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Trust Tip Video: Get Off Your “S”

We want our clients and partners to trust us and so we often focus on what we can do better to appear, and to be, more trustworthy. But even more than doing certain things, we have to stop doing one thing in particular.

We need to get off of our habitual Self-Orientation. As my colleague, Andrea Howe, says we need to Get Off Our S.

What does that mean, and how do you do it? That’s the subject of this one-minute Trust Tip.

For more information about Self-Orientation, try this article on The Trust Equation.

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It’s all about Tools that Work–For Your Work.

Chris Brogan, Meet Jack Hubbard

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

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

The Banking Guy

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

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

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

The Social Media Guy

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

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

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

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

 

Chris, meet Jack Hubbard.

Jack, allow me to introduce Chris Brogan.

Y’all have a nice day now.

 

How I Quit Smoking

I smoked cigarettes until I was in my mid-forties. I smoked pretty heavily–more than two packs a day–and had done so pretty much forever (despite running the Montreal Marathon back in 1982, when I quit for several days).

It wasn’t that I didn’t know how stupid smoking was. I could feel it myself. But as David Maister wrote in Strategy and the Fat Smoker, the problem is not knowledge; the problem is implementation.

Here’s what happened to me. I can’t say it’ll help you; but it does say something about how people change.

Why I Smoked

I don’t know why I smoked. But I know one reason I kept smoking. Because everyone kept telling me to quit.

I’m not proud of that, but it’s the truth. Quitting itself isn’t all that hard (as Mark Twain said, I’d done it many times). But my life has been in many ways a struggle to get over being stubborn. I just Don’t. Like. Being. Told. What. To. Do.

I had recently remarried. My wife was a reformed smoker herself, and never made an issue of it with me, for which I was grateful.

One day the subject came up; I think I raised it. Here’s what she said:

Dear, I want you to know that smoking is 100% your decision. I don’t want you to die early–but much, much more than that, I want you to be you. I love you for who you are, and only you decide who that is.

You can smoke in the kitchen; you can smoke in the living room; you can smoke in the bedroom—it’s all OK. I will never nag you or hound you about smoking.

I will re-route plane trips to accommodate your need to get out for a smoke. I will put ashtrays wherever you want. Smoking will never be an issue for you and me.

Because I love you, and you are who you choose to be.

Two weeks later, I quit for good.

Why I Quit Smoking

In retrospect, it’s clear why I quit. It’s because I’m an idiot, a fool who somehow needed someone else’s permission to smoke–just to have at least one person on my side to counter-balance all those who told me not to. And when I finally got that one person, I could declare victory and retreat.

Had I been a better person, I would have figured out on my own, years earlier, that I didn’t need anyone’s permission—not to smoke, not to quit, not to do, or not do, anything. As my wife put it, “you’re a free humanoid on the planet.”

But the me who smoked couldn’t have had that thought. The me who smoked could only quit the way I did.

The Bigger Gift I Got from Quitting Smoking

The gift my wife gave me was extraordinary. Quitting smoking was the least of it. All that did was protect my health. What she gave me was much bigger.

She taught me, first of all, what it means to accept another human being. (To be fair, she gave me an object example; I’m still working on learning it).

She also taught me what was within my power, and what wasn’t. I had always under-estimated the power I had–and over-estimated the power other people had over me. No matter what happens, I have the power to control my reactions to other people. And no matter what happens, if I’m upset by something, there’s something wrong with me.

Those are huge lessons. How funny that the “price” I paid to learn them was to give up something that was bad for me in the first place.

The Dishwasher’s Tale

During a recent conversation, a friend–General Counsel for a large listed company–mentioned that she does not feel appreciated by her CEO for all the work she does; and that feels disheartening.

How often do we hear this? Is this a gender issue? Do females need to feel workforce appreciation more than males?

A Little Appreciation

One of my biggest lessons in life came 30 years ago. I had time between University semesters. I wanted to travel to the country nearest Ireland, where I was studying, where they didn’t speak English. After getting a bus, boat, and train…I arrived at my destination: Belgium, where Flemish is the first language and French the second. Because of the language barrier, I had to work in a position that did not require customer contact.

Hence my job: dishwasher.

Day in and day out I washed glasses, dishes, pots and pans. I think it was the hardest job I have ever completed. Only one of the waiters would come up to me at the end of a shift to say ‘thank you.’ This simple, genuine ‘thank you’ was so warming to my soul that it would make me feel motivated enough to come back into work the next day. Luckily this was a summer job to fund my holiday travels and I only had to work there for one month. I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like to have that job long term.

