Posts

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.

The Godfather Chronicler: Gay Talese on Trust

Readers of this blog know that we often write about Intimacy in a business context. And two of the three elements which make up that invaluable quality are empathy and discretion: creating a cocoon of safety in which another person can talk to us.

I have never heard a more poetic description of this than the one from Gay Talese in “A Writer’s Life”:

“I learned [from my mother] … to listen with patience and care, and never to interrupt even when people were having great difficulty in explaining themselves, for during such halting and imprecise moments … people are very revealing—what they hesitate to talk about can tell much about them…

I have also overheard many people discussing candidly with my mother what they had earlier avoided—a reaction that I think had less to do with her inquiring nature or sensitively posed questions than with their gradual acceptance of her as a trustworthy individual in whom they could confide.”

Lovely words: “…to listen with patience and care.” If we can do even this simple yet powerful thing in all of our business conversations, we’ve accomplished something nearly miraculous.

We’ve shown respect and empathy.

We’ve allowed another person to reveal something troublesome or difficult or embarrassing, and gently received their secrets.

And we’ve taken steps to becoming, like Talese’s mother, “a trustworthy individual in whom they could confide.”

Listening is indeed a gift, not a tactic, and let us give this gift with patience and care.

Who Are the Ultimate Trusted Advisors?

What profession do you think has the most ultimate trusted advisors per capita? Consultants? Doctors? Financial planners? I now know where my vote goes. PICU nurses.

A Child in Intensive Care

I spent the first ten days of 2011 coming from and going to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). Our six-year old niece “Abigail” (not her real name) was critically ill (she is better now.) It was a once-in-a-lifetime scary 10 days for our family.

During this time I observed–and experienced–the PICU nurses as they did their jobs. Obviously, education, training and technical expertise is required to work in PICU. But what blew me away was the dedication, passion, commitment and ultimate customer service that everyone showed—to a person.

Their every action was executed with love and care. Each time they touched Abigail or did anything to adjust her equipment or medications, they told her what they were doing (though she was totally sedated): “Abigail, I’m going to suction you now, honey.” They showed the utmost respect for her as a patient and as a human being. It made me re-think what it means to be of service.

I emerged from this rough week with a fresh appreciation for what it means to be dedicated to clients and love what you do. I found myself wondering whether anything I had ever done could come even remotely close to what these PICU nurses do every day. I’m not trying to compare apples to oranges (e.g. I am an organizational performance consultant, not a nurse), but I think there are some apples-to-apples lessons to be learned here.

Applying PICU Lessons to Consultants

I live in Washington, DC, a town brimming with consultants. Just one search command reveals plenty of consulting firms claiming to be trusted advisors. But if you parse them using The Trust Equation–I wonder how many would match the kind of ratings these nurses get?

PICU nurses may be the ultimate trusted advisors. They are experienced, technically skilled and have a high degree of credibility. They have to be reliable; if they don’t show up on time to replenish a medicine the patient could die. In many ways they have to subvert their egos and have a low self-orientation to be of service to the patient.

In fact, could they do their jobs if they didn’t care? I concluded maybe they could execute the task-oriented aspects of their jobs without caring. But the love and care they put into their work, which drives the intimacy component in the Trust Equation, may be a critical part of the medicine and treatment for the most ill.

The Power of Care

Some studies show that the hormone Oxytocin (dubbed the “trust or bonding hormone”) is released with human touch and stimulates feelings of serenity, happiness and love, dampening fear and stress and nurturing trust and security. While our niece lay in a medically-induced coma for days, one of the nurses on the midnight shift took the time to carefully comb through Abigail’s long, tangled hair –and then put it into two braids.

When her mother awoke in the morning she was moved to tears to see that while she slept in the room in a rather uncomfortable chair, someone had shown her daughter the love and care that often only one’s mother can offer. How might this display of intimacy have contributed to Abigail’s healing process?

Lessons for Advisors

Abigail was hooked up to advanced machines and pumped full of life-saving medicine. She received world-class health care. But she also was cared for by perhaps the ultimate trusted advisors. We’ll never know the full power of the PICU antidote that brought Abigail back to full health but we might take a few lessons from them:

  • Know what your client needs and then deliver it
  • Communicate straightforwardly (never lie or sugar coat anything)
  • If necessary, under-promise and over-deliver
  • Allow yourself to bring humanity to what you do, knowing that this may be what makes the biggest difference
  • When you say you are going to do something, deliver on your word
  • Never, ever let your ego get in the way of doing your job.

To Tell or Not To Tell: The Three-Question Transparency Test

We’ve all had those moments when we realized we knew something that someone else didn’t know and it was awkward. Think of the last time you were at lunch and you noticed your tablemate’s big, toothy grin adorned by a piece of big, leafy spinach—yep, that’s the kind of awkward we’re talking about. Even though most of us probably ascribe to a principle of Transparency—being honest, open, candid except when illegal or injurious to others—we’ve all made the choice at some point to say nothing.

