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How the Best Leaders Build Trust

The following is a guest blogpost by Rick Lepsinger of OnPoint Consulting. You can connect with Rick directly at rlepsinger@onpointconsultingllc.com.  

Several years ago, tech giant Google set out on an ambitious research quest to build the perfect team. The project examined a host of factors, including team composition, management style, and task management, poring through a mountain of quantitative and qualitative data over the course of several years to identify what factors made teams successful. When the study concluded, the final results were actually quite simple.

What mattered most to a team’s success wasn’t how it was put together, how it carried out its tasks, or how quickly it worked. Instead, it came down to a single word:

Trust.

Teams in which members trusted one another were far more likely to take risks, ask questions, admit mistakes, and offer new ideas than teams with low levels of trust. Intuitively, this should not have come as a surprise. People feel more secure when they trust those around them, which allows them to focus their energy on the tasks at hand rather than constantly assessing where they stand with others.

In today’s team-driven business world, building a culture based on trust is one of the most important responsibilities facing leaders in all types of organizations. While companies may go to great lengths to establish a culture that encourages trust, it falls upon individual leaders to follow through with those intentions and bring that level of trust to their teams.

In order to build trust strong enough to endure, leaders must first understand the essential elements of trust and recognize how they relate to one another. One way to think about the essential elements is to use the Trust Equation, as put forth in the book The Trusted Advisor.

Credibility

It’s difficult for a leader to build trust if they don’t have a proven track record of achieving results and demonstrating their expertise. Team members need to see their leader as a credible source of authority and information. If they don’t, they may second-guess decisions or become disengaged from the rest of the team.

Establishing credibility takes time and effort. Team members often need to see that someone knows what they’re talking about before they can place their trust in them. Leaders can, however, take a number of actions in their day-to-day dealings to improve their credibility. Avoiding exaggerations, answering direct questions with direct answers, and offering viable solutions to problems will help demonstrate to team members that they’re committed to being truthful and focusing on measurable results.

The best path to earning credibility is through building relationships with team members over time. Establishing a reputation for honesty by encouraging transparency and admitting when they don’t know something allows leaders to show they’re committed to the team’s success and not out to bolster their own reputations.

Team members need to trust that leaders stand behind what they say and do. They should not selectively disclose information or only emphasize positives while downplaying negatives. Should leaders lose that reputation for truthfulness, they run the risk of being seen as self-serving, manipulative, or unconcerned for their team’s success.

Reliability

If leaders need credibility coming into a team environment, they must show that people can count on them to follow through on their word if they want to succeed in the long term. Unreliable leaders who make big promises but seldom act on them will quickly lose whatever trust they’ve built. Team members need to know that their leader will be there for them and will keep whatever promises they’ve made.

While it’s easy to think of reliability only in terms of tasks and official responsibilities, it can extend to interpersonal dealings as well. A leader who always does their job can still lose the team’s trust if they make a habit of brushing off commitments and not following through on smaller issues on a regular basis.

Reliability needs to be established over time, but it can often go unnoticed if leaders don’t make the work they’re doing visible to others. Regular communication and transparency are extremely valuable in building a reputation for reliability. Clarifying roles within the team also helps to establish accountability by making it clear who is responsible for which tasks.

Intimacy

By this point, it should be clear that building trust is about establishing relationships. Intimacy, or the act of communicating and empathizing with others on a personal level, is a crucial part of this process. Regardless of their position within an organization, people want to know that they (and their work) are valued. Leaders must find ways to create connections with their team members that allow them to provide the professional and emotional support they need.

Team members also need to trust leaders to be discreet with the information and issues they share with them. This is particularly important for conflict resolution and internal feedback. If employees don’t trust leaders to show consideration in handling that information, they’ll be less likely to share it in the first place, which can only make existing problems worse over time.

Building healthy intimacy in a team environment requires a great deal of effort. Team-building activities that allow people to get to know one another outside the context of work are an effective method for deepening interpersonal relationships. Leaders can also set aside time to talk to team members regularly, allowing them to voice concerns or share their thoughts. This accessibility gives leaders an opportunity to demonstrate empathy and address issues before they become problematic.