A Question of Perspectives

I walked away with from that job knowing what a huge difference it makes if someone feels appreciated. Ever since, I have tried to make a point of showing my appreciation–from my client, to the person in the office emptying the rubbish bins, to the lady in the bathroom at the airport cleaning the cubicles, to the tram driver when I get off at my stop and I leave via the door beside the driver.

Recently, I have become more aware of how many others do not do this. I asked colleagues in the office why they do not say ‘thank you’ to the person cleaning their rubbish bins. The answer was almost always, “It’s their job, why should I thank to someone for doing their job?” Maybe this is the perspective of the CEO at my friend’s company.

A Little Less Self-orientation

Imagine if we all proactively practiced genuine appreciation–what a wonderful world we would live in. It reminds me of one lesson of the Trust Equation; that as we empathetically reach out to others by giving them a sense of importance, we simultaneously reduce our own self-orientation.

An old Chinese proverb says it all “Flowers leave some of their fragrance on the hand that bestows them.”

When we make people feel good about themselves we elevate ourselves to greatness as well.

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.

Crying In Your Beer Is Just a Waste of Good Beer

I’m a huge fan of country music. In small doses, that is. One of the great things about country music is how it speaks to the heart, about real human emotions.

Then again—after a certain point, dwelling on those emotions can turn toxic on you. It’s easy to get addicted to crying in your beer and there are plenty of country songs to feed the addiction.

Dwight Yoakam, for my money, has got the top spot of this genre nailed down. Here’s verse 1 and chorus from Lonesome Roads:

Where did I go wrong

You know I haven’t got a clue;

I must’ve just been born no good–

Bad’s the best that I can do.

Lonesome roads, the only kind I ever traveled,

Lonesome rooms, the only place I’ve ever stayed.

I’m just a face out in a crowd that’s turnin’ ugly—

Poor ol’ worthless me’s the only friend I ever had.

There is something comforting about a beautiful song that articulates your own melancholy. Early Bob Dylan could do that for me (think Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, or better yet, Visions of Johanna). Come to think of it, the words don’t even have to make sense; they just have to mirror your deep melancholy.

But then there’s life. The sun comes up the next morning and the dishes are still in the sink, the car’s engine light is still blinking, and your secret inamorata at work still doesn’t appreciate the ennobling of your soul that can only come from crying in your beer alone with Dwight or Bob. All you’ve done is waste some good beer.

The trouble with emotions is they attract the same. You empower what you fear; you attract what you put out. Beer-crying is the ultimate in high self-orientation; it’s a trust-killer. Why would anyone trust someone whose aim is to amplify his feelings of misery?

Five Steps to Stop Crying in Your Beer

You don’t need me to tell you it’s a stupid waste of time. As David Maister wrote in his book Strategy and the Fat Smoker, the issue is not one of diagnosis, but of implementation. What can you do to get out of the funk? Here are five steps.

1. It may sound obvious, but it belongs #1 on the list: give Yoakam and Dylan a rest. Go listen to something a bit more extroverted. Pretty much anything will do. Though may I suggest Robert Randolph and the Family Band?

2. If you’re hungry, get something to eat. (Unless, that is, you’ve got eating issues. In which case, do not revert to beer).

3. If you’re tired, go take a nap.

4. Get outdoors, preferably in the daytime. Get some exercise. Go volunteer to walk dogs at the local animal shelter.

5. Go meet some other human beings. (Preferably not in a bar. Though if bar is unavoidable, look for pop, rock or jazz on the jukebox).

And if you can’t manage that, then give my regards to Dwight. I miss the guy from time to time.

Making Excuses To Strangers Is A Sign Of Self-Orientation

Earlier this week, I wrote about the critical role played in the Trust Equation by the factor of Self-Orientation.   The brief version is:

The biggest killer of trustworthiness is high self-orientation – a tendency to focus too much on ourselves.

That’s the theory. Now let’s have fun with some examples.

With a tip o’ the hat to Jeff Foxworthy, who invented this peculiarly American quasi-haiku format:

·    If you find yourself making excuses to a stranger for something a good friend would have forgotten about days ago – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If you lose more than 45 minutes of sleep re-running what you should have said in that conversation – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If you go from thinking you’re the greatest to thinking you are worthless – and back again – within two minutes – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If you apologize more than three times for something pretty trivial – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If you are pretty sure that that song really was about you – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If you immediately lose interest in a potential customer when it appears they won’t buy this month – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If it bothers you that probably no song will ever be about you – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If you take great pride in beating your grandmother at Scrabble (and you’re over 20, and she’s over 80) – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If you are presenting to a client, and the client disagrees about an issue, and your pulse rate goes up 20 points – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If you’re worried that everyone’s always talking about you – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If it worries you that no one is ever talking about you – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If someone suggests a change in something you did, and you respond by explaining why you did it — three times in a row – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If you think, “wow, I just did the same thing last month” constitutes empathy – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If a potential client says, “your prices are too high,” and it makes you feel attacked or angry – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If you think self-flagellation is a virtue – you might be highly self-oriented.

