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Are trust-building conversations different for women? In at least one case, absolutely.

We had a really interesting discussion in a team meeting the other day about a trust-building technique that we’ve been espousing for years (one that Charlie Green first wrote about in Trust-Based Selling in 2005 and has been a favorite of mine ever since he taught it to me). We talked about how that technique, when used by women, might unintentionally compromise their trust-building efforts in a big way. This week’s tip digs a little deeper into the issue and proposes a solution that actually applies to women as well as men.

The technique in question is a caveat, which is a short, emotionally honest statement that precedes a tough message—like, “This is awkward …” or, “At the risk of embarrassing myself … ”.

The questions that arose were (1) Can caveats hurt a woman’s credibility and (2) Should women therefore avoid them entirely?

The answers I’ve since come to, thanks to colleague and coach Stewart Hirsch’s thoughtful input based on the work he’s done on implicit bias, is (1) quite possibly, yes, and (2) no.

Caroline Turner, former General Counsel of Coors and author of Difference Works (with whom Stewart has collaborated), helps us understand the why behind both answers.

In Caroline’s article, “Masculine-Feminine Difference: How We Talk,” she describes a masculine-feminine continuum and distinguishes what she calls masculine and feminine language. She reminds us that both men and women operate on both sides of that continuum, and each has its own language. In short, masculine language is marked by declarative statements. Feminine language uses more questions, and, as noted in Caroline’s article, often relies on what Dr. Pat Heim calls disclaimers, hedges and tag questions. Feminine language used in a masculine environment—and vice versa—are where trust issues can arise.

With caveats, which can sound a lot like disclaimers, a more feminine style of speaking could in fact hurt credibility in a more masculine-dominated setting. (A disclaimer has the effect of discounting the message, though that’s not the intent of a caveat.) Examples of problematic caveats in this case include:

  • “I could be wrong …”
  • “I may be missing something …”
  • “I’m not sure how to tell you this …”
  • “At the risk of embarrassing myself …”

Similarly, more masculine-style caveats, like, “You’re not going to like this …” could hurt intimacy in a more feminine-dominated setting. (Side note: I had great difficulty coming up with a lot of masculine-style examples as I am definitely more feminine-style oriented. Suggestions are always welcome.)

The solution is the same for both women and men: know your audience and tailor accordingly. Interestingly, the caveats above could be very effective when applied in the other setting. And when you’re not sure, you could go more neutral:

  • “Heads up …”
  • “I’m not sure how you’re going to react …”
  • “There’s no easy way to say this …”

The solution is definitely not to avoid caveats altogether. That’s because they serve as a warning to the recipient that bad news is on the way, and that warning is an intimacy-builder in and of itself. And intimacy—especially in the face of bad news—is a critical aspect of trust-building for us all.

Should I Start Consulting Or Stay In-House? (Episode 28) Trust Matters, The Podcast

An experienced B2B, technology Product Leader asks, “Should I break out and become a SME Consultant, starting my own practice or should I continue working at bigger companies? What do I need to know about starting my own consulting business?”

Want to learn more about how to handle ghosting in business? Read recent blog by Charles H. Green.

Do you want to send your questions to Charlie & Trust Matters, The Podcast?

We’ll answer almost ANY question about confusing, complicated or awkward business situations with clients, management, and colleagues.

Email: podcast@trustedadvisor.com

We’ll be posting new episodes every other Tuesday.
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Trust Matters, The Podcast: The Ghosting of Business Future (Episode 27)

The owner of a small tech consultancy talks about her recent experience being ghosted by a contractor she hired. She asks “What should I do about being ghosted?  How can I prevent this from happening again in the future?”

Want to learn more about how to handle ghosting in business? Read recent blog by Charles H. Green.

Do you want to send your questions to Charlie & Trust Matters, The Podcast?

We’ll answer almost ANY question about confusing, complicated or awkward business situations with clients, management, and colleagues.

Email: podcast@trustedadvisor.com

We’ll be posting new episodes every other Tuesday.
Subscribe to get the latest 
episodes

 

Trust Matters, The Podcast: Asking a Client for a Rate Increase (Episode 24)

A solo consultant asks , “How do I ask a long-standing client, whom I already bill a lot monthly, for a rate increase?”

Do you want to send your questions to Charlie & Trust Matters, The Podcast?