Setting up internal community pages, social media groups, or message boards can help employees connect with one another in ways that go beyond their work responsibilities. Building these connections makes it easier for them to trust one another in difficult times because they can see what they have in common.

Self-Orientation

Good leadership often requires an individual to put the interests of others first. Leaders therefore need to be aware of whose interests are motivating their decisions and actions. A leader who constantly does things to make themselves look good, such as taking credit for the team’s work or asserting themselves purely to show off their expertise, will very quickly erode whatever trust they’ve built with their team.

Self-orientation can also impact the perception of credibility and reliability.  A manager with extensive knowledge and a proven track record for success might normally be seen as credible, but if their actions suggest that they care more about furthering themselves at the expense of others, they will find it difficult to leverage that experience with their teams. This kind of self-serving behavior also makes it harder for people to see them as reliable. It’s difficult to count on someone who has a reputation for only being out for themselves.

Anyone in a leadership position is going to have their actions closely scrutinized. Leaders must be sure to take their team members into consideration whenever they make decisions. Here again, communication is vital. People are better able to accept decisions when they know their opinions or concerns were genuinely heard and considered.

Identifying Trust Issues

As Tolstoy famously observed, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The same can be applied to successful teams and failing teams, especially when it comes to trust. Effective teams may be structured differently, but they all exhibit the same fundamental elements of trust. Ineffective or dysfunctional teams, however, can take a number of forms, depending upon the root causes of distrust.

Many factors can make it difficult to establish trust or undermine it over time. One of the biggest warning signs of trust issues is deflection of responsibility. When no one accepts accountability for their actions, they’re sending a message that they don’t care about anyone but themselves. While this is bad enough from team members, it is absolutely toxic when the leader refuses to take responsibility because it makes trust almost impossible to establish.

Dysfunctional teams might also be riven by harmful gossip and backstabbing. Without proper intimacy and self-orientation, team members assume the worst from one another and question the intentions behind every action and behavior. Even worse, they rarely direct their criticisms at the person they’re upset with, instead sharing their negative thoughts with coworkers and undermining whatever sense of camaraderie might have existed on the team. When leaders speak ill of someone, other team members begin to wonder what might be said about them when they’re not around.

Healthy, effective teams thrive on interpersonal interactions. When team members stop relating to one another on a personal level, keeping all conversations to “strictly business,” deeper trust issues might well be at work. Effective communication requires a level of comfort. If team members aren’t comfortable communicating with each other, then they’re also likely to find it difficult working together in general. When leaders become distant and aloof, employees may begin to question their intentions or true goals.

While healthy teams celebrate wins as a group, dysfunctional teams often break down into a collection of individuals bent on pursuing their own goals. Rather than focusing on how to make the team succeed, a team member might instead focus on how to make themselves look good regardless of the team’s outcome. Leaders who become caught up in pursuing their own goals will quickly lose their team’s trust. Even worse, this behavior could very well encourage people to “save themselves” by focusing on avoiding responsibility for the team’s failures.

Establishing trust is one of the most vital tasks facing any leader in a team environment. While the talent of individual team members is obviously important, much of that talent will go to waste if the team is rendered dysfunctional by a lack of trust. Leaders must find effective strategies that leverage their credibility and reliability to facilitate better, more authentic communication. By establishing closer connections based on intimacy and proper self-orientation, leaders can avoid the damaging effects of losing trust within their teams.  

The Reverse Elevator Speech: Disaster and Recovery

Trust requires that someone take a risk. Perversely, that means the avoidance of risk is tantamount to preventing trust.

One of the hardest things to do is to recognize this need in the face of mundane, everyday interactions, where it always seems that taking a risk is inappropriate.

So rather than give a mundane business example, let me do this one by metaphor.

A British account executive years ago told me the following story:

“I was going to see a potential client for what could have been an important piece of business for us. Unfortunately for me, I missed the scheduled plane by minutes, and thus was delayed by an hour. I called, and they agreed to reschedule the meeting to accommodate me.