·    If you were in charge of the company picnic and it rained, and you feel guilty – you might be highly self-oriented.

Here’s a hint. Your job is to do the best you can to help others—and to give up control over the outcome. An expectation on your part is just a pre-meditated resentment.

Is Self-Orientation Killing Your Trustworthiness

When Maister, Galford and I wrote The Trusted Advisor in 2000 one of the more popular themes in the book was the Trust Equation.

 

 

 

Where:

TQ        = Trustworthiness

C            = Credility

R            = Reliability

I            = Intimacy

S            = Self-Orientation

And within that equation, the factor that has stirred the most interest over the years has been the denominator, self-orientation.   In the trust equation, since the S factor is in the denominator, a high level of self-orientation reduces trustworthiness.   A low level of self-orientation serves to increase trustworthiness.

Let me explain this further.

Self-Orientation Is About Where Your Attention is Focused

When you are standing in front of a room presenting, and your pulse rate is high, your palms sweating, your breath shallow and fast – in those moments, your self-orientation is quite high, because you are focusing on yourself.

The key to successful presenting lies first and foremost in getting out of the trap of self-orientation. You need to have the calmness, confidence and curiosity to see the audience and its needs rather than to see them as instruments of torture for you.

For synonyms or drivers of high self-orientation think self-obsessed, self-conscious, self-loathing, self-aggrandizing, full of self, un-self-confident.

When we are operating from high self-orientation, we do not hear others. We do not hear their questions, desires, fears, or emotions in general. The noise inside our own head drowns them out.

The psychology goes like this: if your level of self-orientation is low, you can pay attention to someone else. If you pay attention to someone, they experience that as caring. If someone thinks you care about them, they are likely to trust you.

Conversely, if your attention is focused on yourself, others become acutely aware of it and infer that you do not care about them. Rightly or wrongly, they then decide you are untrustworthy.

It is hard to pay attention, therefore hard to care, and therefore hard to be trustworthy if your attention is all on yourself – your self-orientation is high.

Self-Orientation Does Not Mean Selfishness

You may be selfish, in which case you are probably pretty self-oriented. But you may also be highly unselfish yet attached to the idea of others seeing you as unselfish. That is also high self-orientation.

Sometimes people equate low self-orientation with passivity or with willingness to give away business, cut price, or otherwise let the other party “win.” It means nothing of the kind.

A low self-orientation is critical to legitimate client focus. You cannot be focused on customers for the sake of the customer if you are obsessed with the moral activity in your own brain. Since client focus is a driver of profitability, this leads to a wonderful paradox: if you focus on achieving profitability by way of client focus, you will sub-optimize. Yet if you focus on the good of the client, rather than the funds you can extract from their accounts, you will achieve greater profitability – by treating it as a byproduct rather than as a goal.

Low self-orientation is not some soft form of capitalism. It is rooted in the simple psychological observation that human beings return good for good, but only money for goods. Retention economics and returns to scale in the real world are driven heavily by a sense that parties are out to help each other, not to gouge each other. Low self-orientation drives higher profitability, not lower.

I will write another blog this week giving some practical examples of high self-orientation, so that you can spot them as they arise. In the meantime, let me offer a simple practical tool for diagnosing high self-orientation:

Seek humility. That does not mean thinking less of yourself; it means thinking of yourself less.

To for continued reading check out: Trusting your colleagues will make you more trustworthy to your customers

Does This Make My “S” Look Big? True Customer Focus

I’ve led dozens of learning programs on being a Trusted Advisor.  One thing I’ve learned: without a doubt, the most popular element of the Trust Equation is Self-Orientation.

By “popular,” I mean it’s the one most people identify as a huge opportunity for improvement. Which makes sense, since it’s deliberately placed in the denominator to highlight its ubiquitousness.

Simply defined, self-orientation is about focus. If someone says about you, “I trust that she cares about _______” and fills in the blank with something that relates to them, then your “S” is little. And that’s good.  (“I trust that she cares about how this project will impact my career”; “I trust that she cares about what’s best for the team”; “I trust that she cares about our reputation.”)

Alternatively, if the words that complete the sentence relate to you in any way shape, or form, then you’ve officially got a Big “S.” And that’s bad. 

