Learn how to connect with and read your team better, virtually. Understand how Intimacy and Self orientation are more important than ever.
We’ve all seen the movies, or worse still, possibly heard the words – “it’s not you, it’s me.”
A dramatic break up scene follows. We’re left in no doubt that the ‘you’ in the scenario was a) badly dealt with, and b) probably better off in the long run given that scoundrel ‘me,’ who is typically using the line as a cheap and insincere way to get out of the relationship.
But what if it’s true?
And what does that ‘breakup’ look like in the context of a business relationship? Many of us have had challenging client situations and relationships that just felt dysfunctional. And all too often we let ourselves believe that it is the other who is the problem, not our selves. The internal dialogue becomes “It’s not me – it’s you!”
It’s the reversal of the movie plot of the relationship breakdown. We start the blame game and potentially lose sight of what really happened. (And after all, what are business relationships other than just relationships with business as the context?).
My own “it really was me” moment played out over a year of frantic project delivery for a client with tight deadlines and ambitious goals; it involved a lot of shouting, mutual frustration and ultimately a breakup. Sound familiar?
I was saved from the worst of the blame game by a very astute new analyst in my consulting firm, who unknowingly helped bring the Trust Equation even more alive for me.
Was It Me or Was It Them?
I was a big advocate of the Trusted Advisor approach, and in fact had taught the material to many people over the years. I had a story for each aspect of Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy and Self Orientation. The stories were the stuff of legends (in my own mind) and I could retell them with ease.
There was one – my go-to story – about ‘the challenging client and the breakup’ that I loved telling new hires. It had shock value and impact, and often provoked great discussion on the importance of balance in the trust equation. The story could last five minutes or 25 depending on the audience and the nuances added, but always ended, “….and that is how the client ruined our trusted relationship!”
That punchline came to an ignominious end one afternoon in a session with students in Kuala Lumpur. I had talked about how to demonstrate credibility with new ideas, reliability with delivery, and intimacy through shared experiences. After I went through my final go-to story about the client’s Self-orientation, an analyst put her hand up and asked, “You’ve talked a lot about what was in it for the client, but what did you want to get out of the relationship and project?”
A great question – and one I’d never examined. I knew I hadn’t enjoyed the project (successful though it was), and I knew the client was annoyed with me at the end (again, despite the good results) – but I’d never really examined the why. I had just thought “difficult client, next assignment please.”
Her next question went deeper. “It sounds like you just wanted to get off that project and didn’t care what happened to the client.” Ouch!
The Penny Drops – It Was Me After All
That evening I played back my own recollection of events. I realised that on at least three occasions I had thought only of my own objectives. First, I had wanted the project to be a success for me; I was looking for a promotion. Next, I had omitted inviting the client to a presentation we were making to their Board (the person was on holiday, but I could have asked them regardless). Finally, I had just wanted off the project – after all, it had been draining and challenging.
None of these instances may have been showstoppers on their own, but combined it meant my self-orientation was so poor that the client would had to have been made of stone not to distrust me. All those great results, all that thought leadership and intimacy had been slowly eroded by me wanting to achieve my goals – not theirs. The relationship had begun to break down – and all at the same time my inner voice was telling me, “It’s them not you!”
What a wake-up call for me, three years of believing they were the problem!
The next time I delivered the Trusted Advisor session the story hadn’t changed – but the punchline had. Instead of the casting the client as villain and me as the poor beaten up consultant, my conclusion was, “And this is how my self-orientation ruined a perfectly good trusted relationship.”
From time to time I still see that client in airports. We both acknowledge that it was a tough assignment, but we both know now that “It wasn’t you, it was me!” isn’t just a line in the movies. It’s real. And unlike in the movies, sometimes it’s really true.
To say there is no shortage of COVID-19-related “best advice” out there is an understatement. Which means one thing that’s in short supply is focus. This post aims to help fill that void as we manage our new normal while also tending to our relationships, both personal and at work.
Source: The Trusted Advisor by Maister, Green, and Galford, The Free Press, 2000
Here are a few pandemic-sensitive tips on what to pay attention to, in order of priority.
Self-orientation (S). The biggest trust de-railer for us all right now is also the biggest driver of high self-orientation: fear. When it comes to trust triage in a crisis, this factor deserves the bulk of our attention.
