Posts

Feeling Caught in the Middle? Lead with Trust

Countless studies and articles show that trust and high performing teams are interlinked. One such study by The Great Place to Work Institute shows that high-trust organizations beat the average annualized returns of the S&P 500 by a factor of three.

Even though it’s clear that fostering a high-trust team environment is the right strategy for improved morale, collaboration, innovation, AND financials, why do so many leaders struggle?

Leaders have many dynamics to navigate: direct reports, leadership teams, organizational metrics as well as their own personal goals. Matrix organizations can make things even more complicated. Add the stress of managing through the current pandemic, global events and world economic challenges, and it’s easy to see how leaders might feel caught in the middle.

Most leaders want to do right by their teams by creating a positive, flourishing environment. But when the stress is high, how we behave doesn’t always align with how we want to be seen as leaders.

The Trust Equation shows us how our actions and behaviours can increase (or decrease) the level of trust in our relationships. It also provides a simple framework to help leaders walk their talk and build trust with their teams.

  • Credibility is much more than the number of degrees hanging on a wall or awards sitting on a desk. As a leader, credibility becomes less about your technical capabilities and more about how you communicate. What message are you sending and to whom? Are you clear about your purpose and expectations?  Do you communicate intentionally and with full transparency so no one on the team feels “out of the loop”? Credibility is about communicating with honesty and integrity, even when the messages are hard, or you don’t have all the answers.
  • Reliability means being dependable and predictable; it’s how you show up to people day in and day out. If you’re friendly and at ease one day and a tyrant the next, your team will end up walking on eggshells, not really sure which version of you they might encounter. As a leader, your actions (and equally your lack of action) have impact.  Do your actions support and empower your team? How consistent is what you say with what you do? Your team members will take their cue from you—what messages do your actions send?
  • Intimacy is all about safety. It is created through empathy, discretion, and personal risk-taking. It must be built individually with team members and encourages among the team as a whole. How vulnerable and open are you with your team? Do you encourage others to share their thoughts and emotions, and are you open to hearing what they might say? How do you encourage discussion and healthy conflict? What happens when someone on the team makes a mistake? Your reactions as a leader will set the tone for the entire team.
  • Self-Orientation shows your team where your focus is and what motivates you. How are you showing your commitment and attention to your team and your joint goals, versus your own personal agenda?  Spotting a leader who only manages up is easy.  Less obvious is a leader who is doubtful, stressed or unsure – all triggers of high self-orientation.  When our “S” is high, we know we need to focus on the long term and think strategically, but we may find ourselves diving deep, nit-picking and second guessing team members.  Creating a high-trust environment requires trusting the team to do their work, even if they do the work differently than you. Build collaboration and trust by focusing on the big picture, seeking to understand others and elevating the contributions of the team.

Building a team with trust takes mindful practice, especially when you feel caught in the middle of competing pressures and priorities. The best leaders dedicate themselves to creating a culture where their people feel heard, respected, safe and appreciated. Frame your leadership around the Trust Equation and watch your culture flourish, even in the most stressful times.

For more on this topic, check out our eBook How To Create a Culture of Trust and watch my free webinar Caught in the Middle – Leading with Trust in Times of Stress.

The 80/20 rule for Virtual Relationships (Part IV): Double-Down and Ramp Up the Rational Trust Builders

The initial post of this blog series introduced what we called the (new) 80/20 rule for virtual relationships, warning that focusing too much on the “virtual” part of “virtual relationships” could lead to missed opportunities and damaging long-term consequences.

In that post, we pointed out that relationship-building and selling aren’t really different these days, in spite of what people are trying to tell you, and in spite of what your own fears are whispering—or maybe shouting—in your ear.

Using the trust equation as a framework, the second and third posts addressed the more emotional trust factors, self-orientation and intimacy.

In this final post, we invite you to consider how you might double down on your relationship EQ and ramp up your virtual IQ on the rational side of building trust – Reliability and Credibility – to strengthen your bonds with clients and colleagues when you can’t be together in person.

Reliability

It does not diminish the importance of reliability to say that it is the aspect of trust at which most professionals excel. This is the factor most likely to be done well by you (and your competitors). It is also the on factor of trust that requires time.

Judgments on reliability are strongly affected, if not determined, by the number of times the client has interacted with you. We tend to trust the people we know well, and assign less trustworthiness to those with whom we have not interacted. After Intimacy, Reliability is the second most powerful trust builder.