“When I arrived, a bit flustered, the team of a half-dozen clients execs had gathered downstairs, and we all then went to the lift to go upstairs to the designated conference room.

“Unfortunately the lift was made for about four people. We all crammed into the lift, and it slowly began to climb. At that point someone – how shall I put this – well, as we English say – passed gas. The lift continued its crawling pace upward. No one, of course, said a word, nor even altered their expression. There was dead silence.

“As the doors finally opened, we all rushed to get out – all at once. And all 7 of us thereby tumbled onto each other on the floor. We all picked ourselves up, even more embarrassed, and again without saying a word to each other, made our way into the conference room.

“As I set up at the head of the room, I could feel the weight of this triple discomfort: I was late, the tumbling all over each other – and of course the ‘gas’ incident in the middle. It was all contrived to create a mutual sense of misery.

“What to do? I stood in the front of the room and said, ‘Gentlemen, little did I know this morning what a fine level of intimate relationship we should all achieve in so little time here this afternoon. I am honored indeed.”

“Well, everyone fell all over each other laughing; I had somehow managed to prick the balloon of the unspoken that hung over us like a cloud, and the rest of the day went marvelously. And oh yes, we got the sale.”

What this gentleman had done, in our nomenclature, was to Name It and Claim It; that is, to speak aloud the one thing that no one could figure out how to talk about. He did it with humor – an excellent tool – and was rewarded for the relief he caused by an appreciative relationship, and even a sale.

So What?

Charming, you think, but quite beside the point. What’s it got to do with me?

Well, as it happens, I had another conversation just last week (with, as it happens, another Englishman). He was a business development manager, tasked with what felt like an impossible burden.

“The senior partner insists on bidding a job in a sector in which we frankly have no experience. Certainly far less than anyone else. And he wants me to pretend it just doesn’t matter, or to dazzle them with bluster, or in some way to just blow through it. It’s simply not going to work, and we’ll look the fool.”

Well, yes they’ll look foolish if that’s how they go about it. They don’t recognize the relevance of the reverse elevator speech.

The solution is for the senior partner to say something like this:

“You may be wondering why a firm with so little experience in this sector is even here pitching you at all today. Certainly I wondered it! But I assure you we don’t make a habit of tilting at windmills.

“There is an angle here that I fear conventional wisdom might not point out. We’ve seen it a few times before, and it can make the difference between a run-of-the-mill project and a truly game-changing solution.

“I simply could not let the situation rest un-addressed. And that is why I am here in front of you today. Now, what we see going on here is…”

You may have picked up that there’s a ‘catch’ here.  The catch is that you actually have to have something consequential to say. If you have nothing consequential to say, then you shouldn’t be there in the first place, and you deserve what’s about to happen to you.

But if you do have something to say, the surest way to strangle it before it sees the light of day is to deny the elephant in the elevator – the lack of relevant sector experience, in this case.

Hope, they say, is not a strategy. Hoping somebody won’t notice the obvious is a strategy-killer. In such cases, not to take a risk is the biggest risk of all.

Get credit for stating the obvious, for telling the truth, and for relieving the tension that everyone feels. Put it out there. That way everyone is leaning forward on their seats, waiting to hear the idea that just might be so good as to overcome the banality of traditionalism.

Take the risk. Call out the wind in the elevator. Like a vaccination, it amounts to taking a little risk to mitigate the much larger risk staring you in the face. And you’d be surprised at how often it works.

Know Yourself. Wait, what does that even mean?

Know Yourself. It seems a timely topic these days – musically speaking, educationally speaking, pop-culture speaking. It’s also an old adage, from Socrates’ “know thyself” to Shakespeare’s “to thine own self be true.” We learned it in high school, but maybe we lost sight along the way.

What do you think? Do you know yourself? Are you willing to?

—-

In college, I majored in philosophy. I underlined all the important parts in my texbooks – the hard, the empirical, the deductive, the categorical. I underlined about half of each book. What I skipped over were the soft and squishy parts: know thyself, be virtuous, metaphysics, that kind of thing.