Low self-orientation, which is what we should strive for, equates to a focus on others by (1) putting our attention on them, and (2) making choices that are motivated by their best interests, not ours. Consider it icing on the cake if there’s mutual benefit to be found.
Pandemic-induced fear can trigger our basest instincts: we default to protecting ourselves, obsess about stuff, avoid relationship risks (or any risks, for that matter), and more. Yet true trusted advisorship demands that we find ways to lead from our higher selves instead.
Here’s a starter list of simple strategies for keeping our self-orientation as low as possible:
- Reach out to people—clients and beyond—for one simple reason – to inquire how they are. Period.
- Make generous offers. What’s something concrete that you can give away that would be helpful right now? Think in terms of ideas, resources, even work. Bring value at a time when it’s sorely needed because you can, and because you want to make a difference. No strings attached. No. Strings. Attached.
- Get and stay grounded. If ever there were a time to stay centered, to keep stress levels as low as possible, and to maintain perspective, that time is now. Too many professionals were already wrung out before the you-know-what hit the global fan. Whatever helps you be your best, do it and do it regularly: exercise, meditation, music, dancing, reading, cooking, art, any form of play, a gratitude practice … the possibilities may not be endless right now, but they are numerous.
Things to avoid include anything that might smack of ambulance-chasing from where they sit (even if your intentions are noble), and conversations that focus only on the task at hand. It’s fine, even good, to channel our energy into productive work right now, but not at the expense of leading with genuine caring about the people in our lives.
Intimacy (I). Intimacy equates to safety, and there are many ways to achieve it in relationships. The first two S-lowering strategies above are really two-fers as they not only demonstrate caring, but also increase intimacy by building rapport and connectedness. Here are two additional tools:
- Listen masterfully. Treat every conversation you have right now as an opportunity to hone your empathetic listening skills. It just may be the simplest and most powerful route to building intimacy quickly.
- Let others get to know you. Our current circumstances are a forcing function when it comes to revealing our humanity. Who hasn’t been video-bombed by a small child or a needy pet in the past week? Even journalists broadcasting live from home are making news in unexpected ways. Embrace the opportunities to give others a little insight into your life. You might be surprised at how readily and voluntarily they reciprocate.
Reliability (R). The extent to which your actions are consistent and predictable determines how reliable others deem you to be. I’d normally call this trustworthiness dimension a distant third. Absent a crisis, reliability is table stakes, and generally far too heavily relied upon by services professionals at the expense of other variables. In a pandemic, though, its relative importance increases because of our basic human need for certainty. And while none of us holds the power to answer big questions such as, “When will we be able to go to a live concert again?” we can do things like:
- Make small promises, then routinely follow through. And when plans get derailed, that’s OK, just get in touch immediately to reset expectations.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate.Meetings and touch-points that occur at a regular cadence provide a sense of stability, even if you don’t have new information to share.
Credibility (C). Credibility is fundamentally about words: what you say, and how you say it. Knowing stuff might be helpful to others right now, but unless you’re Tony Fauci it’s not likely to set you apart. Zero in on being honest about your limitations and errorsinstead. For example, be willing to say, “I screwed up in how I handled that,” or “I don’t know”—straightforwardly and with a blend of ego strength and humility.
It’s my first pandemic, and there’s a lot I don’t know right now. One thing I do know is that the trust equation is a simple and profound framework that offers guidance in the best of times and the worst of times.
May we all use it well.
Welcome to the newest episode of Trust Matters, The Podcast. Listeners submit their personal questions about professional relationships, trust, and business situations to our in-house expert Charles H. Green, CEO, Trusted Advisor Associates and co-author of The Trusted Advisor.
Charlie offers insight for leveraging honesty and credibility as well as managing expectations.
And if you want to read more on this topic, here is a recent blog post:
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.
We post new episodes every other week.
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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.
We’ll be posting new episodes every other Tuesday.
Subscribe to get the latest episodes
The following is a guest blogpost by Rick Lepsinger of OnPoint Consulting. You can connect with Rick directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Interesting thing happened this week. Even though I’ve been at this business game for some time now – there are still these little gaps, where I fall victim to a little thing that I like to call the “trap of high self-orientation.” I started to doubt, to question if I had said or done something that would cause a potential client to not respond as quickly as we had during an earlier email exchange. Turned out to be all in my head, a self-inflicted ‘trap’ – if you will.
