Posts

The Easiest Way to Create Trust

I was in a Costco store the other day, and noticed the man whose photo you see attached here. I was struck by his t-shirt: in bold, large font, it reads, “Because I Said I Would.”

That got me thinking. As founder of Trusted Advisor Associates, one of the most common questions I get over the years is some variation on, “How do I go about creating trust?”

There are many variations on that question: What’s the fastest way to create trust? What’s the most enduring way to create trust? What’s the most cost-effective way, the highest-value way, the most accessible way, and so forth.

I’ve written elsewhere about some of those, but this t-shirt reminded me of a very important one – What’s the Easiest Way to Create Trust?

So here it is (and then we’ll come back to our t-shirt guy).

The Easiest Way to Create Trust

The answer (drumroll) is – make a lot of promises, and then keep them.

Here are several reasons I call that the ‘easiest’ way:

  • We all know how to make promises; we make many of them every day (“I’ll see you at 10:00,” “I’ll have that done by Tuesday,” “I’ll take care of it for you.”)
  • Most promises aren’t really that difficult to fulfill: most of us don’t wildly over-promise, or promise things that are massively outside our ability to complete.
  • Kept promises are easy to see, and easy to credit. They go into an account often labelled “integrity,” a not-so-trivial attribute to be credited with.
  • Kept promises fall squarely within one of the four Trust Equation components – Reliability. In fact, kept promises are pretty much the main way we establish our rating of someone’s reliability.
  • It’s not that hard to come up with a list of viable promises you can make, which then offers you a list of promises you can keep. Most of our client relationships (indeed, all relationships) have frequent components of timeliness, or of quality of delivery.

But notice: if it’s so easy to keep promises, and so valuable to keep them – then why aren’t we all paragons of Reliability virtue? Because let’s be honest – we’re not.

Where Promise-Keeping Falls Down

There are three areas where we fall down in promise-keeping.

Fear. Ironically, the biggest failure of promise-keeping is failure to make a promise in the first place! Nobody can fault you – or credit you – with a promise you never made to begin with.

Why do we fail to make promises in the first place? Usually, because we fear being held accountable.  It feels safer to say, “I’ll get it to you before the end of the week,” or “I’ll be there around ten-ish,” because it leaves you lots of wiggle-room. That way – we like to kid ourselves – there’s sufficient vagueness that no one will blame us. 

We forget that the failure to be blamed for something that didn’t happen doesn’t rank nearly as high on the trustworthiness list as the fulfillment of a promise made. It’s a classic case of avoiding a risk, and thereby incurring a larger, longer-term risk – the risk of never having taken a risk. And remember – without risk, trust never exists.

Optimism. Another failure of promise-keeping is our own well-intended optimism. We really want to get that document to them by close of business Wednesday, because we sense that they’d really like it by then. So, we optimistically say we’ll do something that frankly, isn’t realistic, and then rationalize missing it later by telling ourselves it really wasn’t that important.

Sand-bagging. This one is pernicious. Are you a believer in “under-promise and over-deliver?” Because if you are – and let me put this provocatively – you believe in lying. Either you are lying in knowingly making a false promise, or in knowingly confounding the Other’s expectations. Or both!

The problem with sand-bagging is that it compounds. You may generate delight the first time, but when you do it again, the Other party figures out your game. Even if it doesn’t annoy them, they begin to discount your promises by the amount you lied the first two times. You are no longer believed. Which means your promises can’t be trusted. (Ask any firm that has tried to consistently sandbag Wall Street with calculatedly discounted earnings estimates).

The Costco Guy with the T-shirt

Back to our friend. When I saw him, I asked if I could take his photo; he readily agreed. I was very curious about whether he intended his t-shirt to mean what I would mean by that phrase – which is all the trust stuff I wrote about above.

Here’s what he said.

“It’s a personal statement to myself. I wear it to remind myself to keep my word. That’s really important to me, in all things.”

