When Should Your Clients Take a Back Seat?

I was coaching Bob, a busy lawyer.  One of his key goals was business development – obtaining new clients. He told me that he just didn’t have time to work on business development –too busy.  So I asked him a question (that’s what coaches do). 

What are your priorities?

“Who is your most important client?” Bob responded with the typical answer. He started naming some large companies. “And what’s on your “to do” list?”,   Bob started listing specific tasks including depositions, client meetings, briefs…well, you know the rest. 

“What’s not on your list?”  He struggled to answer for a bit. Finally, he got it. His business development tasks were nowhere on the list. He didn’t mention himself as an important client, and didn’t think of those tasks – the ones where he was investing in his own future – as being enough of a priority to even make it to his list.  So, I asked the obvious question. “How will you accomplish your own marketing tasks if they don’t get on the list?”   Of course, he said: “I can’t”. 

One of my own long-time coaching clients, Peter Vogel, a prominent Dallas attorney, shared the wisdom of the “who is your most important client” with me several years ago. He got it from his father, a well-respected Dallas accountant.  We are our most important client. Once we get that clear, we can create the right balance between our work, our clients and our lives.  

Put yourself on the list.

Some of us have a fear that if we put ourselves on the list, we’re no longer client focused, that it’s wrong to address our own needs if there’s a client need to be attended to. But that simply is not true. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we’re not as valuable to our clients. 

Examples we can all relate to: exercise, eating right, getting enough sleep. If we don’t do these things for ourselves, we won’t be able to function well eventually. 

Examples we don’t like to relate to: taking a vacation, spending time with family, reading. These help us function at a higher level. Doing these activities clears our head, gives us valuable input, and can be emotionally stabilizing.

Examples professional services providers often fail to acknowledge: networking, social media activities, writing, speaking, building relationships – are all part of the job. Most of us have to do these and other activities so that we can obtain paid work.   

Is it self-orientation to care about yourself?

Yes, of course it is. So what? There is nothing wrong with having things you have to do for yourself on your list. The type of self-orientation we talk about in Trusted Advisor Associates, reducing our Trust Quotient, is not about taking care of you. It’s about being self-absorbed, and unable to get out of your own way. When you take care of yourself, you are better equipped to focus on others. 

Professionals who truly care about their clients often forget that they need to address their own needs as well. This includes the exercise and family time I noted above. It also includes taking steps to develop business in the future. Just because you have work on your desk today, doesn’t always mean that the work must trump a networking or business development activity. 

Treat yourself as if you are a client.

Imagine that you are one of your clients. When there is a conflict between an activity you need to do for you, and one you need to do for another client, analyze the conflict and priorities the same way you would if you had two clients competing for your time. You decide which client has the more immediate priority, and you let the other client know when you will address that client’s needs. When you use this process, sometimes your needs will trump the client work. So if you have a referral-source lunch and work that needs to be done by 5, and you believe you can get it done when you get back, don’t blow off the lunch. Take care of yourself, and then take care of the client. The work will still be on your desk when you get back, and you’ll get it done in time. 

So – what will you do?

Are you ready to put yourself first sometimes? Here are three easy rules to follow: 

  1. When you create your work task list, put your marketing, and personal tasks on the same list.
  2. When you prioritize your task list, include all your tasks, not just your work tasks.
  3. When there is a conflict with your time, don’t exclude your needs when you make your decision on set priorities. You may have to take a back seat some of the time, but not all of the time.

Putting yourself first isn’t easy, and sometimes may feel selfish. Just remember that we do respect people who take care of themselves along with caring about others.

The Interests of Buyer and Seller are Never Aligned? Never Is a Long Time.

I have a lot of regard for Jane Bryant Quinn, and I’m hardly alone. She strikes me as sober, educated, and generally wise. Of course, no one’s exactly perfect. 

And in those rare cases where sober, educated, wise people don’t get it right, it’s worth asking oneself: how can that be? There are usually instructive answers.

Case in point: her recent column titled, “Should You Trust Your Broker? No, and Here’s Why.” The title says it all. And since she’s talking about brokers—a business few people would argue is a hotbed of trust—she’s not going to get much argument from me or anyone else.

Except when she went uncharacteristically for an absolute statement. In response to a comment, she included this line:

The interests of buyer and seller are never aligned.   

