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5 Short Phrases to Build Relationships: Part 5 of 5

This is the fifth in a series of five posts on short (seven words or less) powerful phrases. Each phrase distills the essence of a key part of approaching trust-based relationships in business.

Why focus on short phrases like this? Because the concise expression of several emotionally powerful concepts packs a punch. Such phrases feel profound. They catch the listener’s attention. They force the listener to reflect. They are short enough to remember every word, and they resonate in the mind of the listener. 

Today’s Phrase: (Three words) 

            “What’s behind that?”

When you find yourself wondering either, “What is he hiding? That can’t possibly be the whole truth!!” or, “I don’t think she’s thought this through,” this is the phrase to use. 

When to Use It:

  • When you feel there is a deeper level of explanation or motivation for what the other person is saying;
  • When you suspect the issue is being discussed at a shallow level, and needs to be explored more fundamentally.

Examples:

  • “I know you’ve said that you don’t trust suppliers in this industry; what’s behind that?” 
  • “I notice that you and your team have very well-developed procedures for vetting new hires – much more than usual. What’s behind that?
  • “Your corporate values statement puts emphasis on ‘client first.’ Can you tell me, what’s behind that?

Why It Works.

These three words transform a potentially critical or antagonistic question into one of respect and curiosity. They work because of a sub-text of Respect and Curiosity.  

Respect. Given the situation in which you use this phrase – typically one where you suspect either avoidance or weak thinking on the part of the respondent – it’s very easy to let those suspicions bleed out into the appearance of antagonism, critique, or diminution of the respondent. 

“What’s behind that” positions you as assuming positive intent and clarity on the part of the respondent. By making that assumption, and by showing that you are simply ignorant of the presumably good reasoning background or rationale behind the statement, you show respect. This defuses the negativity. 

Curiosity. Along with the respect conveyed by the words, you are complimenting the person by suggesting that not only do they know something you don’t, but that you are motivated by genuine curiosity – you too want to know what is behind the surface statement, and the respondent is in the position to enlighten you. 

A caveat. It’s important to note that you are potentially putting someone in a difficult situation. If they in fact haven’t thought the issue through, or their motives were hidden for a self-serving reason, then you are putting them in a position of self-indicting embarrassment. Unless that is your intent (which unless you’re a prosecutor, I recommend against), you need to be ready to save their self-respect by empathizing with their situation. If you do that rightly, you will end up with a deeper level of shared intimacy, as well as appreciation from the respondent that you have treated their issue with care and respect.   

5 Short Phrases to Build Relationships: Part 3 of 5

This is the third in a series of five posts on short (seven words or less) powerful phrases. Each phrase distills the essence of a key part of approaching trust-based relationships in business.

Why focus on short phrases like this? Because the concise expression of several emotionally powerful concepts packs a punch. Such phrases feel profound. They catch the listener’s attention. They force the listener to reflect. They are short enough to remember every word, and they resonate in the mind of the listener. 

Today’s Phrase: (Three words) 

            “Help me understand…”

When your crocodile brain screams out, “What? How can you say such a thing?” this is the phrase to replace it with. 

When to Use It:

  • As noted above, this is a highly evolved way of dealing with an objection, with confusion, or with differing points of view
  • This phrase converts confrontation into collaborative joint inquiry.

Examples:

  • “Help me understand what’s behind the apparent resistance in the organization to the initiative as currently presented?”
  • Help me understand why you chose that element of the customer interaction to focus on as the primary driver?
  • “Help me understand more about the history and perspective of the marketing organization as they address this issue?”

Why It Works.

These three words convey a lot in a small package. They convey a willingness to collaborate, to overcome apparent disagreement, and a genuine curiosity – all while cultivating respect (which, if offered, tends to be reciprocated).  

Willingness to collaborate. Particularly because this phrase is used in a moment of potential confrontation, it marks a sharp turn in the conversation. It suggests that, rather than engaging in a battle between opposing ideas, you are willing to assume misunderstanding. Further, that the misunderstanding is likely yours, and not theirs. It signals graciousness, an unexpected reaction to confrontation.

Vulnerability. By explicitly asking for help, you indicate that you are not perfect, that you acknowledge it, and that you are not above seeking help from others. People’s response to being asked a favor is almost always to grant it – particularly if it is asked humbly, and even more particularly when they expected to be attacked instead.  