Pretty much what I’d hoped he’d say. I agree with him. And while we just went our ways, my guess is that if I’d talked to him further, he would probably have agreed with me that:

  • Promises come up a lot, every day
  • Keeping them isn’t all that hard – if you just focus on keeping them, and not be distracted by all the little temptations to let them slide, or to avoid making them in the first place
  • A lifetime lived by making a lot of promises, and pointedly keeping them, is a terrific way to create trust in our relationships with others.

Anyway, that’s my take on the easiest way to create trust: make a lot of promises and keep them.

And, since I stupidly forgot to ask the gentleman’s name, if you know him, please reach out and send this blogpost to him – with my thanks, and my congratulations.

 

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.  

Trust & Leadership

Lisa McArthur, one of our esteemed consultants, tackles the topic of Trust & Leadership and provides practical, actionable steps you can take today to start improving both.

Into every leadership journey a little rain must fall. At some point, numbers start to head south; that key project begins to miss critical milestones. It happens to all of us. And when that rain does fall, remember that as a leader, you are defined not by your challenges – but by your response to them.

For many, missed targets or milestones trigger the instinct to micro-manage. After all, the only way to make sure you’re on top of everything is to put it all under a microscope and leave no stone unturned. Only a clear command-and-control style of leadership can help right the ship. Right?

So tempting; and yet so wrong!

The solution is not to overrule your team, it’s to get it working. Trust improves teamwork. Full stop. More reports and checkpoints will may provide more data, but chances are it is breakthrough ideas and approaches that will get you back on course. You need your team to focus on new possibilities and collectively take calculated risks.

To put it simply, they need to trust each other. Sounds simple, but as a leader, what does this mean? How can you build trust within your team? The trust equation, normally a descriptor of personal attributes, has something to add to team analysis:

1. Start with Intimacy

For those not familiar with the trust equation, intimacy is about creating safety and building a safe environment. Put yourself in a team member’s shoes. They have an idea that could help bring things back on track. Should they take a risk and offer the idea up to the group? What kind of reaction will they face? In a safe environment, new ideas are welcomed and become the seeds that can germinate true breakthough thinking.

Be honest. How does your team measure up? Are new ideas welcomed and used as building blocks or are they generally dismissed? If suggestions are met with a “we’ve tried that before” or “It’ll never work”, ideas will slowly stop coming.

As a leader, how are you building a “safe” environment to ensure that your team’s ideas are heard? At your next team meeting, try starting from a place of vulnerability. Talk about the issues at hand and your role in them. By taking a risk and being vulnerable you are showing your team that it is safe for them to take risks too!

Next, ask for help. We often resist asking for help for fear of appearing weak – but paradoxically, asking for help shows vulnerability, equality and a desire for collaboration. You’ve taken a risk (again) and shown your team that it is okay to do.

The plus – most of us are hard-wired to respond to honest requests for help. Get the brainstorming started and then listen. Really listen! Ask engaging questions, clarify and let the team build on each other’s ideas. New and innovative solutions are far more likely when everyone is fully engaged and feels safe to contribute.

2. “Check your S”

The “S” in the denominator of the trust equation is self-orientation – and a high number is not good. As a leader, you have to model low self-orientation. Are you focused on what YOU need – to report on a project’s progress or the latest operational results – or are you focused on what the TEAM needs? Even those leaders with the best intentions can find this difficult.

Acting as an “I”, we start directing and stop listening. How often have you asked for the latest sales results or project update only to then provide clear and specific direction on what you think is required?

Change your focus to “we”. Instead of the “I”, ask what the team needs to be successful – and then whatever it is, do it quickly. By changing your focus to the team, your actions will show your commitment to their success. Your commitment to the team’s success, and only the team’s success, lower’s your self-orientation. Done authentically, your team will respond in kind, re-committing themselves personally to the task at hand.