Now, I’m not trying to pick on Ms. Quinn. Maybe she meant it to apply only to brokers (though even then, an absolute statement is an absolute statement).

What’s interesting is, she’s not alone. She speaks for a lot of people in that belief: that the interests of buyer and seller are inalterably, fundamentally, and essentially opposed to each other. So let’s just dissect the belief, and leave Ms. Quinn out of it.

Zero-Sum Sales Thinking

To believe that the interests of buyer and seller are never aligned is equivalent, I think, to believing that they’re always opposed. That is, all sales amount to zero-sum games; one party wins, the other loses (except at some theoretical point in the middle discernable only by medieval philosophers and classical economists.)

When you put it this way, it’s an appalling belief. It suggests that:

There’s no basis for negotiation. It suggests all sales are isolated transactional events, with no connection to past or future transactions. And forget about relationships.

Buying and selling must constantly be regulated; that the proper model for commerce is the example of Las Vegas casinos and the Nevada Gaming Commission. It suggests that commerce is the root of most immoral and antisocial behavior.       

The only sensible model for corporate buying is through arms-length RFPs, unless you’re lucky enough to be able to use online reverse Dutch auctions. 1+1 must always add up to only 2, and not in a balanced way.

Sales is a venal profession, one in which success is driven by Madoff-like sociopaths and their ability to coldly con decent, aka stupid, people. That to be employed as a salesperson requires the advance sale of your soul.

That’s what I think it means to seriously believe that “the interests of buyer and seller are never aligned.” And a lot of people out there do indeed believe those statements.   Some of you reading this may not even note the intended irony in the paragraphs above. 

Which I find scary.

Sales and Commerce Are Not the Root of All Evil

Obviously (I hope, anyway) I don’t believe that. Let me get equally hyperbolic about what I do believe. I believe that the relationship between buyer and seller lies at the heart of human development.

When you think the relationship between buyer and seller is positive, it suggests a number of corollaries. It suggests that:

The relationship between buyer and seller is the foundation of all human economic development. It allows division of labor, lower costs, and human interaction.

The economic relationship between peoples is the single biggest driver for human interaction, collaboration, and social development. The alternative is a world of solitary, frightened and impoverished loners, reduced to the kind of clannish societies that only an anthropologist could find fascinating.

Buyers and sellers are the architects of creative relationships, and creative economic solutions at the same time. 1+1 is always greater than two if the commercial parties are doing their job.

Only in an isolated, abstract moment in time are the interests of buyer and seller inalterably opposed. Add one more day, one more transaction, one more referral, one more cross-sale, one more conversation—and you have the possibility of a relationship. Time is the single biggest counter-argument to the ‘can never be aligned’ naysayers. 

Back to Ms. Quinn for a moment. How can a sober, educated, wise person make such a sweeping, and bogus, claim? A brief slip in focus?

Unfortunately, I think she’s saying that the brokerage business is so close to untrustworthy that she honestly doesn’t see much difference between reality and the absolute statement she made. And you know what? I wouldn’t argue the point with her.  I’ve heard tons of horror stories too.

But don’t let that drag you down. Don’t let the predominantly flawed belief system of one industry drag you down into believing that buyer-seller opposition is a law of nature. 

It’s not.  But belief in the impossibility of alignment can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Don’t believe your way into impoverishment.

The Trust Buzz of 2010: The Summer of Trust?

There’s a lot of buzz about "trust" this year.

Just look at the headlines: BP, Goldman Sachs, Toyota, Tylenol . . . . But the question remains, is all this talk going any where? Have we figured out how to make business more trustworthy? (And while we’re all talking, is anybody listening?)

At this week, I explore what 2010’s trust buzz is all about:

2010: The Summer of Trust
Love was the buzzword in 1967, but that year’s legacy was justthe opposite. Trust is this summer’s "love." What will the legacy be this time?

Do you think the "summer of trust" will have any real effect? Do you believe that trust and trustworthiness will improve going forward or get worse?

Read 2010: The Summer of Trust  and let me know what you think–in the comments section this time.

(I’m listening!)