Years later I deigned to go to the School for Practical Philosophy. After a class or two, I realized it was powerful stuff. I also realized it was about the other half of the book – all the things I hadn’t underlined.

I still eschew the metaphysics stuff in favor of David Hume, but I have become a complete convert on the subject of Know Thyself.

Self-knowledge is one of the five trust skills that my co-author Andrea Howe and I describe in the Trusted Advisor FieldBook. In fact, it’s the capstone skill of the five skills we describe in that book, as well as in our workshop program Trust-based Leadership.

If “know yourself” strikes you as squishy, soft, fuzzy, left coast suburban buddhist hippie-talk homilies – like it used to strike me – then let me break it down and toughen it up for you. Because when you get it, it’s a lot tougher than the analytical subject-mastery behavioral neuro-babble that is too often celebrated in business today.

Know yourself means four things.

  1. To know yourself, you have to be able to see yourself objectively. The “you” that knows yourself cannot be the same as the “self” that you know. If you can’t do this, you’re doomed to always just doing and feeling the stuff that you always did and felt. You can’t do anything about it if you’re always in it.  (Hang on, I’ll tell you how later).
  2. If you know yourself, then you know what makes you the same as, and different from, the other 7.091 billion humanoids on the planet. And you are more same than different. Get over your terminal uniqueness. You are better than some billions, worse than other billions, on billions of continua. You fall into the broad middle billions of humanity. You ain’t all that.
  3. Seeing who you are and recognizing your right-sized place in humanity, you can now find freedom. You don’t owe anybody anything, nobody owes you anything. Everything is a gift, or nothing at all. You make your own luck, you create your own suck. Your life is what you make of it, nothing more, nothing less. Success is heavily an inside job –  happiness, completely.
  4. Once free, you can decide what to do with your freedom. Since you no longer need anything, you are free to give, and to make the world a better place. And the collateral damage of doing good is that you get good back in return.

Because the universe has a way of paying you back.  I’m not talking about metaphysics and karma, I’m talking human nature. Way more often than not, people return good for good and evil for evil. By leading with good, you greatly increase the odds of receiving good. It’s not a cosmic principle thing – it’s just how people work. That’s concrete.

And it’s a powerful enough rule that you can make book on it – and do business based on it. It’s not guaranteed in every situation, instance or transaction – but it is ironclad in the long run across multiple events.

What Good is Knowing Yourself?

You mean, besides making you happy and free and attractive to other people?  Well, OK, here’s just one concrete specific item.

You know how sometimes you find out that someone thinks way more highly of you than you thought they did? Or that they think much worse of you? Either way, you know the shock when you discover the disconnect?

Knowing yourself prevents those shocks, because there’s no disconnect. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. By knowing who you are and aren’t, you can maximize your potential. You don’t cause friction, waste and slippage by under- or over-shooting, or by seeking more or less from others than you should. When you know who you are, you can calibrate exactly what impact you will create in any given situation – no more guessing, wishing, hoping. That is empowering.

How Am I Supposed to Do This?

I know, I know – how do you do this stuff? Where’s the tips and tricks, top ten lists, business processes and metrics that you need to do things?

Andrea Howe and I give you three concrete actions to take in The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook. They are:

  1. Look inward – basically, introspection. Lots of ways to do that. Write it down and share with others as you discover.
  2. Convert blind spots to insights – get feedback. Simple. Just go ask for it.
  3. Experiment – create learning opportunities. Put money where mouth is. Try stuff; evaluate; recalibrate; try again.

You can break each one down further – into processes, timeframes, sequences, metrics and milestones – if that’s your preferred style. Or, you can just swim in it. Both ways will work.

One last thing about knowing yourself. It’s not a step function, it’s incremental. You can always get better, and as you do, you reap the benefits at the same time. It’s a progressive thing. And anytime is a good time to start.