3. Build positive momentum with reliability

The biggest part of Reliability is, simply stated, do what you say you are going to do. We are all familiar with Newton’s first law of motion; “An object at rest, stays at rest. An object in motion stays in motion until acted upon by an external force.” How can you, as a leader, get the ball rolling?

Start small. Have the team set small, incremental targets. It’s important that the targets are set on the team’s terms, not yours. Make sure the targets are attainable and then celebrate each success. Suddenly, you have shifted the focus from what the team can’t do to what they can accomplish. With each small win, the team builds positive momentum and once you’re moving, no one will want to be the reason things come to a halt.

At the same time, resist encouraging sandbagging, or in its more polite form, “under-promising and over-delivering.” It’s just another form of lying to your clients, and it undercuts reliability, since it literally trains your clients to expect a disconnect between what you say and what you do. Which was the whole point in the first place.

4. Be honest

As a leader, your words have power. Now is the time to focus on clear, concise messages that your team will understand and take to heart. Now is not the time for nuanced explanations.

Words matter. If you are not sure of an answer – say so (in fact, “I don’t know” is one of the most credibility-enhancing things you can say – no one will suspect you of lying about that!). You can always go get the answer, but you won’t always get another chance to prove your honesty.

In environments where things get tough or are moving quickly, even tiny errors in facts or judgments can create large ripples in the team and create that ominous “spin” that suddenly brings all activity to an abrupt halt.

Life is full of ups and downs and rainy days; leadership is no different. Strong leaders understand how to build trust and foster an environment that encourages each team member to contribute to their fullest potential. The next time your team struggles, remember – don’t take over the job yourself – instead, lead with trust!

DON’T Always Exceed Expectations

Many of us go around repeating a mantra that we think is self-evidently correct: Under-promise and over-deliver, we say. Always exceed expectations.

There is a website ExceedAllExpectations.  Another website, HowTo.gov, tells governmental agencies to use metrics to exceed expectations. And as you well know, it’s a common mantra in business.

Not so fast.

Why Always Exceeding Expectations is a Bad Idea

Think this through. If you intentionally exceed a customer’s expectations, then you intentionally misled your customer about what to expect. If you make that a habit, then frankly, you’re a habitual liar.

Think that’s too strong? Think it through the next step. When a customer habitually gets more than they were promised, what’s such a customer to think?  That’s easy – that you’re constantly sandbagging the quote to make yourself look good. And they will naturally start to bargain with you about the expected results and/or the price.

When you make a habit of exceeding expectations, you are training your customers. You are training them to expect you to under-promise and over-deliver. And they are not dumb, they learn quickly.

You have trained them to doubt you, to suspect your motives, and to disbelieve what you tell them in the future.

Proof from the Market

In yesterday’s bi-weekly newsletter TrustedAdvice, I included a link to a video clip about this idea. (By the way, if you’d like to get TrustedAdvice via email, click here to subscribe).

Within minutes, I heard from two readers, with very interesting comments.

From Reader 1
I have learned this time and time again, but I want to please my clients, so I repeatedly try to exceed client expectations – only to find the clients coming back and demanding more and more.  The fact is, I set myself up for failure, as you cannot give more than 100%. I end up getting frustrated because then clients generally speaking don’t appreciate it when you do give them 100%, they just expect more and more of you and your time.

and Reader 2 adds another wrinkle
My company has exceeding expectations built into its DNA, a by-product of yours truly (though I am so much better now than I used to be). It has created more damage than you’d ever think. Not just in terms of clients expecting more for less, but in a shop that can never truly feel good about itself just for doing a good job, always feeling we could/should have done more.

“Always exceed expectations,” despite frequently coming from good motives, actually succeeds in destroying trust, with customers and employees alike.

So – don’t do that.

Instead, do what builds trust. Tell people exactly what to expect, and then deliver that. Period. After all, that’s how you develop a track record or being credible and reliable. That way your motives are never in doubt. That way you get known for being not only a straight shooter, but a particularly good estimator.