Double down on time-tested relationship principles (80%)

  • Make small promises. You don’t have to wait for a big “thing” to be delivered to flex your strong reliability muscles. Amp up the number of small promises you make. Give others more data points to assess your consistency/predictability by creating bite-sized “deliverables,” then consistently follow through.
  • When you miss a deadline or an expectation (and you will), say something about it ASAP. Clean up any residual messes and re-promise. Do this even for things that may seem small or inconsequential.

Ramp up your virtual best practices (20%)

  • Communicate more, and more often. Absent a crisis, reliability is table stakes, and generally over-emphasized by professionals at the expense of other variables. During a crisis, its relative importance increases because of our basic human need for predictability. Consider how you might regularly communicate what you know about a situation, even if it’s little or nothing—the “regularly” is actually more important than the content of your message.

Credibility

Credibility isn’t just providing expert content. It’s expert content in conjunction with “presence,” which refers to how we look, act, and present our content.

Credibility is also about honesty and candor—saying what needs to be said, in spite of how awkward or uncomfortable it may feel.

Double down on time-tested relationship principles (80%)

  • Be bold with your point of view. Initiate conversations, post opinions, publish articles. The “advisor” part of “trusted advisor” is just as important as the “trusted” part. Have the courage to put a stake in the ground. If not now, when?
  • Express passion for your work. Show more than just professionalism; show your genuine enthusiasm for what you do, and for what your clients do. Passion is something that everyone can benefit from expressing more, but it can be especially uplifting and impactful during a challenging time.
  • Be real about your limitations and errors. For example, be willing to say, “I don’t know,” straightforwardly and with a blend of confidence and humility. You’ll build credibility through honesty. And therein lies the plot twist/paradox: when you’re OK to admit what might be perceived as weakness, people see your strength.

Ramp up your virtual best practices (20%)

  • Dial down the amount of content. The tendency to over-pack conversations and presentations is more damaging now that we’re all perpetually tired from having to engage in “constant gaze.” Think and apply “less is more” when it comes to content and give people more time to digest it and react to it.

Many professionals believe that being credible and reliable is enough to form strong trust relationships. While these two factors often provide the foundation for trust, they are only part of what forms the everlasting client bonds and deep, unshakable loyalty that come with true trusted advisorship.

Winning trust requires that you do well on all four trust dimensions (in the client’s eyes).

The 80/20 rule for Virtual Relationships (Part III): Double-Down and Ramp Up Intimacy

In the first post of this four-part blog series, we introduced what we called the (new) 80/20 rule for virtual relationships. For anyone seeking a “silver bullet” to build virtual relationships, focusing too much on the “virtual” part of “virtual relationships” becomes an easy distraction from what really matters.

Now is the time for 80% focus on our relationship EQ and 20% focus on improving our virtual IQ—not the other way around.

We introduced the trust equation in Part II of the series as a framework to do just that, sharing our favorite low self-orientation relationship builders (the 80%) and behaviors to incorporate specifically for virtual interactions (the 20%). Today look at the most powerful trust-building factor: intimacy.

Intimacy

The most common failure in building trust is the lack of intimacy. Some professionals consider it a positive virtue to maintain an emotional distance from their clients. We believe that they do so not only at their own risk, but also to that of their clients.

Double down on time-tested relationship principles (80%)

  • Listen with earnest empathy. And then do it some more. And some more. Borrowing Charlie Green’s wise words: “Wow” is a complete sentence.” So is “Ouch,” and “Good on you!” Statements of empathy are ways of mirroring emotions, and empathy is key for connectedness and influence.
  • Create “small talk” moments. Neuroscientists teach us that something as simple as the exchange of pleasantries (like talk about the weather) produces feel-good chemicals in our brains that promote bonding. Go one step further and ask about the photo you see on the bookshelf behind them. Small talk can facilitate a big personal connection.
  • Dare to talk about feelings (yours and theirs). We all have them, and they’re a legitimate part of professional life. Steer towards first-person language when you focus on their feelings, as in, “I’m sensing hesitation” (compared to, “You’re hesitating”) or “If it were me, I think I’d probably feel …” (instead of, “You probably feel …”). Speak candidly about your own feelings, as in, “Well, I’m a little concerned about …,” or “At the risk of being the outlier, I’m not on board yet with this idea.”
  • Let others get to know you. For real. Now is not the time to err on the side of “buttoned up”; now is the time to connect meaningfully across our humanity. Fortunately, our collective context makes it both relevant and easier to reference our outside lives. Take emotional risks. Beware the temptation to make excuses or hide the truth—if you have to cut a call short to help your child with homework, be honest about it. Charlie also reminds us, “Don’t legislate cats out of the picture.”
  • Ask for feedback. Be proactive about seeking critique. Ask well crafted, open-ended questions that help with the inertia that most clients have to overcome to say something unfavorable. Be equally willing to take in their positive remarks. And don’t just ask about content and task; inquire about the quality of your relationship, too.