Respect. The subtext of “help me understand” operates as a signal of respect. By assuming any fault to be yours, and by leading with curiosity, you (contingency) show respect to the other person’s ideas. The natural human reaction to an offering of respect (think a handshake, a bow, a thank you) is too reciprocate. Again, the respect is magnified because of the combative circumstance in which you offer the gesture 

Next Blogpost:  Short Phrase #4 of 5: “Tell me more…please.”

Mr. Rogers Does Trust

You may have heard about the just-released movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” starring America’s Hollywood Golden Boy Tom Hanks.

I saw it the other day, and share the very positive reactions of audiences and critics alike. It’s a straight shot to the heart. No kidding.

But you’ll make up your own mind about that. What I want to comment on is a line uttered near the end of the movie that made me sit up straight. It was this:

If you mention it, you can manage it. 

I’m too old to have experienced Fred Rogers as a child; my kids grew up with him, but perhaps like many older-adult parents, I didn’t pay much attention. I did not know until after seeing the movie and looking it up, that the “mention/manage” comment was apparently a well-known and central part of his philosophy.

Others picked up on it earlier than I did; for example, here; and here.

In any case, that formulation is precisely what I speak about in Name It and Claim It. As I put it in 2008:

Think of a big bad truth; an elephant in the room. The thing that everyone knows is true, but no one wants to talk about. Name It and Claim It is for getting those “elephants” out in the open. Because the thing about elephants is that if you don’t speak them, they take control. But if you can Name It—that is, speak the elephant in the room—then you can Claim It—you can recover control.

By being able to speak about difficult, emotional things – elephants, if you will – you can bring them into shared discussion with others. The power of the elephant over you dissipates. Sunshine and disinfectant. Pick your metaphor.

Fred Rogers was speaking to young children. I was speaking to adult professionals. But on some levels – we’re all the same.

There are very few Big Truths. But there are a thousand ways to state them. And only one way to experience them – Your Way.

 

Is It Ever OK to Recommend a Competitor to Your Client? (Episode 31) Trust Matters,The Podcast

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. 

A tech consultant asks, “My boss wants to outsource parts of our client project to several vendors and a competitor. This gives me a gut feeling of being very wrong and deceptive. What should I do?”

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.

Email: podcast@trustedadvisor.com

We post new episodes every other week.
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Under-Promise and Over-Deliver for Clients? BAD Idea (Episode 30) Trust Matters,The Podcast

For our 30th episode, a tech expert asks if it is a good idea to OVER-DELIVER for a client and exceed their expectations.

This week’s episode touches on our own reputation, business development, and managing client relationships.

To learn more about the topic of managing expectations, read this blog post:

We’ll answer almost ANY question about confusing, complicated or awkward business situations with clients, management, and colleagues.
Email us at: podcast@trustedadvisor.com

We’ll be posting new episodes every other week.

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Recovering Lost Client Trust (Episode 29) Trust Matters, The Podcast

A manager at a global consultancy firm asks, “How do I mend lost trust with a client whom we used to have an excellent relationship with? This relationship went sour due to a disagreement with one particular executive a few years back, and he still maintains a leadership role.”

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

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

Email: podcast@trustedadvisor.com

We’ll be posting new episodes every other week.
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Are trust-building conversations different for women? In at least one case, absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Email: podcast@trustedadvisor.com

We’ll be posting new episodes every other week.
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The Dark Art of Ghosting in Business

I first became aware of “ghosting” as a concept over a decade ago, when a young friend informed me she had been “Caspered” by a boyfriend. I had to ask her to explain.

In case you’re as clueless today as I was at the time, here’s the Urban Dictionary’s definition. Key line:

  • The act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone the subject is dating, but no longer wishes to date. This is done in hopes that the ghostee will just “get the hint” and leave the subject alone, as opposed to the subject simply telling them he/she is no longer interested

Interestingly, even as woke a place as the Urban Dictionary includes a near-moral judgment about the phenomenon: it is “closely related to the subject’s maturity…[and] proves the subject is thinking more of themselves than the ghostee.” A rather obvious nod to the concept of Self-Orientation, the denominator in the Trust Equation.

Never mind the ethical angle; I don’t want to come off as just some moralizer (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I want to state the case for what a stupid, short-term, self-harming phenomenon it is.