We all know the stereotypical used car salesman – a classic “Big S” caricature. He’s disingenuous, in it for himself, armed and ready with manipulative tactics to get you to do what he wants. As I’ve come to better understand what “S” is all about, I’ve come to appreciate its subtlety. In reality, self-orientation sneaks into our interactions with others in more insidious ways. This means keeping it small can be challenging.

Think of self-orientation as referring to two levels of focus: results and needs.

High Self-Orientation Level 1: Results

Most of us are pretty clear about the results dimension–the more obvious of the two. We generally know what we should be doing to be other-focused in this regard. “Little S” strategies include:

asking lots and lots of questions from a place of curiosity to figure out what success really looks like

negotiating for true win-win,

doing the right thing, even if you’re incented otherwise. The latter includes the provocative notion of referring a client to a competitor if the competitor could do better for the customer.

“Big S” results behaviors (the bad ones, remember) include rushing to a solution, making a bad first deal, or “hoarding”—time, resources, ideas. “Gigantic S” equals stereotypical used car guy.

High Self-Orientation Level 2: Needs 

The other dimension of self-orientation is needs.The question here is whether or not you’re focused on your needs–or on theirs.

For example:

–          Are you focused on your need to look smart (and so you invoke Death by PowerPoint … or simply talk a lot) or are you focused on their need to be heard (therefore you listen without distraction, even when it’s uncomfortable to be silent for what feels like a long time)?

–          Are you focused on your need to be liked (hence you avoid confrontation—sometimes or always) or their need to have all the data required to make good decisions (meaning you’re consistently willing to speak a hard truth if it’s necessary, even when it feels awkward to do it)?

–          Are you focused on your need to be the hero (so you subtly compete for attention or recognition) or are you focused on their need to feel confident (meaning you check your ego at the door and give them the credit)?

I chose these three examples because they’re the ones I struggle with the most. Even though my “S” scores on the Trust Quotient are actually pretty low, I’m well aware of my own quirks and foibles and I work every day to manage them—sometimes with greater success than others.

What Makes My “S” Look Big? Being Human

Self-orientation rears its ugly head most often when we feel some sort of fear—fear of looking bad, fear of rejection, fear of loss. All of these fears fall into the category of perfectly normal. And they’re what make your “S” look big.

What makes a difference is having the ego strength to see it, acknowledge it, to “get off your ‘S’,” and move on.   After all, obsessing about “Big S” mistakes is just more … “Big S.”

Ah, the joys of being human.

When a Win-Win…Is Not

Special thanks to Noelle who participated in a Being a Trusted Advisor program Charlie and I led recently. Noelle told a similar story in class that was the inspiration for this post.

I had an experience with US Airways recently that shed light on the difference between what I’ll call a Sears Win-Win* and a Real Win-Win. In short, the difference boils down to incentives.

The Story of an On-Time Departure

It seems that US Airways is placing a lot of emphasis on on-time departures these days.  Works for me! As I was getting settled on a recent flight, I noticed that the flight attendant working my section was particularly smiley and up-beat, urging everyone to get buckled up and ready to go in a most effervescent way.

I acknowledged her demeanor as she paused near my row. "We’re working hard for an on-time departure today and it looks like we’re going to make it!" she beamed.

"Wow," I said, a bit taken aback by the commitment and the positivity.

Then she added, "And there’s $50 in it for me if we leave the gate on time!"

(Apparently, US Airways implemented a new program in 2009 where employees below the director level can earn up to $150 per month in incentive pay when they achieve top-three rankings for on-time performance, mishandled baggage reports or customer complaint numbers.)

"Oh," I said.

And then we left on time…and arrived on time.

Why Motives Matter

On the surface, this sure looks like a win-win: I won because we left and arrived on time; the flight attendant won because she got her bonus. The corporate incentive program worked! Or did it?

I say it didn’t. Not really. It clearly achieved a desirable result (me arriving on time). And that result came with–what’s the word I’m looking for–baggage (me feeling like chopped liver). Which is why I call this a Sears Win-Win, not a Real Win-Win. If we look throught the lens of the Trust Equation, my friendly flight attendant’s Self Orientation was sky high. And therein lies the problem: the source of her interest was her own benefit, not mine.

How Do We Make the Ending Happy?

Here are some conclusions I draw from this story:

  • Incentives are great. And they’re not enough
  • When one or more parties in a business transaction leaves that transaction without feeling cared about, it’s a loss, not a win.
  • Motives aren’t only spoken; they’re exuded
  • Real Win-Win’s are motivated by caring, not by numbers.

Which begs the question, how do you incent–and incite–someone to care?

Any answers out there?

*Reference courtesy of Frank Zappa