Ramp up your virtual best practices (20%)

  • Seek greater (emotional) bandwidth. Try a higher medium of communication than you did six months ago. Debating over text versus email? Go with the one that’s a little riskier because it’s more intimate. Also remember the forgotten application embedded in our smart phones: the phone itself.
  • Attend to nonverbals more than before. We’re all at a massive communication disadvantage, far more consistently than we once were. Practice making regular “eye contact,” for example, which means letting them look you in the (camera) eye. Tune into—and make deliberate use of—the sight and sound senses that are still available: voice modulation, gestures, movement.

The behaviors that build intimacy—discretion, empathy and personal risk-taking— create emotional safety for the other person. Intimacy was already the most important factor in the Trust Equation, and in times of stress, it’s vastly more valuable.

In our final post of this series, we’ll explore increasing credibility and reliability in virtual relationships.

Building Trust in a Low-Trust World

Being trustworthy means you make it easier for another person to trust you. You do what you say, are authentic in your words and actions, and are an overall “solid” human that people hold in high regard. But with trust, being trustworthy is only one side of the coin. To create trust, you must be trustworthy, and you also must take the risk of trusting. The latter is where most people struggle.

In our current state of the world, trust is insanely low. Only 17% of Americans today say they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right “just about always” (Pew Research Center) and a Harvard Business Review survey revealed 58% of people say they trust strangers more than their own boss (Forbes). People are looking side to side to determine who they can trust and are coming up short. We’re in a trust standoff, and if no one steps forward first, there will be no movement.

How do you build the most satisfying personal and professional relationships possible, when no one is willing to take the risky leap to trust? The answer is that you need to take the first leap, and trust that the other person will reciprocate and trust you in return. You can make that reciprocation easier by leading with intimacy, which is the strongest factor in The Trust Equation.

Intimacy is about creating a sense of safety in the relationship, for you and for your client or colleague. It’s part discretion, part empathy, and part risk-taking. True intimacy demands that you be vulnerable and open to taking risk, just as you are asking your client to take the leap to trust you. Here are five practical ways to kick intimacy into high gear:

  • Listen really well, to both facts and emotions. Be fully present to what your client is saying and experiencing. This may mean putting aside distractions (no multi-tasking) or silencing the voice in your head that is running off to solve the problem you think you already identified. Then acknowledge what you hear, both the facts and the feelings. Giving someone the gift of listening is the fastest way to create intimacy.
  • Share something personal. You don’t have to share private details of your life, or even what you did over the weekend. Some of the most intimacy-building moments come from sharing how you personally are impacted by a situation, a decision, or an experience.
  • Tell your client something you appreciate about them. Are you impressed by their point of view? Appreciate how they navigated a tricky political situation? Grateful for the support they’ve given you? Don’t just think it, say it.
  • Comment on feelings – yours or theirs. Empathy creates emotional connection. When your client knows you really understand them, not just the situation, but how it impacts them, they will be more open to hearing your perspective. And because trust is a two-way street, be willing to share with them when you’re frustrated, excited, or upset. They’ll appreciate knowing that you’re human, too.
  • Say what needs to be said. Acknowledging uncomfortable situations and being direct with less-than-happy news lets your client know they can count on you for the good and the bad, so they aren’t left wondering if there’s something you’re holding back. Bonus – candor builds credibility at the same time.