Who Do You Trust? Honesty Ratings by Career

Periodically, someone does a survey on the trustworthiness of various professions. Last month it was time for Gallup to do their annual poll of “Honesty and Ethical Standards of Professions.”

All the fun happens at the bottom of the list. The good news for politicians is that their ratings were up from last year. The bad news is that puts them in next to last place, just ahead of car salesmen.

Over the years, the ratings of engineers have gone steadily upward. Pharmacists and doctors rate near the top of the lists, as they have for years.

But heading the list of most honest and ethical professions are – nurses. As the article puts it:

[nurses] have scored at the top of all professions every year since they were first included in the list in 1999 — apart from 2001, when Gallup asked about “firefighters” on a one-time basis after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Nurses receive a 10-percentage-point higher rating than pharmacists, who in turn are five points above medical doctors.

This finding makes perfect sense if you’ve followed the findings of Trusted Advisor Associates’ Trust Quotient Assessment, outlined in the White Paper – Think More Expertise Will Make You More Trusted?  Think Again.

The Trust-Power of Intimacy

These findings are based on the four factors of the Trust Equation – credibility, reliability, intimacy, and self-orientation. Based on 12,700 people who took the assessment (since grown to over 25,000), it turned out that the most powerful of the four factors was – intimacy.

High overall trust scores were more highly correlated with high intimacy scores than with any other component. (Intimacy in this study was defined as giving others a sense of security and willingness to confide in them).

Interestingly, women scored as more trustworthy than men. And almost all of the higher ratings for women were due to women’s higher score on one of the four factors – intimacy.

Back to nursing. Ask yourself: which of the four trustworthiness factors are most associated with nursing? Intimacy comes top of mind. We are, figuratively and literally, naked before nurses, and we trust them. It makes perfect sense that nurses consistently outrank all others in most-trusted-professions surveys.

The Soft Stuff is the Hard Stuff

If you’re interested in improving trust in your organization, or in becoming more trustworthy as an individuals, the best route there lies not just through advanced degrees, track records and testimonials – it lies in increased intimacy.

Intimacy correlates with a group of what’s commonly known as “soft” attributes – emotional intelligence, listening, empathy.  Want to move the needle? Show some hard results? This is how you do it. The soft stuff turns out to be the hard stuff.

Intimacy: If You Can’t Say the I-Word, You Have the I-Problem

Many of you know about the Trust Equation – (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy) / Self-Orientation. Trust research has shown that of the four factors, the one most associated with high trust scores is – Intimacy.

Recently I’ve spoken with two organizations – one in financial services, the other in professional services – that are uncomfortable using the word “intimacy” in a business context. They’d prefer something a little more, you know – business-ey.

Intimacy, they feel, is, you know, that other stuff…not appropriate…uncomfortable…you know…

The Intimacy Chicken and Egg Problem

This is not new. People and firms from those industries in particular tend to score high on Credibility and Reliability, with their lowest scores often in Intimacy. Still, I hadn’t put left and right together until recently. Here it is:

The ones who score low on intimacy are the ones who do not like using the term “intimacy.”

Which on the one hand is perfectly reasonable: after all, discussion of intimacy feels kind of intimate.

But on the other hand, it raises this question:

If you can’t talk about the I-word ­– how are you ever going to get better at it?

Intimacy: Not Just a Girlie-Man Thing

Intimacy, as defined in the trust equation, is related to empathy. The client of someone with great intimacy skills will feel secure, understood, and comfortable sharing sensitive information with the advisor.

By contrast, a professional with poor intimacy skills is not likely to get invited to the meeting in the first place – rendering the rest moot.

Way back in 1993, Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema wrote in Harvard Business Review about Customer Intimacy. Since then, a great many companies talk about “customer intimacy” as a very viable business strategy. Companies from such wussy industries as defense contracting and oil have focused on this concept.

Which raises the question: if the he-men who sell to the Marines and who work in the Awl Patch can talk about “intimacy” – then why can’t lawyers, accountants and Wall Streeters?