It got me thinking about the last time I reflected on this subject matter. So, here it is – a little insight into the psychology and the spirituality of getting off your S.
It happened again yesterday. It happens about once a week, though I don’t generally notice it until later.
I had a proposal phone call with a potential client. It went well, but they came back a few days later with a concern. I responded at length in an email. The day ended. Another day passed. By then, it had begun to happen.
I started thinking, “Was it something I said? I’ve probably blown it. I knew I should have done X, I shouldn’t have done Y. On the other hand, maybe I should have…” and so on. You probably know how it goes.
I once kept track of these episodes for a month. There were ten of them in that month. And in 9 out of the 10 cases, the result was: the other person was just busy, that’s all. They weren’t thinking those negative things about me, in fact quite the contrary.
9 out of 10 times I was wrong. And not just about what they were thinking, but about how much time they spent on it.
Self-Orientation in Trust
The denominator in the Trust Equation is self-orientation (the numerator factors are credibility, reliability and intimacy). The higher your self-orientation, the lower your trustworthiness. The logic is simple: if you’re paying attention to the other person (client, customer, friend, spouse, whatever), then you’re probably interested in them, care about them, and have some positive intent toward them.
By contrast, if your attention is devoted inward, you will not be trusted. Why should you be? You’re obsessed with yourself. We trust people who appear to care, and who demonstrate that caring by paying attention. He who pays attention largely to himself is not the stuff of trusted advisors. (Note: you can take your own Trust Quotient quiz at the upper right of this page.)
Get Off Your S
For those of us who need catch-phrases to remember (count me in), here’s one: Get Off Your S. That is, stop being so self-oriented.
Here’s the psychology of it. You’re not as good as you think you are, you’re not as bad as you think you are–you just think more about yourself than others think about you. To live between your ears is to live in enemy territory. You empower what you fear. If you have a foot in yesterday and one in tomorrow, you’re set to pee on today. Blame is captivity. It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.
Here’s the spirituality of it. To give is more blessed than to receive. To get what you want, focus on getting others what they want. Treat others as you’d wish they’d treat you. Pay it forward. Put change in a stranger’s parking meter. Do a good deed a day. Humility doesn’t mean thinking less of yourself, it means thinking of yourself less. Fear is lack of faith.
Here’s the business of it. Never Eat Alone. Listen before making recommendations. To get tweets, give tweets. Inbound marketing not outbound marketing. Customer focus. Customer service. Samples selling.
Oh, and my potential client? They were just busy. They’re going to buy, they always were.
It’s not about you. It never is.
Today’s guest post is from June Gunter, Ed. D. and CEO of TeachingHorse, LLC.
I am the Co-Founder and CEO of TeachingHorse, LLC. TeachingHorse provides leadership development and coaching through experiential learning with horses. Working with horses, people learn how to build trusting relationships, practice authenticity, and remain calm and confident in the face of uncertainty.
Several of my clients are on the path of becoming trusted advisors. Their work with horses has been a great way for them to practice developing intimacy and reducing their self-orientation.
Most of the clients I work with do not have issues with credibility or reliability. They are skilled experts with long track records of success – but they are staring squarely at a new reality. The complexity of the issues they are being asked to address is unprecedented. The information available to them is unreliable and changes quickly. The demand for innovation means that previous performance and expertise are only the equivalent of an entry fee and will no longer win the race.
It is the capacity to create trusting relationships that is often the defining factor in selection of both leaders and advisors.
So what do horses have to teach leaders about being trusted advisors? To begin with, horses don’t care if you have an RN, MBA, MD or have CEO after your name. Horses will never ask you if you have reputation for being dependable or reliable. So we can just take credibility and reliability out of the equation for now.
For horses to place their trust in leaders, they must know four things about them.
- One, that leaders are paying attention, and can detect even the most subtle shifts in the environment.
- Two, that leaders can give them clear direction on how to respond to the shifts.
- Three, that leaders are able to follow that direction with focused energy, providing guidance on the pace with which to respond.
- Four, that leaders display congruence of their inner and outer expressions. Ultimately, horses must know that the leaders have their best interest as their source of motivation at all times.