Why Competitors Hate Competition

The last 2-3 decades have been a time of business exuberance—not just in terms of revenue and earnings growth, but in thought as well. In that time-frame, we’ve seen the emergence of several slogans: greed is good, the social purpose of a corporation is to make a profit, markets are self-correcting—to name just a few.

No other concept has been more enshrined in capitalism than the notion of competition. Just to pick one example, here is Milton Friedman on public schools, suggesting that “the only solution is competition.” Adam Smith has been taken somewhat out of context by free-market thinkers, who focus on this quote:

“Every individual…generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.”

They forget. They forget not only that Smith’s “invisible hand” was first used to refer to a collective sense of morality, in his also-forgotten book The Theory of Moral Sentiments; a book that arguably Smith felt was the greater of the two.

Competition is Inherently Unstable

Way back when I was in business school, the focus of attention was not on competition—the focus was on competing. And the basic point of competing was—to get rid of competition. There is an irony here, one that capitalist theorists rarely remark on. Free marketeers prefer to believe that markets are self-correcting: Alan Greenspan famously assumed that Wall Street firms’ regard for their own long-term reputation would serve as a safeguard against bad behavior. 

Out there in the real world, no sentient being should be surprised. There’s a reason we have regulation: because left unregulated, the natural end state of competition is monopoly. 

There’s a reason we have anti-trust laws—to prevent the accretion of excessive market power, which destroys competition. 

There’s a reason that airlines are regulated, because without it you could predict market share based solely on balance sheets, and it would approach one competitor;

There’s a reason that banks are regulated–without it you’d have even more Ponzi schemes than we’ve recently seen;

There’s a reason Microsoft winks at piracy in China, and tries to incorporate every software tool within Windows—because they’re competing, which means trying to put their competitors out of business.

The free marketeers have also conveniently ignored Adam Smith himself, who also said:

"People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices."

The proper role of regulation in a capitalist system is to keep shuffling the deck; to referee the game; to make fair and foul calls; to continually maintain an artificial state of affairs—the state of competition.  I’m not the only one to note the irony of free-market fans generally opposing all efforts to preserve competition.

Competition in the 21st Century

All this is relevant because the nature of competition is shifting—from companies to supply chains. Where industries used to be made up of vertically integrated large corporate entities, today they are made up of far more complex inter-locking relationships, which in turn are constantly changing.

The original dominance of the US in high tech and software was due not to any one company, or even companies. It was due to Silicon Valley: a network of people and talent, constantly morphing corporate forms. 

I wrote about this back in 2002, in The Death of Corporations. Maybe that title was a little ahead of its time, but it still reads well. The real competition that is happening in today’s world is not happening among big corporate competitors; it is playing out at the level of individuals, of personal careers. 

Competition plays out not in some sclerotic battle of corporate dinosaurs—it plays out at a far more granular level, like the competition for a given job, or in emerging markets, or a few cutting edge technologies. Chris Meyer and Julia Kirby make a similar point, in a current HBR piece called Pseudo-Competition, saying:

The quest for "sustainable competitive advantage" that has so captivated executives and their consultants is antithetical to the ideal of "free markets." Today’s form of capitalism offers management an overwhelming incentive to amass market power and dare regulators to stop them.

But there is one other aspect of competition that is emerging: the fact that to compete in the 21st Century, you also have to collaborate. No business is so isolated that it can afford to do everything alone. In a world where scale is global, and technologies are advanced, only fools try to go it all alone. 

To Compete, You Have to Collaborate

So here’s an irony for you: to be competitive, you have to collaborate. Sometimes (look at the software industry) you have to collaborate with the same businesses that you compete with in other product lines. Not only that, but that form of collaboration is not anti-competitive—it’s what Silicon Valley did. The talent, the intellectual capital, the know-how, do not reside within corporate walls. They reside in other people. Those who succeed are those who harness the capabilities of others, regardless of who writes the others’ paycheck.

Competition still works: it just doesn’t work via the ways of competing that were developed a century ago. The new invisible hand rewards those who collaborate better; it punishes those whose idea of competition is to go it alone against others.

Moments of Truth, Improvised

Anyone who’s been in professional services for more than a week has probably encountered a tricky client situation or two. Some examples:

– A prospective client asks you point blank, “What experience do you have in xyz industry?” and even though you saw that question coming, you didn’t think it would be quite so direct, and the honest answer is zero, zip, nada—only you’re afraid to say so because you think it’s a deal-breaker and you’ve got other relevant experience that surely they’ll want to hear about before summarily dismissing you!