Fear of Intimacy

There’s no need to get all Freudian about this. I think the biggest reason for our fear of intimacy in the business world is related to our increasingly dysfunctional idea of shareholder capitalism. The common thread? It’s all not personal.

We have become enamored of Schumpeterian creative destruction – but really don’t care to look at the nuts and bolts of structural unemployment.  That’s a little too, you know, personal.

What’s the purpose of a company? You know, to make money. And what are people to the company? Resources. Human resources. Better yet, human capital. That’s what we’ve come to believe: the word “human” is the adjective, “capital” the noun it modifies. It’s not, you know, personal.

Why is intimacy a no-no for so many in business, while “customer intimacy” gets accepted? Because it’s not so personal, that’s why. “Customers” are collective abstractions, not unlike Mitt Romney’s curious assertion that corporations are people. We talk about “the” customer – but never about a customer.

When we can turn people into abstractions, treat them as categories suitable to be measured and analyzed, then we don’t have to treat them as personal. They can be “customers,” or “human resources,” or “strategic partners” – just not as individuals. Our ideology has let us conveniently dehumanize business.

——

The inability to deal with intimacy in business is tied to the inability to see business as personal. It’s the same cloth. The day we can look at a customer or an employee and see a human being – that’s the day we can begin to deal with intimacy in business.

Until then, if you continue seeing “intimacy” as socially inappropriate, you are willfully relegating yourself to less trustworthy status.

Putting the “I” into “Intimacy”

“Intimacy” belongs in business.  Yes, intimacy. Not the kind that was the subject of classic ‘40s movies, but the kind that is essential to building trust.

The Trust Equation

The Trust Equation is familiar to many of you, both regular and even occasional readers of this blog.  It’s a formula for measuring our own trustworthiness through the Trust Quotient assessment.

For many people, Intimacy is the hardest piece of this simple formula to grasp and to put into practice.

Deconstructing Intimacy

We look at Intimacy in business relationships as having three components:

  • Discretion – the wisdom to know what to do with information another shares with us
  • Empathy – the ability to see another person’s point of view from the inside out; to identify with another person’s feelings, and
  • Risk-taking – vulnerability

The first two are about the other person: safeguarding their sharing, picking up on their feelings and acting appropriately.

The last one – risk taking – is about you.

The “I” Part

The “I” part of intimacy means opening yourself up to the other person.  It means becoming vulnerable.  It really is all about you, and the risks you’re willing to take.

We often get asked what Intimacy sounds like or looks like in business settings.  I would argue that it doesn’t require knowing the name of your client’s or colleague’s kiddos or pets (though for some people that works as Intimacy too), but rather saying or doing the thing that feels risky.

It may be as simple as asking for feedback, when you really don’t want to hear bad news:  “I don’t feel that I’m doing this job to your satisfaction.  Can we discuss it?”

It may be revealing something personal about yourself, perhaps saying at the start of a big presentation:  “Although I am completely convinced that our plan is a good one, I find myself a little intimidated talking to this senior group.”

It may be a matter of just voicing something you both know to be true:  “I believe your boss didn’t think we were the right supplier for this job, and you went out on a limb to get us approved.  What are your particular concerns?  How can we make you look good?”

The I in Risk, and in Trust

A good rule to remember about trust in business is that it’s generally not about you.  Except, of course, when it is. And when it comes to intimacy, it is about you.

In our White Paper we show with hard data that the “I” factor drives more trust than the other three.  And it is where risk shows up: taking the risk of Intimacy is what creates the reciprocal exchange that is trust.

If you’re lucky, your client or colleague or boss will lead by taking the first risk. If you don’t trust to luck, make some luck of your own. Take a risk. Lead with intimacy. Create some trust.

You can do that.

Chris Brogan, Meet Jack Hubbard

Superficially, they couldn’t be more different. One is old (and old school), one isn’t.  One is in middle market banking, one in social media. Tie, open collar. Midwest, East.

I don’t think they know each other—but they should.  They’re two peas in a pod—in a great pea patch.