Basically, tell the truth. It’s always a better policy.

Lying is to Trust as Kryptonite is to Superman

That may sound self-evident. But lying isn’t the only way to kill trust. It’s useful to review the bidding, in order to realize just how potent lying is.

Then too, there are green kryptonite and red kryptonite forms of lying.

Read on.

Four Ways to Destroy Trust

Using the trust equation as a checklist suggests at least four generic ways to destroy someone’s trust in you:

  • Develop an erratic track record. That leads to a reputation for being flakey, undependable, that you can’t be counted on. Soon enough you’re losing the big jobs, then the little ones. All because you’re unreliable.
  • Abuse others’ confidences. Develop loose lips. Tell secrets. Make hay on inside information. Laugh at others’ misfortunes, or just be emotionally tone-deaf. The invitations will stop soon enough.
  • Use others for your own ends. Do unto others before they do unto you. Always be closing. Find the competitive advantage at every turn. Don’t let your guard down, and don’t be a chump. It’s better to receive than to give.
  • Put distance between yourself and the truth. There are white lies, bald-faced lies, lies of omission, half-truths, partial truths, packs of lies, and lies of convenience. They’re all kryptonite.

Which is the worst?  It’s hardly a walk-away, but I say the last one–lying.

Cold, Flat-Out, Straight-up Lies

Robert Whipple told me of the experience of being lied to, to his face, with full eye contact. That degree of trust destruction is strong enough to take effect instantly. Let’s examine why.

Obviously, if someone lies to you, you can’t believe what they’ve told you. Which means the next thing they tell you has to be suspect as well. Being lied to immediately ruins the speaker’s credibility.

But that’s just a start. Lying also infects reliability. Because if you tell me you’ll do something, but you’ve lied to me before, then I don’t know if I can trust you’ll do what you’ve said you’ll do.

Lying also affects intimacy and confidences. If you’ve lied to me, your motives are suspect. I’m not about to share confidential information with someone who’s been dishonest with me about their motives.

Finally, that same issue of motives makes me profoundly suspicious of your intentions. We do not assume people have lied to us for our own good, but rather for their good. And we do not like that.

Green and Red Kryptonite Lies

As is well known, krytponite of all forms is debilitating or lethal to Superman, but red kryptonite is more harmful. To extend the metaphor, which is more lethal to trust: a bald-faced lie, or a series of veiled, half-truths? I suggest that the latter is worse.

A flat out lie has two elements of truth: transparency and completeness. It’s all out there, right away. When Shaggy sings It Wasn’t Me, it’s such an in-your-face lie you have to laugh. The band-aid is ripped off the scab all at once. If you trust after that, it’s entirely your own fault. That’s green kryptonite.

Then there’s the really bad stuff – red kryptonite lying.

Red kryptonite lying consists of half-truths, incomplete truths, truths not told at the right time. It is often justified on the grounds that it isn’t green kryptonite: “I didn’t actually say anything that wasn’t true.”

Red kryptonite lying is riddled with layers of bad faith. It leaves the receiver with nagging doubt. Why did he not tell me the whole truth? Why did she not bring this to my attention earlier? What about all the other questions this raises?

One trouble with red kryptonite truth is the nagging doubt it leaves you with – the lack of resolution about the issue at hand.

But perhaps the worst nagging doubt is about the nature of the liar himself. Is the liar incompetent? Or is he dishonest? Does the liar even know the difference? Finally – does the liar even know he is lying?

It is sometimes said that the best salespeople are those who can first sell themselves. Indeed, some high-selling salespeople have that ability; but I wouldn’t trust them.

When Failure is an Option–and an Opportunity

“Park the car,” the officer said to my 17 year old son who was taking his driving test.  He had put the car in drive and was about to make a left turn out of the parking space as the officer instructed.  He’d gone all of about 2 feet.  But he did not look to the right, an offense that will require retesting.