We’ll answer almost ANY question about confusing, complicated or awkward business situations with clients, management, and colleagues.

Email: podcast@trustedadvisor.com

We’ll be posting new episodes every other Tuesday.
Subscribe to get the latest 
episodes

When Your Client Gets In Your Face

What do you do when your client gets angry at you, upset with you, in your face?

In truth, most clients don’t actually yell at you.  But of course you can tell when they’re upset. Maybe we even project a little bit, and imagine the horrors of what they might actually be thinking, regardless of what they actually say.

It all feels pretty horrific.

Well, there’s a simple two-part way to deal with that situation.

  1. Recognize it’s about them, not about you, and
  2. Ask to talk about it.

Here’s how that plays out.

It’s About Them

When someone’s angry at you, even yelling in your face, about something you may or may not have done, it’s critical to see what’s happening.

  • What you think is happening is, “he’s angry at me.”
  • What you need to see is happening is, “he’s angry.”

If the “someone” is your three-year old child, we have no problem doing this. We think, “Oh, he’s tired,” and we have patience. What we don’t do is take seriously for a moment whatever horrible things the three-year old is saying about us.

But let’s say your child is 15; suddenly, it’s all personal, and we become offended and lash back at them. We feel attacked, and return anger for anger.

And when clients do it, it’s infinitely worse.

But – it’s still your choice. You can react as you do to a three-year old – with calmness and understanding about what’s going on with them – or with anger, getting sucked into a downward spiral.

Guess which response is right. Always remember: when someone’s angry at you, the key observation to make is that he or she is angry. It’s an emotional state in them.

The fact that they’re angry at you is relatively unimportant. You may feel hurt for a hot moment, because pain is inevitable – but suffering is a choice. Your choice.

Ask to Talk About It.

People get angry because they feel afraid about something, and are trying to be heard.

So – hear them.

Find the words to acknowledge their anger. In fact, to go further than that, and ask them to tell you more about it.

Them: I can’t believe this whole thing happened, and it’s your fault. It’s costing me money, and time, and I’m now behind schedule, and I want to know what you intend to do about it! Right now!

You: Whoah, wow. I’m not sure I appreciated how important this obviously is to you. And I get it, you’re upset – at us, and at me in particular. I, uh, think I really need to take some time and hear you out on this.

Them: I’ve been talking to you guys; I want to know what you intend to do about it.

You: Fair enough. You deserve that.  At the same time, I don’t want to hip-shoot some solution without really understanding fully your context. And obviously we haven’t done that yet. So – give me 5 minutes to really understand your perspective; I promise to listen, and to talk about action steps – in 5 minutes.  Now please – talk to me.

Or words to that effect. Nobody can script for you exactly what to say – that’s a function of who you are, and who your client is. But the point is to acknowledge the anger, and commit to listening.

And by the way, this doesn’t mean you need to be all passive and apologetic. You can, and should, push back on the insistence on immediate action. It can wait 5 more minutes, and the truth is until you really have listened to your client’s outbursts, he or she is not going to listen to your solutions.

Remember: It’s not about you. And until you talk about it, they’re not going to accept your solutions.

 

Trust Matters, The Podcast: How to Establish Trust When Managing a New Team (Episode 8)

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Trust Matters, The Podcast: How to Present Choices to Clients (Episode 7)

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The Comp System Made Me Do It (Be a Low Trust Advisor)

It happened again the other day.

A (fairly articulate) participant in one of my workshops said:

Charlie, you don’t understand our system. We can’t do the trust stuff you suggest when the incentive system is set up the way it is. We get paid on the basis of the transactions we bring in and close; we are incentivized to focus on the next deal, and to maximize our individual contributions. While no one would call it this exactly, it’s eat what you kill and kill what you eat. You can’t ask us to behave against our own interests just to be nice.

In fact, until leadership takes this seriously and changes the incentive system, this is really all very high-sounding, but you’re not going to see collaborative, long-term client-focused trust-based behavior around here. Not when it’s in our best interest to behave otherwise.

If you’re nodding your head to that argument, and think it makes sense, listen up – this is for you.

That thinking is dead wrong. And not for some ethical or happy-trust-talk reason. It is a misreading of the very incentive system you think you are responding to. If you are buying that line of argument, you are sub-optimizing by shooting yourself in your own foot.

Here’s why.