– You thought the draft deliverable you turned in yesterday was pretty good until you got an email from your client saying how disappointed she is in the product and that, quite frankly, she’s seriously re-considering sending you to London for the next and largest revenue-producing phase of the project.

– You’re seconds away from beginning a meeting with a very senior client, originally scheduled to discuss how to expand the successful work you’re doing together, but an hour earlier you accidentally overheard him in the lunchroom speaking with colleagues about dumping your company and hiring your number one competitor instead.

(By the way: 2 of those 3 really happened to us: which is the made-up story?)

I call these Moments of Truth—when something happens, and suddenly it feels like you’re alone on a sinking ship with no life preserver in sight, and you’d rather be anywhere but where you are.

Daniel Goleman, author of “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ,” taught us to understand the science behind our reaction, using the phrase “amygdala hijack” to describe how our well-functioning “thinking brain” (the neocortex) gets completely overruled by the part of the brain that manages our survival. Then our amygdala-threatened-selves do stupid things like spin a great story of how we don’t exactly have direct experience in xyz industry but blah blah blah … or subtly (and maybe overtly) blame our colleague for the sub-par work product … or completely sidestep an awkward interaction altogether in favor of maintaining the pretense that everything really is OK after all. In other words: we’re in fight or flight mode, and often both at once.

Moments of Truth become Moments of Learning

We spend a lot of time dealing with Moments of Truth in our learning programs because they happen a lot in your business relationships. How you handle them speaks volumes about what you’re made of. It speaks to whether or not you have the mindset, motives, and agility of a Trusted Advisor. Being effective in a Moment of Truth requires more than mastering a few behavioral tricks; it demands a new way of thinking and being.

So we do a lot of out-of-the-box experiential learning that deals on the spot with your own live, real situations. Occasionally we use our own caselets for you to experiment with—ones that have been tested for a decade and earned a special place in the hearts of our alumni, like “The Lunchroom.” In other words, we do what most classroom learners universally dread: we role-play.

All right, collective groan–I know, I know, I hate role-playing too. It’s scary and contrived. And there’s never enough background or history or facts to be really comfortable in a role-play. It’s a common refrain during debriefs: “If only I’d known more about the situation I could have handled it better.”

But let’s be real: How many times have you prepped for hours for a meeting, only to learn in the first two minutes that the client just came out of another meeting in which a major decision was made that completely alters not only your agenda for this meeting but your entire set of recommendations for the engagement?

In a Moment of Truth, background and history and facts don’t matter one iota because your reptilian brain doesn’t care—it’s focused exclusively on the emotions of the moment. It has neither the time nor the inclination to process anything else.

Q. Faced with an MOT, what’s a Trusted Advisor to do?

A. Learn how to improvise.

The Practice of Improvisation: a Key Trusted Advisor Capability

To improvise is to “invent, compose, or perform with little or no preparation.” Which is exactly what is called for in a Moment of Truth—the ability to deal on the spot with something unexpected.

Believe it or not, you get better at improvising by practicing improvisation. (And that only sounds like an oxymoron—it’s actually very true). Practice is exactly how professional improv comedians (think, Whose Line is it, Anyway?) become so skilled at their craft.

They practice being quick to respond instead of over-thinking. They practice “yes-and” responses, where they build on what’s already been said, instead of contradicting or denying what someone else has already offered. They practice subordinating their own egos to support what’s being created by the collective instead of hogging the spotlight and stealing a scene. They practice giving up being clever and witty and funny and instead get real.

How do they do this? They get together and … role-play. They do it again and again, always with new scenarios and relationships that are completely made up on the spot. And when it’s show time and the curtain goes up, they still have no idea what they’re going to create together because everything is based on audience suggestion. But what they do know is that they’re fully rehearsed at being responsive, collaborative, and authentic.

In Trusted Advisor terms, they’re credible, transparent, other-oriented, related.

And that is something worth practicing to get good at. So: role-plays? Yep, role-plays.

