, it’s selling by spreading FUD  about your competitor, rather than by focusing on helping the customer.

FUD-based selling, as Milliken eloquently points out, rots the soul.  And while I ultimately think that trust-based selling is more powerful, let’s give the devil his due—appealing to fear is a pretty powerful drug.

FUD is one manifestation of why “sell” is still considered a four-letter word in many parts.  Why don’t people trust a whole lot of salesmen?  Because a whole lot of salesmen aren’t trustworthy!  And many of them use FUD.  But FUD is just a subset of a larger category.

The biggest reason for not trusting a salesperson boils down to this: if they’re in it for themselves, they are not in it for you. And if they’re not in it for you, then you are perfectly right not to trust them.

Great salespeople live with a great paradox:  IF you are able to focus on other people and get them what they want, then—paradoxically—you get what you wanted all along too.  But—here’s the key part—as a side effect, not as a goal.

The modern corporate ethos is almost diabolically designed to thwart this kind of good sales thinking.  It tells us, over and over, in a million ways, to figure out what we want, then figure out how to get it.  Break it down.  Design a process.  Do a needs analysis.  Do competency modeling.  Define metrics.  Measure.  Reward.  Tweak, fine-tune, and repeat. 

Problem is, this way of thinking destroys other-focus from the outset. You will never be hugely successful at selling if you believe the modern corporate litany, because it can only, and always, be about you and your objectives.  That logic leaves no room for the paradox of caring about others.

FUD, of course, fits very well with a goal-oriented, self-aggrandizing methodology.  If the purpose is to gain sustainable competitive advantage over a competitor, then the customer becomes simply a metric, a vehicle, a means to an end.  FUD is a straight line that bypasses any genuine concern for a customer.

FUD fits the unexamined approach to corporate selling.  Which is why sell is still such a four-letter word.

Except, that is, for the exceptional salespeople, who recognize an eternal verity—the best way to get what you want is to focus first on helping others.

Hostage Negotiation – Lessons for Selling, Customer Service and Business Relationships

Pierre Cerulus steered me to Hostage at the Table by George Kohlrieser, now a professor at IMD, and a former hostage negotiator. The metaphor of hostage taking is one of the best I’ve seen for thinking about leadership and personal development.

Are you a hostage? Or a hostage taker? Or—both at once?

Here’s a remarkable statistic—professional hostage-negotiators have a 95% success rate. 95% of the time they persuade potential killers drenched in adrenaline to change their minds.

Compare that with your success rate in closing sales or persuading clients. (And they’re not even homicidal. Yeah yeah I know).

Kohlrieser’s most compelling vignettes, however, are about amateurs. The lady in Atlanta who talked down her abductor. The grandmother who, with her 9-year-old granddaughter at her side, talked down the blood-drenched escaped convict who had killed a neighboring family minutes before entering her bedroom at 3AM.

The “trick” is to make a human connection with the hostage-taker. Simple to say, hard to do. This is one of the better books I’ve seen on just how to do it. For more—read the book.

Of course, we’re not likely to be in a hostage situation. But metaphorically—we are all the time.

Hostage-taking is an alienated act of desperation—a cry for help. The failing of most hostages, and most amateur hostage-negotiators, is that they cannot see past the threat to themselves, to see the desperation in the other.

Apply that to work. The angry customer. The resentful co-worker. The “gotcha” performance review. All are driven by states of mind others—which we choose to experience as personal attacks on ourselves.

We let them hold us hostage. But there are no guns here. Our response is within our control. It is not that they are attacking us—it is that we are feeling attacked. We own our own oppression.

In Mel Brooks’ hilarious Blazing Saddles, the sheriff faces a hostile mob. He realizes he can escape by taking a hostage—himself. Pointing the gun at his own temple, he shouts, “No one moves—or I’ll blow his head off,” then slowly backs out of the room.

That’s what we do, when we allow ourselves to be hijacked by the emotions of others; when we react to those emotions, rather than acting from our own true selves. We become hostage-taker, with ourselves as hostage; a double-bind, with no win-win possible.

But the angrier or more distressed someone is, the more they want to find someone to relieve them of that anger of distress – someone to care. Passion gives you something to work with.

The answer is the same in the metaphor as in life. See the person beneath the fear—first the customer/co-worker, then ourselves. Connect with that real person. Engage in a true dialogue.

It is the same principle that governs the creation of trust, and it disproves an old myth about trust—that trust takes time.

It doesn’t. It takes connection.