The Problem is Not the Comp System – It’s You

There’s nothing wrong with a comp system that pays by results, and that apportions pay for accountability. The problem is in you interpreting that system wrongly. You are the one making a hugely false inference, namely:

Believing that the way to optimize short-term performance is to operate from a short-term perspective.

The truth is – and it may be obvious when I put it this way – the real way to optimize short-term performance is to consistently operate with a long-term perspective.

Consider:

  • The company that changes strategy every quarter has no strategy at all;
  • Repeat customers are hugely more profitable than high-churn new customers;
  • We trust people who have our best interests at heart; we distrust those who treat us as one-off transactions.

Let’s connect the dots. If you think that because you get paid by the transaction in short time periods you must behave transactionally or in a short-term timeframe, you are sadly deceiving yourself. You are announcing to your clients – and to your fellow team-members – that you are not interested in long-term relationships, or in doing what’s right for them. Instead, you are focused on maximizing your own short-term financial interest. And they will respond accordingly.

The paradox is – because of your unenlightened focus on the short term, you are actually sub-optimizing your own short term performance. Long term client-focused behavior manifests in an ongoing display of superior short term performance.

A golf metaphor:  don’t focus on hitting the ball – instead, just let the ball get in the way of your swing.

The Solution is not the Comp System – It’s You

One of the great things about trust in business is that it’s far less dependent on top management actions than are other cultural or systemic issues. Trust is very much within range of your own freedom of motion. You do not have to wait for the CEO or the compensation committee – you can act on your own, starting right now.

Resolve to yourself that:

  • You will do what is right for your client’s long-term interests – period;
  • You will treat your partners as if you, and they, will be partners forever;
  • You will do what is long-term right for the firm, not just what is right for you in that moment;
  • You will look at your quarterly performance numbers as a time series – not as a disconnected set of discrete events.

If you do that, here’s what will happen:

  • Your clients will stay with you, refer you to others, stop pushing back on price, ask you about follow-on work, etc.
  • Your colleagues and partners will seek you out, bring you into deals, and help you with your own;
  • Your firm will note that you, as opposed to the Selfish Others, are actually helping the firm.

And most important of all – your income will go up. Not down, up. Because your short term income is maximized if you consistently behave in others’ long-term interest.

Move that gun away from your foot. Now put it away entirely. Doing the right thing pays; not because the world is a happy-talk place, but because in the real world, clients and partners reward those who play the long game – not the short game. And pretty quickly, the short game improves as a result. 

The Consulting Industry: the Critical Role of Interpersonal Relationships

This is the first in an occasional series on trust in particular industry verticals. This post looks at the consulting industry.

————

In consulting, some things are changing. And some are not.

The biggest trend is, of course, the digitization of the firm’s service offerings. For example, nearly three quarters of one large consulting firm’s HR practice consists of moving processes into the digital age. Naturally, firms increasingly put more emphasis on technical qualifications of their consultants.

Another change, nearly as big, is the shift in business development practices (this one isn’t unique to consulting). Depending on who you talk to (Marketing BlenderGartner), something like 50-60% of the buying process is complete before the buyer meets a seller. This number is only going higher. Naturally, firms focus increasingly on managing that non-personal-contact front end of the business development process.

However, the critical role of interpersonal relationships is not going away. Paradoxically, the increasing role of technology and automation does not mean that the role of relationships is decreasing – in fact, it means exactly the opposite. Here’s why.

On the project side, expertise is a commodity. The markets for human capital are efficient, and widely accessible. On the business development side, virtually no client wants to buy a significant project without understanding, and meeting, the people who will staff it.

This is an important fact of human biology. Reducing the time spent on human interaction merely increases the leverage that such time has on final decisions. Those infrequent interactions take on geometrically more importance as their duration declines.

The implication for consultancies?  The ability to rapidly and genuinely create trust with clients is more critical than ever. You don’t have the luxury of schmooze time to establish comfortable relationships; it’s got to be done deeply and quickly, and done right.

Trusted Advisor and Trust-Based Selling workshops, are aimed at this need. 60% of our work is done in various professional services clients, with consulting a heavy component.

For a discussion about these issues, drop me (Charles Green, CEO, Trusted Advisor Associates) an email at cgreen-at-trustedadvisor-dot-com. You’ll not go onto an email list; there are no automated follow-ups; no cost, no obligation. Just let’s talk.