The Trusted Advisor/Improviser—a Brief Commercial

If you think your skills could use a tune up or you wish you felt more confident in the Moments of Truth you face with your clients and colleagues, we’d love to have you come practice with us Sept 28 and 29 in Washington, DC. Being a Trusted Advisor: Walking the Talk is a rare opportunity to immerse yourself in the mindsets and skill sets of a Trusted Advisor.

We’ll improvise. We’ll laugh a lot. And we’ll be sure you walk away with far greater value than you expected.

Trust Me, I’m from HR/ IT/ Legal/ Finance !

When we hear the phrase “Trusted Advisor,” most of us think of external experts: consultants, actuaries, accountants, lawyers, the professions. But there is another group for whom that term is at least as relevant—maybe even more so. That group is made up of internal staff functions: and mainly the “Staff Big Four:” HR, IT, Legal and Finance.

These internal staff have exactly the same challenge that their outside brethren have—to successfully persuade and influence others, over whom they have exactly zero direct authority.

But it’s worse for internals: first, because they eat in the same lunchroom as their clients and are known by their first names, they tend to not get the same respect that outside experts do.

Second: an internal consultant can’t fire his or her client. They are joined at the hip, like a married couple, for better or worse.

The Big 4 staff functions represent a big chunk of our business at Trusted Advisor Associates, not far behind external Trusted Advisor work, at about the same level as Trust-Based Selling work.. And although the keys to success are pretty much the same for internal advisors as for externals, there are some distinct cultural problems that each of the Big 4 staff functions face. 

Differences Between the "Big 4" Staff Functions Affecting Trust

The IT Challenge. Ask any line employee. “The problem with IT,” they’ll say, is “they use too much jargon and don’t deliver on time or on budget.” Strip out the value-laden words and what we hear is that IT has a reputation for being non-user-friendly, and that its big trust opportunity may lie in improving reliability.

The HR Challenge. Unlike their IT brethren, HR suffers from speaking the same language as everyone else; which means everyone else feels equal to them in expertise. AS HR folks will tell you: they "can’t get no respect;" and the more they ask for it, they less they get.

The Legal Challenge. You know this one too. “The trouble with lawyers is, they always tell me what I can’t do, and don’t help me with what I can do.” Let’s translate that into simply a predilection for avoiding Type 1 error (doing the wrong thing) at the cost of Type 2 error (not doing the right thing). Let’s call this one a misalignment around risk profiles.

The Finance Challenge. Finance tends to speak clearly, meet deadlines, and be very sober about risk. In fact, very sober about pretty much everything. The fear that clients have of finance people is that of being relentlessly ground down on budgets, financial analyses, plans and forecasts. They are relentlessly, somberly, right. 

Each of these groups can take some simple, solid steps toward improving their level of trust by their clients. (And if you’re an external, keep reading: this applies to you too).

Five Trust-Enhancing Opportunities Facing Key Staff Functions










Risk focus



Improving Credibility. More an issue for HR than the others, remember that credibility is not only—in fact, not even mainly—an issue of credentials. The average internal client is not impressed that you have advanced degrees, or that you are a recognized expert in OD. You can argue that’s not fair, but arguing fairness just digs the hole deeper. 

What improves credibility is the capacity to apply your knowledge to a specific client situation–in their language. Instead of letting the client know that you’ve seen the latest, greatest research on teaching emotional intelligence—instead, use emotional intelligence yourself to help identify, and identify yourself with, client issues. For example, “Joe, do you find your people are as involved in work as you’d like them to be? Where do you see that playing out? And how big an issue is it for you? In what terms?”

Improving reliability. Reliability—an issue that affects IT more than the other Big Four–is one of the four key components of the Trust Equation, and one of the easiest to correct. Simple awareness is a good place to begin. Reliability lends itself far more easily to measurement than do the other components of trust (credibility, intimacy, low self-orientation); figure out good measures of reliability, and track them. Think you’re already doing the most you can? Try increasing the number of promises you make, even small ones; then make sure to meet them.

Improving Intimacy. Intimacy is the variable that makes an advisor ‘client-friendly.’ Intimacy skills are what make a client feel comfortable sharing, or not sharing, information with you.  If you’re being constantly shunted into a role which is far short of your capabilities, this is one area to focus on (the other is self-orientation—see below). 