I’d practiced with my son the day before.  He is a good driver.  Obeys the rules of the road religiously.  Always goes the speed limit.  Stops completely at stop signs and for pedestrians.  Signals before turning.  I was sure he would get his license on his first try.

No Need for Blame or Shame

Was he upset?  His answer was a clear “no.”  He wasn’t embarrassed either.  “It just is,” he said.

What he didn’t do:

  • Make excuses or try to justify what happened
  • Blame the officer, me, my wife or even himself
  • Get angry

What he did do:

  • Respected the officer for calling him on the mistake
  • Resolved to pay more attention
  • Accepted the fact that he would have to retake the test and looked on the bright side — he would get to drive more for additional practice

Lessons Learned From a Failed Driving Test

We broadened our discussion about what could be learned from his experience:

  • Rules for driving are important.

He came up with that one.  If we did not follow those rules, the roads would be chaos and dangerous.  To me, that sounds a lot like reliability, a Trust Equation component.  Knowing that people stop for red lights and stop signs creates some degree of reliability.

  • Civilized society requires rules.

He mentioned that we need rules to survive as a society, so we know what is expected of us and what to expect.  Again, reliability on a more global, rather than individual scale.  Interestingly, I think he picked that up in 8th grade where the students created their own rules.

  • Failing the test was the right consequence of the mistake he made.

I was impressed by the matter-of-fact way he accepted the situation.  He realized he’d made a mistake and that he should not blame others for it.   That shows a low self-orientation, another Trust Equation component.

Intimacy Trumps Failure

After the officer terminated my son’s driving test less than a minute after it started, he told my son that he had made the same mistake a couple of years before.  The officer turned left without looking right and almost hit someone in a wheel chair.   The officer exposed his own vulnerability and he connected with my son in that moment.  The truth is, that moment of intimacy made my son’s respect and admiration for the officer grow a little and I think my son grew a little too.

My son learned a lot about failure and success.  And about living.

Think Before Sending

What would you do?

That’s what my daughter’s 8th grade class was asked last year. The subject: texting secrets.

One girl had texted to a friend another friend’s embarrassing secret. But she didn’t just send it to one BFF— the text went out to everyone in the class—including, of course, the hapless girl whose secret was no longer.

Sound familiar? I recently received a message sent from one educator to a couple of colleagues regarding a student.  It also went to the institution’s entire mailing list.  This happens a lot in business too.  “Reply all” inadvertently pressed sends messages to the wrong person or people, or to entire lists.  Sometimes those slipped messages lead to a career and/or personal life hurt or destroyed.

The cause: carelessness, haste, anger? Doesn’t really matter. Who would think a simple button on a screen marked “send” could cause so much havoc?

Not Just Another Reply-All Horror Story

We could talk about how to recover from the gaffe via an apology. We could talk about how to use email properly.

Or–we could discuss how these types of issues affect trust.  And they do.  Think of this from the perspective of the Trust Equation.  Sending to the wrong person or group of people reduces Credibility and Reliability.  What gets inadvertently shared decreases Intimacy–after all sharing a secret shows a lack of discretion, even if done by mistake.

Here’s what my daughter learned as a result of this exercise with her class:

  • Double check everything before sending any electronic message (email, text, Facebook, IM)
  • Consider the medium–should the message be sent electronically, or is it better delivered in person or by phone
  • Should it be sent at all, by any medium (is it gossip or otherwise inappropriate to share)
  • Be prepared to do the right thing in the event things don’t work out.

The Big LessonLess Is More

As I thought about it, I think the third point—“should it be sent at all”—is by far the more powerful lesson my daughter learned that day.  Think it through.  Take a deep breath.  Count to ten. What’s your role in the situation?  What will the consequences be? Will saying anything really matter in a positive way?