The question is: did we do the right thing?

Use the Three Question Transparency Test to find out.

When a Lie by Omission Seems Like a Pretty Good Option

On the surface, it’s easy to say “Honesty’s the best policy!” Dig a little deeper and it’s not so clear.

Let’s look at some client examples to make this real—cases where you know something that he or she doesn’t (or might not), and you wonder “to tell or not to tell?”

– Imagine you’ve discovered a mistake in your work. The impact is relatively minor. Does it help or hurt the customer relationship to call attention to it?

– Or…you’ve discovered a mistake in your client’s work. The impact is significant. So is the likelihood of embarrassment (or worse) for them. Are you honoring or dishonoring the relationship by saying nothing?

– What if you learn something unfavorable about a competitor—one your customer is currently engaged with. Are you the hero or the jerk if you bring it up?

– And—maybe the worst of all—what do you do when you notice your client has spinach in her teeth?

End the Debate with the Three-Question Transparency Test

The next time you’re debating “to tell or not to tell,” ask yourself three questions:

1. Is my reason for not telling actually for my benefit, rather than theirs? Let’s face it: we human beings have a natural tendency to avoid scary, uncomfortable stuff—and that includes not telling things when telling is precisely what will honor the relationship. Is it really in the other person’s best interest to say nothing or is your desire to avoid your own discomfort creating a platform for a nice, juicy rationalization?

2. If I don’t tell and he finds out later, will he feel misled? This question invites you to see the situation from the other person’s vantage point—always a good practice when it comes to relationship-building. (By the way, if you’re banking on the fact that he won’t find out later, check your probabilities…and your motives.)

3. Would I tell her if she were my friend? This is my favorite question because it really cuts to the chase and invites us to set aside the arms-length decorum (often masked as “professionalism”) that defines most business relationships.

If at any point your answer is yes, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Say what needs to be said (with compassion and diplomacy, of course – caveats help immensely.)

An Even Simpler Test

If three questions seem like too many, here’s the ultimate litmus test. Thanks go to Chip Grizzard, CEO of Grizzard Communications Group, who recently shared these words of wisdom. Chip says, “If you’re expending any energy on the debate, then it probably means you should say something.”

It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

In Theory and In Practice

While the principle of Transparency sounds good in theory, it’s actually very hard to live by. It takes courage. It takes a willingness to get comfortable being uncomfortable. It takes a commitment to removing yourself from the equation. And it takes a certain level of discernment to figure out when it’s hurting versus helping to sidestep the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Use the Three-Question Transparency Test—or the simpler “Grizzard Gut Check”—the next time you wonder whether to tell or not to tell.

The Surprising Reason You Lost That Last Sale

How many times do we hear from someone out of the blue and wonder what it is they are after?

Recently I met a CEO from an ASX top 200 (our Aussie version of DJI or FTSE 100) company at a social event. I had gotten to know him through my work with a Big 4 firm. Our conversation turned to the Partner who had completed much work for his company.

I asked, “Have you seen X recently?” He replied in words to the effect of, “I haven’t heard from him for a couple of years. He must be too important to contact me nowadays.”

The Partner in question had since taken on very senior roles within the firm, and even though the comment was meant in jest, I think there was a tone of underlying disappointment. I’m sure they had spent many hours together, probably talking not just about work, but about personal issues as well. Intimacy would have developed over time.

Now in the rear view mirror of time, this CEO may have come to believe that the care shown at the time by the Partner was not authentic, that it was used only as self-interest to gain revenue.

This I know would not have been the case; but certainly may now have become the perception.

This reinforces to me the importance of the simple ‘checking in’ call. It reminds me of Mizner’s, “Always be nice to people on the way up; because you’ll meet the same people on the way down

The same man said, “A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he gets to know something.”

As you may know, the power of listening is a core theme in The Trusted Advisor and Trust based Selling.

At this time of year I remember a story, which at the time surprised me, but which I now completely understand.

A number of years ago I asked a friend what criteria he had used to decide on a service provider for a facility management contract. He said it was a difficult decision; the 3 tender documents he received were similar, the people he met from each firm were all credible and seemed to be people he could work with. The clincher for him was that only one of the tenderers sent him a best wishes card for the holiday. That’s the firm he chose.

As Trust-based Selling suggests, it’s the ‘hard’ credentials that buyers consider necessary conditions and which they use to screen. But it’s the ‘soft’ credentials that are the tie-breakers, the sufficient conditions, that buyers use to make the final selection.

I also find inspiration regarding the importance of personal connection from an odd couple: an 18th century postmaster, and an early Greek philosopher:

“I love a hand that meets my own grasp that causes some sensation” (Samuel Osgood).

“A hidden connection is stronger than an obvious one” (Heraclitus of Ephesus)