You don’t have to resort to commenting on kids’ pictures, college degrees and ‘how ‘bout them Bulls.’ Make it a point to learn things about your clients’ business lives—then ask them for help in understanding things that you genuinely don’t understand about them.

Self-Orientation. We find that nearly everyone can improve their trustworthiness by getting better at lowering their self-orientation (see “Get Off Your S”). Within the Big Four staff functions, this is particularly useful for the HR and IT organizations. Too many clients see HR as whiney, and lawyers as officious, both of which are forms of overly developed self-orientation.

The solution is harder than for the other issues, but well within reach. Simply be very, very sure to see issues from the client’s vantage point—not just from yours. No one’s asking you to abdicate your professional perspectives, just to see it as well from the other side of the table. If a client says to you, “We want to do X, how can we do it?” make sure to start with, “Interesting idea; let me make sure I understand what this means to you. Tell me more about what you could do with this, how it would make you more successful. I want to make sure I know where you’re coming from before I try to comment.”

Risk-Orientation. Both Finance and Legal get heavily tarred with the brush of being too risk-averse. To some extent that may seem unfair; after all, part of their job is indeed, to manage downside risk. 

But organizations that adopt an adversarial relationship, where Staff represents the downside and Line argues for the upside, are creating vast areas of unnecessary cost, mistrust and confusion. It’s far better to create collaborative relationships, where issues can be sorted out mutually, at the issue by issue and person by person level.

While improving self-orientation and intimacy skills are certainly relevant for many legal and financial people, there is still an underlying disconnect about risk. This disconnect has to be called out at the start. It’s no good having lawyers and finance people suggesting, from the get-go, that their role is to reign in the irrational exuberance of those id- and ego-driven people out there in the market; we can look at the pharmaceutical and investment banking industries as pockets where the relationship has deteriorated into such a caricature, and it is not pretty.

Instead, staff people have to state the terms at the outset: ‘We are here to collaborate with you in jointly determining the right amount of business risk to take on, consistent with legal, regulatory and market-based risk. We all work for the same organization; and we’re committed to working with you.’

Then, walk the talk.

Note: This article is also available in .pdf article form for ease in forwarding: Trust Me, I’m from HR/ IT/ Legal/ Finance ! [pdf]

Radio Interview with Charles H. Green: Trust and Business

Monday night I was the guest on an hour-long radio show on PBS Station KCBX, in San Luis Obispo, California. The program is Trust in America, hosted by program director Guy Rathbun, with guest host Charles Feltman, of Insight Coaching

This was part two of a three-part program; part 1 was trust in government; part 3 will be Trust in Media. I was the guest for the segment on Trust in Business.

The interview was one of the better I’ve been invited to. Host Feltman teed up issues like:

·    the difference between trust, trusting and being trustworthy (3:00);

·    trust in corporations, vs. trust in business (5:30);

·    should we distrust corporations (11:30);

·    how you can build a more trustworthy organization (14:30)

·    the root of mistrust in business (20:00);

·    what influences citizens have over businesses (32:00);

·    economics of trust, trust and timeframe (38:30);

·    systemic effects of shift from relationships to transactions (43:00);

·    customer relationships and trust (52:30).

The show was broadcast live, and we had 3-4 callers contributing to the show.

If you like audio files; if you’d like to hear me instead of just read me; or if you want to hear a good discusison about trust–then listen to the mp3 file of this interview.

Trust, Honesty and Authenticity

A few months ago, Deborah Nixon posted an interesting question on LinkedIn. She asked: “Is there a difference between authenticity and honesty?”

She got about 35 answers, and they all make for interesting reading. Here’s what I sent in:

Deborah, I’m sure you would agree the two terms cover a lot of territory in common. The trick with these definitional things is not to discover some underlying reality, because there is none; these are conceptual models that help us explain the world. They are good or bad insofar as they help us; so I’d suggest starting there. What’s the most useful way to distinguish the two?

One way might be to say that authenticity is largely passive, and honesty is largely active. When we say someone’s honest, we usually mean they tell the truth, and go out of their way to do it.

Sometimes we also mean that they don’t tell a lie–but that’s far from all the time. You often hear someone way ‘well, he was honest–he didn’t actually tell a lie.’ In such a case, ‘honesty’ just means I didn’t utter an untruth; it’s perfectly consistent with covering up all other kinds of truth. So the casual use of ‘honest’ may rule out sins of commission, but not sins of omission.