These are profound lessons for all of us.  Adults suffer all the time from not having learned these lessons earlier in life.  How often do we act out and regret later?  How often do we say hurtful things even when we don’t mean to and suffer remorse?  How often do we hurt those we love?

Some time ago I learned from a lawyer colleague I respect and trust, that when it comes to the written and spoken word, less is more.  Shouldn’t we at least think about this before we hit Send?

I think my daughter learned a few rules of email etiquette that day—and one massive lesson about living life as a human being.

I’m pleased it was a topic for an 8th grade class, and it’s not the first time her school addressed real world issues.  I just hope we don’t have to wait for this generation to grow up before these valuable lessons are commonly used in the business community.

Asking for Fees and Root Canals

When my coaching client Craig returned from the dentist following his unexpected root canal, he didn’t complain about the pain. It was the sign in the reception area that got him: “Payment Expected at the Time Services are Provided.”

“I was wondering why the dentist doesn’t have any trouble insisting I pay him now,” he told me. What he didn’t understand is why some lawyers and consultants, including him, feel they have to tip-toe around the issue of discussing and collecting fees.

There are plenty of other professionals who don’t have trouble asking for fees. Think about those in medicine, and people like the snow plower, your car mechanic, real estate broker, plumber and your electrician.

What’s So Hard About Asking?

Why is it that lawyers, consultants and others often have so much difficulty talking about fees? Why is it that with us, we act like we’d rather get a root canal than discuss fees? Clients expect us to be assertive when helping them – so why do we dance around when it comes to talking about fees?

How To Make it Easier

Here are three tips that just might help you ask for and collect client fees:

  • Believe in yourself. Acknowledge that you are good at what you do, and that your fees reflect the value of your work in the marketplace in which you are working. If they are not, you’ll find out soon enough. And if you want some ideas on pricing your services, here’s a great compendium of short articles, thanks to Rain Today via Michael McLaughlin.
  • Deal with the topic sooner rather than later. Transparency helps. Don’t hesitate early on in the conversation to discuss your fees with a prospective client. Waiting too long may appear as if you’re hiding something, and certainly makes it more awkward. Try saying something like: “I’m delighted to talk more about this. Let me give you an idea of costs so we’re on the same page.”
  • Get personal. When you send a bill, don’t hide behind your firm’s invoicing systems. If the bill seems higher than expected, let the client know in a separate note or call – that reduces surprises and increases your reliability. If it’s lower than expected, that’s worth a call as well. Good news is appreciated. And, the personal touch will go a long way toward growing trust in the relationship.

Meanwhile, Back in the Dentist’s Chair

We all need to take our cue from those who don’t mind asking for fees. As for Craig, he’ll get another lesson when his dentist, without hesitation, tells him the cost for the cap to cover that root canal.

What Costs More Than a $1,000 Per Hour Lawyer?

Beginning just three years ago, some large firm legal fees reached that amount – about $17/minute – providing fodder for legal bloggers, and Internet articles on a variety of topics, including new marketing opportunities and excessive fees for bankruptcy matters to name just a couple. Only senior lawyers in the largest firms actually charge that much, and that’s to large companies on non-commoditized work. What about the rest of us? What makes a service worth that much to us? On my daily walks with Sam, we have a lot of epiphanies. Here’s one we came up with just before a Nor’Easter looming on the horizon. And no, this isn’t a rant about lawyers and their fees.

This is about snowplowing. I can only talk about the Boston area. Here, snowplowing costs anywhere between $35-50 per 3 inches of snow per driveway (the rest of you can fill in your own numbers). The average time per driveway – 3-5 minutes.

Here’s what’s interesting to me. Why is a homeowner willing to pay about $10/minute to anyone with a snowplow, yet would complain about that rate for most other services. I applied the Trust Equation to this question.?