The Banking Guy

Jack Hubbard is CEO (that’s Chief Experience Officer) and Chairman of St. Meyer & Hubbard. Along with President Bob St. Meyer, they run a Chicago-based training performance change firm. They serve the banking business, mostly medium-sized. They serve up some astonishing numbers, with very loyal clients.

But that’s just the description. Jack is known for starting his day by sending out emails to clients highlighting specific news items of interest to them.  When you talk to Jack, you discover he is on a mission to discover everything about the most interesting person in the world—you.  His upbeat curiosity and low self-orientation is infectious; he doesn’t sell you on their work—you buy it. Gladly.

Jack’s not really in the banking business–he’s in the people business.  Banking is just his regional accent; his language is human.

The Social Media Guy

Readers of this blog are more likely to know Chris Brogan.  I did an interview with Chris last year. He’s all over social media; a demi-god of Twitter, an emerging guru of Google+, co-author (with @julien Smith) of Trust Agents, co-founder of Podcamp, involved in New Marketing Labs, collaborator with Hubspot Marketing—and so on.

But that’s his day job. Chris has a phenomenal ability to remember faces and names (even twitter addresses). More importantly, he is inherently drawn to people—and they to him.

He is genuinely modest, even self-effacing.  He’s the one who taught me “tweet others 12 times for every time you tweet about yourself.” He may be a rock star in social media—but he’s the exact opposite of “rock star” in the way he conducts himself.

Chris isn’t really in the social media business—he’s in the people business. It’s no accident his main identity these days is Human Business Works. Social media is just his regional accent; his language is human.

 

Chris, meet Jack Hubbard.

Jack, allow me to introduce Chris Brogan.

Y’all have a nice day now.

 

3 Minutes to Create a Great Impression

It was five months ago, but I remember it like yesterday.

I had given a speech for an important Fortune 500 client. The event had about 300 attendees, and I was one of several speakers.

The person preceding me overran his time, cutting 15 minutes into mine. That is rude to other speakers, and to the audience, who have the right to view an agenda as a promise. I never do that to others, and don’t like it when someone does it to me.

I let it throw me off a bit; I didn’t give my worst speech, but it wasn’t my best either. This bothered me for the next two days.

A Turnaround Impression

Until, that is, I received a card in the mail. It was from my client’s senior-most person in attendance, the host of the meeting I’d attended.  The card was hand-written, and clearly written by him (at least, that’s what I think).

It was personalized, gracious, and thoughtful.  If it was scripted, my compliments to the staff writer, because it felt very genuine to me. I was floored.

3 Minutes to Impact

It can’t have taken my client more than 2 minutes to write the card, perhaps less—though clearly he’d given it more than a moment’s thought.  Let’s say he gave it a minute.  That’s a lot of thought; and yet only a grand total of 3 minutes.

And remember, this was a client, sending me, the speaker/consultant a thank you note—I should be the one sending it to him!

Again—I was floored. And very touched.

Can You Find 3 Minutes Per Week?

How often do you encounter opportunities to send someone a note?  Let’s be conservative and say once a week.  At once a week, that feels like a pretty special event—there are only 50 or so per year.

That’s about one-tenth of one percent of your weekly time. What other three minute weekly activity could generate that kind of personal impact, make somebody’s day, reach out and touch someone so powerfully?

You Can’t Write an Insincere Note

And don’t tell me it’s insincere.  I defy you to sit down and write a thoughtful thank you note to a business connection and tell me you did it with a greedy scowl.  I don’t believe you’re that cynical (and I don’t even know you!).  And if you’re sincere, then the odds are very good indeed that your sincerity will come through.

I used to get occasional handwritten notes from the folks at Continental Airlines’ One Pass organization. Were those notes part of an organized plan? You bet. But insincere? No way—someone sat down and hand-wrote a note to me; that is an act of respect, and I felt it.  Are you listening, United?

Try it. Plan on writing a 3-minute note to someone next week.  Who will be the lucky recipient?  And how will you feel about it?

Write and tell me—I’d like to hear about it.