Business Ghosts

First of all, ghosting has evolved beyond the dating world. Some business examples might include:

  • Firms ghosting interview candidates somewhere past the beginning of the recruiting process
  • (Interview candidates ghosting the recruiting firm in the same situation)
  • Contractors ghosting vendors who’ve responded to an RFP process (and vice versa)

Basically, any business situation in which an (even mildly) uncomfortable situation is dealt with by simply opting out of normal civil conversation.

Some more perspective:

  • A 2019 Robert Half study shows that 28% of respondents had backed out of a job after accepting an offer.
  • A 2019 Staffing Industry Analysts survey showed that over 40% of respondents say ghosting a potential employer is acceptable. 35% say it’s “very unreasonable” for a company to ghost a potential employee, but only 21% think it’s “very unreasonable” for the potential employee to ghost the potential employer.
  • A friend with a small IT consulting firm who depends on subcontractors told me of recently being ghosted by a sub after having gotten verbal confirmation of commitment to work on a time-critical job.

There is a line of argument that says millennials and Gen Z are to blame. Weaned on social media and anchored to their cellphone screens, the argument goes, we are raising a generation of socially incompetents. (For an excellent take on the issues facing this age cohort, I recommend Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff’s most recent book, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure).

However, I’m not going to go there regarding ghosting, because I don’t want to let the rest of us off the hook. As the Urban Dictionary notes, it’s an issue of maturity: and just because it’s an age thing doesn’t mean it’s a generational thing. It’s something that hopefully we grow out of as we get older.

So, let’s look at it from the point of view of the ghoster, and the ghostee.

When It’s OK to Ghost

This one’s easy.

Basically, never.

Sure, you can come up with some convoluted morally-ambiguous scenarios in which non-involvement or silence is somehow the lesser of two evils. But let’s get real: it’s simply not OK to ghost people in the midst of normal commercial-human behavior.

Beyond the dictates of normal social behavior, there are plenty of good reasons. Your reputation will suffer, as will that of your firm. You will create unnecessary resentments. You will annoy at best and hurt at worst other people. You burn bridges. You set a bad example. You create bad habits.

Really, that should be enough. Just Don’t Do That.

What to Do When You’re Ghosted

Basically, you’ve got four choices; and only one of them is acceptable.

  • Keep hounding them. Classic can-kicking down the road. Postponement is not solution.
  • Reach out positively to give them another chance. Definitely worth one try. Not worth two, because it’s likely to just drive the offender deeper into their behavior. Plus, life is short.
  • Publicly shame them. Tempting, but to all the wrong parts of your psyche. Resentment is like taking poising and waiting for the other person to die. Don’t indulge in it.
  • Resolve never to do business with them again, and move on. They’ve shown you their true colors; time to believe them, and move on.

So, what can you do if you’re ghosted? Honestly – nothing. Find some learning in it, and move on.

How to Prevent Being Ghosted In the Future

This may be the only situation worth talking about.

You can do a few things reduce the chances of it happening again.

  • For one, maximize emotional bandwidth at the outset. If you can’t meet personally, then do video calls rather than audio. If you can’t do video calls, then do audio calls rather than email. If you can’t do phone calls, then write lengthy emails rather than short ones. The more personal connection you establish up front, the less people are likely to ghost you.
  • For another, take a small risk on them at the outset. The logic here is that people tend to reciprocate. If you trust them, they’re more likely to be trustworthy with you. That might mean a small upfront payment; or a sharing of some intellectual property; or a sharing of information about your own business. Your choice: the point is to take a risk, so they’ll take a risk on you.
  • Share something about yourself that is personal early on. Again, people tend to reciprocate, and they’re likely to respond similarly. People are more likely to come to you with conflicts if you’ve had some level of interpersonal sharing than if they think they “really don’t know you anyway, so what the heck.”

You’ll notice these are all small ways of increasing trust up front. Establishing trust up front is the best inoculation against the violation of trust later by someone who’s vulnerable to the immature and destructive act of ghosting.

And, not that it’s your job, but doing so will help add to the emotional maturity of the contractor, and make things a little better in the world at large. Not a bad deal: reduce your risk, and help fix a tiny part of the world at the same time.  Be an ambassador of trust.

 

 

 

Trust Matters, The Podcast: Can I Trust Digital Marketing for Lead Generation? (Episode 26)

A Co-Founder of a small Management Consulting Firm asks, “We need to grow our sales funnel. Can we trust Digital Marketing and SEO for lead generation?”

For more on this subject read our 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.

Email: podcast@trustedadvisor.com

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