  • Credibility: We’d prefer they not wreck the lawn or dig up the driveway, but if they do, well, things happen. We do want them to actually clean up the snow though.
  • Reliability: Jackpot. We’re paying for them to show up. Fast, and often if needed. If they show up relatively on time, they’re worth it. If they don’t, they’re not. Simple as that.
  • Intimacy: No need to empathize with us or share. Just do what is a straightforward job.
  • Self-orientation: If they want to tell us how great they are, it’s fine–just do the job.

This is a transaction, so Intimacy and low Self-orientation just don’t matter. However, Reliability is so important that we’re willing to pay more per minute than just about any other service we get. Credibility is important only in that the job be done reasonably well.

This made us think–where else is Reliability and Credibility so important that we’re willing to pay extraordinarily high rates so we can get it? Here’s our very short list:

a. Ambulance services. This is way out of line on a per minute basis. We’re paying for the competency to be available when we need it. Imagine if the costs were less, and they were only available at certain times. We have to pay more so they’re ready when we need them.

b. Travel–last minute. When you have to get home fast, you’ll pay multiples of the regular cost. I was in Dallas, and was required to stay 4 hours later than my flight. My round trip was about $350. My return flight 8 hours later on the same day was $1800. I wasn’t happy but I was willing to pay it. While air travel is not incredibly reliable, it’s more reliable than alternatives to travel long distances. I knew I’d get home.

Conclusion? Time sensitive needs merit higher rates, particularly where there are limited resources (like snowplows during a storm, planes to a specific destination, ambulance services), knowing you can use the service and it’s reliable is worth whatever it costs up to a point. What that point is depends on our need at the time.

How To Prove You’re Reliable

Trust takes time. It’s one of those things we say without examination. Turns out it’s largely a myth.

Credibility. Reliability. Intimacy. Self-orientation. These are the four factors in the Trust Equation. Of these, we usually say that only Reliability takes time. Reliability lives in the realm of action, and because of that, repeated, consistent, predictable actions over the passage of time are required to show reliability.

But even that, on closer examination, isn’t always true.

On a recent trip I had a chance to see that Reliability can be demonstrated in a moment or two and needn’t always take time to prove. It was a taxi driver (why is it always taxi drivers who teach us so much?) who brought this point home.

A colleague and I were in Washington delivering a workshop and staying at a hotel “just across the parking lot” from the corporate center where the training was being held. Unfortunately, it was pouring rain, the parking lot was several football fields across and there were half a dozen different buildings to choose from. We knocked on the window of a waiting cab and asked if the driver would take us such a short distance, got an affirmative yes, and jumped in. And given the address, he knew exactly which building was our destination.

During the few minutes it took to get to the other building, the driver had a (hands-free) cell conversation with someone who had clearly ridden with him often and was booking an airport trip for the following day. When we got out and offered to pay, he wouldn’t take any fare but gave us his business card instead and suggested that we call him for our return trips out of Washington.

When we walked in the door, it turned out we had to go to yet another nearby address; this time an employee gave us a lift. To top it off, getting home had gotten a little more complicated: one of us was going to the airport, another to Union Station, both at different times and we weren’t 100% sure just where we needed to be picked up.

But when we were ready to organize our trips home, of course we called this driver. He’d already demonstrated his reliability. How?

It didn’t hurt that we were predisposed to like thim when he volunteered to run us across the football fields. It proved he wasn’t hungry for money or trying to take advantage of a couple of people who would have paid plenty to stay dry.

We heard him talking to someone who was clearly a long-time client. Must be reliable if a frequent traveler from the Washington area counted on him to help her make her flights on time. A big "R" there.

Finally, the business card. It suggested that he was serious about his work and made it easy for us to find him when we were ready to go.

Indeed, he found us at the new building at the right time, took my colleague to the airport and made it back in plenty of time to pick me up and get me to my train. 

All of which reminded me: even Reliability doesn’t always take time.

Becoming trusted is less about logging more hours—and more about the quality of our relationships.