Gossip and Rumors in the Workplace: Three Things You Can Do To Stop Them

One of my sons regularly takes our dog to the local dog park. Recently, while breaking up some overly rough play between ours and another dog, my son was bitten and needed medical attention. Word spread quickly about the bite. To ward off rumors and gossip, and because the bite wasn’t the result of a vicious act, my son refused to say which dog bit him.

His strategy didn’t work. Within a day or two, the (inaccurate) rumor was out that he was bitten by a pit bull.

Gossip in the Workplace is Insidious

Let’s move the issue out of the park and into the workplace. Just because something happens or somebody says something, doesn’t mean we should talk about it. In offices, gossip is viewed as annoying and unwelcome behavior based on a survey mentioned in the 2009 article How to Handle Workplace Gossip, yet it still happens. That same article describes what we all know to be true–that careers can be harmed and even killed by gossip.

Gossip Destroys Trust

In the article, Banish Gossip, Build Trust, psychologist Rhoberta Shaler notes, “Trust is destroyed by gossip–and, so are people.” The harm to trust to obvious. Pick any of the four factors of the Trust Equation (Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy and Self-orientation), and imagine a rumor started about someone you know who is currently trustworthy.

What would happen if the rumor said that she missed an important deadline and people talked about it? Would you be concerned about partnering with her on the next project with tight time frames? It’s certainly safer to work with someone else, isn’t it?

It may seem odd, but truth isn’t the issue. What if the rumor is true but the full context was missing. Suppose there were extenuating circumstances, like a death in the family. Trust is the victim, along with your co-worker.

What Can You Do?

Here are three easy rules you can follow:

  1. Don’t encourage gossip and rumors. If someone starts to spread gossip, true or not, don’t waste your valuable time listening. Be honest about it–say something like “this is not something I want to hear or talk about,” or, “let’s not talk this way–it doesn’t help matters.”
  2. Don’t simply believe what you hear. Just because someone said it doesn’t make it so. Work hard not to believe the gossip and rumors that you do hear. If it’s important to your business, you may feel the need to verify, but be careful not to act on rumors.
  3. Don’t spread it further. We each have the opportunity to use discretion. The less we say about others, the better off we are. In fact, refusing to participate in spreading gossip and rumors increases our Intimacy factor in the Trust Equation. Think about it; who would you feel more likely to share personal information with, someone known to gossip or someone known to be discrete?

Meanwhile, Back at the Dog Park

It was easy for my son to put an end to talk of his incident in the dog park. He spoke with those he thought might be sharing the rumor, and told them it wasn’t the pit bull that had bitten him. And, he didn’t tell anyone which dog did bite him. That was between him and the owner of that dog. Following his example of saying little, and by refusing to participate by listening and spreading talk, you may be able to reduce gossip and rumors, even in the workplace.

 

David Zinger, CEOs and Vulnerability

In his Zing-Review of March 3, employee engagement expert David Zinger cited research by the health care research firm Beryl on improving patient experiences in hospitals. The whole article is rich with references and research, though the title is a bit intimidating. David pulls from the final paragraph:

[The CEOs’] vulnerability is the first step in employee engagement. To decide on a “mission, vision and values” that truly reflects the [organizations’s] character, the CEO must sit down with staff from all levels to discuss improvements in culture. (from Becker’s Hospital Review, Feb 25, 2011)

Vulnerability and Intimacy

Vulnerability – openness, softness, exposure – is one of three key pieces of Intimacy as we define it. The first two, discretion and empathy, refer back to the other person in the relationship, how we treat them, but vulnerability sits squarely with us, how we treat ourselves.

Why is it so Hard?

Why is vulnerability, which conveys softness and openness, so darn hard in fact to put into practice?

Well, it starts with saying: “I don’t have all the answers.” Now, that’s terrifying! How will people respect me or my position?

And goes on to: “But I’m sure you have some ideas.” What if I don’t want to hear the things they have to say? What if they criticize me?

And concludes with: “Let’s put our heads together.” Yikes, and collaborate?

Like so many things in life, simple, but not easy.