It’s easy to say you must take the first step in creating trust, yet harder to do because it feels so risky. Here are five more practical tips to help you overcome your fear to take this important personal risk:

  • Realistically assess the risk. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen? What is the probability of that happening?” Then act accordingly.
  • Name it and claim it. What is making it feel risky to you? Getting these fears into the light of day can rob them of their hold on you.
  • Practice empathy. As discussed above, empathy creates connectedness. It also can help you see the situation from both sides, which creates a more objective perspective on the risk you feel.
  • Identify your assumptions. Discern the facts that you know from the assumptions you make. Having trouble discerning fact from assumption? You can always ask your client to help you see it more clearly.
  • Believe in reciprocity. You have the choice to take the first step. Believe that the other person will follow.

Trust is personal, and it occurs between two people. You can’t force someone to trust you. What you CAN do is pave a smooth path that feels less risky for both you and your client.

Trustworthiness and Teams

This post was co-authored by Sandy Styer and Noelle Mykolenko.

Trust is paramount to collaboration. In a team setting, we are called on to build trust with multiple people at once. This adds complexity because any action we take to create trust with one person may be closely viewed (and interpreted) by others with whom we are not directly interacting.

Core to of our way of thinking about trustworthiness is the Trust Equation, which describes trustworthiness through the four components of Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy and Self-Orientation. (Take our online Trust Quotient Self-assessment to see your trustworthiness strengths and opportunities.)

Applying the Trust Equation in a Team Setting

Some actions that demonstrate trustworthiness are particularly useful for the complexities of a team setting. Here are four specific ways to build trust and further collaboration in teams:

CREDIBILITY: When the team is first assembled, go beyond the usual organization-focused introductions [“I’m Jane Smith, a SR PM in the RV Division.”] and have each team member say something about what they bring to the group and what they hope the project outcomes will be. We believe in people whom we know something about; resume headlines are a weak form of credibility.

RELIABILITY: Be predictable and dependable in context of the team’s goals and culture. When you turn in a piece of work, refer back to the master schedule and how your piece relates. Adopt team norms and use common language (jargon and acronyms). Be consistent in how you interact with all team members, staying especially alert to actions that could be perceived as special treatment – favorable or unfavorable – based on role or organizational differences.

INTIMACY: When someone starts a call with: “So, how was everyone’s weekend?” really share something: “We had so much fun; my 5 year old daughter played T-ball in the back yard, and she was hilarious whacking at the ball and running around the bases.” We trust those who are willing to take the small personal risk of revealing something about themselves; encourage it through role-modeling and asking open-ended questions that can’t be easily answered by a simple “fine” or “ok.”

This goes for bad news too.  Be open about blocks you’re running into or delays you’re facing. It builds trust to admit something like “I’m struggling to identify the target audience is for this piece, which makes it hard to write.  Could we get consensus on this call?”  Such an admission also may be the best way to get the help you want and deserve.

SELF-ORIENTATION: When you’re with the group, be relentlessly present. Avoid multi-tasking, no matter how pressing your deadlines are or how relevant you think the conversation is to your area. Be equally attuned to opportunities for you to help other team members as you are for how they can contribute to the outcomes for which you are personally responsible.

When we work in teams, it’s easy to over-focus on our own outcomes, and in so doing we sometimes forget that the people with whom we’re working are people, and not just a means to our end.

A Virtual Wrench in the (Team)works

Today, whether it’s due to globalization or a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many more of us are working on virtual teams.

When we interact with others face-to-face, we send and receive all kinds of clues and indicators that help us assess trustworthiness, and by which we can show others they can trust us. Casual encounters in the hallway, tone of voice and body language, and small daily experiences all contribute to building trust. Face-to-face is high-bandwidth trust time.

With so much of the world now working in virtual teams, building trust among the members of a team who don’t look one another in the eye or share coffee every morning is an added challenge. See our recent blogpost about building trust in virtual settings.

While there are differences between working face to face in a team and working virtually, the practices in this blog post are effective for either situation. All of them revolve around remembering that we are part of a team that consists of other very real people, individuals in their own right who have contributions to make and goals to achieve.

 

Podcast Interview: The Importance of Trust in Remote Leadership

Richard Hsu, Director of the Partner Practice Group, interviews Charles H. Green, on the HSU Untied Podcast, for a deep dive discussion into how leaders can refine their trust and communication skills in this new, virtual business world.

Learn how to connect with and read your team better, virtually. Understand how Intimacy and Self orientation are more important than ever.

When It Really Is “Me, Not You”

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.

Trust in a Coffee Cup – The Intimate Actuary

I’ve often wondered: is our real workplace office the coffee shop?