It all starts with saying “Hello.” One of the first things we teach is how to approach a horse in a way that creates confidence. It is a process of mutual decision-making that begins with taking a step towards the horse. If they continue to look relaxed and comfortable with your presence, take another step closer. If they look anxious or unsure, stop, take a deep breath to ground yourself, and then take a small step back. This reassures the horse that you are actually paying attention to the signals they are sending, that you are willing to respect their experience and make adjustments to honor their choice. With this simple process, the horse learns that you are not a threat.
One of the horses I work with frequently is a large white draft horse named Blue. She weighs about 2000 pounds. Blue is a fabulous teacher. In one particular session I was working with a board of directors for a healthcare organization. The participant saying hello to Blue was a petite woman, maybe 5 feet tall, with no horse experience.
As she began moving closer to Blue, I could hear her say tentatively, “Hi Blue. Are we good? Can I come a bit closer?” I stopped the woman in her tracks and said, “What question do you have of Blue right now?” She replied, “Is it safe for me to take another step closer?”
My reply to her was, “As long as that is your question, neither one of you is safe. It is not Blue’s job to convince you that you are safe with her. It is your job to show Blue that she is safe with you, just as if she was a patient in your hospital.”
I could sense that what I said resonated deeply with this person. Her energy changed completely. The woman lifted her head and squared her shoulders. You could feel the conviction running through her veins. At the same time, her eyes filled with respect, appreciation and love. She looked at Blue and said, “I got you girl. You are safe with me.”
Much to her surprise, Blue lowered her head, a signal that a horse is feeling safe, and Blue took the last few steps that closed the gap between them. With the woman’s hand now placed gently and confidently on Blue’s forehead, the connection between them created a palpable hush over the entire group.
I asked the woman what changed. She said, “I did.” And she was right.
As it turns out, this person is a gifted nurse leader. She tapped into a deeply held value that can get lost in the hustle and bustle of executive life. She moved her attention from self to other with a commitment to earn trust.
In the face of uncertainty, fear takes over when too much of our attention is on the self. Turn your attention to those you are leading or serving with a clear intention to act in their best interests. Trust will grow.
For more information about leadership development with horses contact June Gunter at email@example.com.
Would you risk your company’s reputation in an attempt to save what amounts to 0.16% of your annual revenue?
The owners of the NFL franchises have spent decades building the league’s reputation as a trustworthy, venerable institution – with a lot of success. Now, literally in the blink of an eye, the NFL has risked its credibility for relative peanuts.
In case you haven’t heard, the NFL has locked its referees out because they didn’t want to switch their pension plan from a defined-benefit to a defined-contribution model. A hill to die on? Not.
Referees missing calls isn’t quite news (insert your favorite blind ref joke here). Across all sports, poor decisions are made that affect the outcome of games. What makes the NFL’s referee lockout so newsworthy are the repeated bad calls the league has made.
The NFL made an initial, and forgivable, mistake by not standing by its refs. True, the NFL is a business, and it’s hard to overlook $16 million a year. But by not taking responsibility for their mistake, they are compounding the problem, letting it grow and sacrificing their reputation in the process.
When yesterday they unequivocally denied that a mistake was even made, they simply added further tension to an already stressed situation.
Time to Call an Audible
The NFL’s denial of the controversy is a classic example of institutional refusal to face facts confronting a failure of trust. The desire to cover up – from Watergate to Penn State – runs deep.
But this season is still young; there’s time to resolve the issue and begin to rebuild the lost trust. If the NFL acts humbly, admits its mistakes and ends the lockout, all can be forgotten in a matter of weeks or even days.
But the longer they refuse to admit the breach of trust, the more trust they’ll leave on the field.
What is it that differentiates the moments between when our advice is taken, and when it is not? What can we do to improve the odds of genuinely good advice being accepted without resorting to manipulation or psychological engineering?
In this week’s Trust Tip video, we explore what can be accomplished when we put our egos aside and work towards a unified goal.
If you like the Trust Tip Video series, and you like our occasional eBooks, why not subscribe to make sure you get both? Every 2-4 weeks we’ll send you selected high-quality content. To subscribe, click here, or go to http://bit.ly/trust-subscribe
Many Trusted Advisor programs now offer CPE credits. Please call Tracey DelCamp for more information at 856-981-5268–or drop us a note @ firstname.lastname@example.org.