Many years ago, when I started work as a management consultant, the smoking area was the place where information was exchanged, relationships forged, and informal deals brokered. There’s an informality when people congregate without agendas; barriers are dropped, titles mean less, and deeper social connections get forged.

Is this ‘informality’ the key to the Trust Equation’s key component of Intimacy?

Coffee Shop Intimacy

Being a Brit, we often think they’re the same thing. The beers after work and the ‘Cheeky Nandos’ (see here for our befuddled American friends) is our default to creating intimacy; but perhaps we should think a bit more deeply.

Intimacy as a component of trustworthiness is actually more about security and a sense of empathy, a less boisterous and socially connected emotion. It’s individual and personal, and is expressed differently from person to person. One size definitely doesn’t fit all.

I learnt this the hard way over a series of weeks working in a large financial services client. My personal default style is always openness and candid sharing of the personal (full disclosure: I’m Irish). I’m always looking for that connection. So – what happens when that openness meets The Actuary?

Actuarial Intimacy

I’m not suggesting by any means that actuaries are not able to display intimacy, but by the very nature of their work they are not emotional risk takers. Instead, they must be able to be analytical and reflective. The profession tends to attract those who feel simpatico with those requirements.  Social settings are rarely the default home of The Actuary. And yet – for them, as for all of us, Intimacy is still key to trust.

Throughout the weeks we worked together my daily routine began with a visit to the inhouse Starbucks; and every day (maybe 2-3 times a day) I’d offer to buy a coffee for my actuarial friend and client. And (of course) every day he would decline, much to my frustration. I wanted nothing more than to sit down with him and understand what his passions were, his family situation – who he was as a person.

We worked together closely, and made great progress, but for me it was like wading through cement – no conversation, no social interaction. It was killing me. Worse still, I had no idea if I was even making an impact with the work. His only foray into ‘real’ communication was to starkly tell me one afternoon, after my third coffee of the day, “You spend on average £7 a day on coffee; that’s close to £2,000 a year.” (I suspect he even worked out my life expectancy on the back of that).

Yet I couldn’t have been more wrong. In hindsight, this was his conversation starter, though it took me until the project was finished to recognize it as such. We delivered on time and with (to my mind) a great result. His expressed view was that we had delivered what was expected.

On our final day working together, before I left for a new client, I was sitting with colleagues both client and peers. We were engaging in what we knew best, that snappy ‘cheeky Nandos’ social interaction, and of course I was comfortable again – back to normal.

Just before lunch my actuarial friend paid me a visit. And, he came with a gift – a very risky gift for him, a branded insulated coffee-mug. Initially I thought, “Yes! I’ve converted him, he’s a social coffee drinker now.” But again, I had misread him.

He looked me in the eye and said to me, “Johnny, I’ve really enjoyed working with you. I’ve brought you something to say thank-you for making this a success for me, and for my team.”

Suddenly I was the one without words. I defaulted to my informal social style, we exchanged some trivial social niceties, and we said our farewells.

You Can’t Buy Intimacy

It took me months to realize that for him intimacy wasn’t about being social. It wasn’t bonhomie or office banter. In fact, it was much deeper than that. For him it was about me understanding him, including what was important to him and how he felt about it. That then translated to what needed to be done, by when and with what outcome.

Success wasn’t beers and back slaps: it was me realizing how important it was to him that the job be done well, and him being comfortable that I had understood that about him.

We had created intimacy and we had built trust – slowly and painfully for me, measured and appropriately for him. Ultimately, he felt safe knowing that we would get where we were headed, together, and that he could trust me to share that commitment.

I still see him in the airport lounge on my regular commutes between Edinburgh and London, and every six months or so he’ll introduce me to a colleague. He’s always polite, measured and professional. As for me, well, I always have a coffee in my hand.

But we both know.

An Old Standby for a New Normal

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.

Enter The Trust Equation—a time- and recession-tested framework for personal trustworthiness (from The Trusted Advisor, by Maister, Green and Galford).

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.

Does Trust Differ From Salesperson to Sales Management? (Episode 36) 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.

Dr. Peter Johnson, Clinical Professor of Marketing at Fordham’s Gabelli School of Business in New York. Dr. Johnson writes in to suggest we talk about the role of trust in a critical business transition –  from a salesperson to a sales manager.

Learn more about the basic tools of trust and professional relationships. Play the podcast episode above and register for our next webinar on February 25.