That’s why the legal language "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" is required in court; to prevent the ‘honest’ witness from conveniently leaving something out, or snow-jobbing the court with irrelevancies.

Authenticity, on the other hand, I think usually implies a lack of attempt to control another’s perception. It means letting others see us as we are, warts and all. I think it also goes one more step: it means letting everyone see us in a way that’s no different from how anyone else see us: that is, we don’t play favorites in terms of constructing alternative fictions to respective people.

At a corporate level, a company might support a claim of honesty by pointing to the truthfulness of its statements, or the lack of court cases against it. Again, ‘honesty’ conveys a sense of ‘never knowingly told an untruth.’ Whether it includes consciously allowing other people to make incorrect inferences by not telling them something–well, that’s not entirely clear.

Authenticity is a whole ‘nother level. It means not hiding out, opening the door in things that are not excluded through standard rules of privacy, letting the chips fall where they may. Further, I think it usually entails a commitment to be authentic, not just a convenient lifestyle.

Seems that of the two, we might say that authenticity is broader (i.e. it encompasses being honest, but goes beyond that to proscribe sins of commission).

On a practical level, people who strive to be honest often talk of it as a struggle: to resist temptation, to not gossip, to say things that can be embarrassing if they are true.

People who choose to be authentic have, in a way, an easier time of it.  For someone who is authentic, the daily default way of life doesn’t involve decisions or will power: the default is openness, there is no issue of control vs. transparency.

Things are what they are, and there is no threat about them.

What’s trust got to do with it?  To trust a person or a company, honesty is table stakes.  If you suspect they’re lying, trust is stopped dead in its tracks.  But even if they’re honest, that’s nothing compared to authentic.  Think how much more BP, Toyota or Goldman would have been trusted even in the presumably honest statements they made, had they not created an historical pattern of inauthenticity. 

A Review of the Forbes Review of Trust

We here at Trusted Advisor Associates earn our daily bread by helping clients to become Trusted Advisors to their clients and to each other, and by helping clients create Trust-based Selling programs.  

That’s our daily work—specific applications of trustworthiness. To do so, it also helps to take a broader look at trust. That’s one role of this blog, Trust Matters.

A similar role is occasionally played by media, who come up with specials on the subject of trust. Such an event was Forbes’ Magazine’s recent issue, The Trust Gap. Nicely edited by Raquel Laneri and Michael Noer, it consists of fully 19 articles, covering a wide range of trust-related topics. I purposely printed them all out, and read them on the plane to Orlando last night uninterrupted.

Turns out it makes for fascinating reading: mainly because it shows once again the amazing range of issues which influence, and are influenced by, the phenomenon of trust. I’d offer you a link to a combined file, but I’d probably run afoul of some copyright law, so you’ll have to do your own mix tape. (Although–it just occurred to me–I’ll bet you could probably buy a print copy of the magazine somewhere!). 

To see if it’s worthwhile for you, here are a few observations from me:


Remember this particular collection came from Forbes Magazine. To my mind, that means it’s eclectic, though with a generally capitalist-cum-libertarian bias. Which means you get some creative thinking, though at the price of the occasional slog through such stuff such as:

·    the 1971 departure from the gold standard was the root of all our ills;

·    Obama is a deceiver because he said he’d work with the Republicans, yet passed many bills without a Republican vote. Puh-leeze.

Still, those are a minority.

Some Highlights

James Henry and Lawrence Kotlikoff start by citing Anna Bernasek (see Trust Quotes Series #6 interview with Anna), then go on to suggest that our long, slow, decline of trust in institutions has a simple cause—complexity of government. And, they have a solution. Five of them, actually—one each for taxes, banking, health care, social security, and offshore taxation. They’re sweepingly broad, startlingly commonsense, and—you sense why this is a virtue—simple, while not being ideologically simplistic. 

Joel Kotkin, in Tribes and Trust, makes the case that the decline of social trust and trust in institutions as we’ve come to know them are offset by equal increases in our tribal affiliations. By “tribes,” he doesn’t just mean movements in Asia, and China as a whole, but also economic groups like “investment bankers, techno-geeks or gays.” Though, this trade is not net good.

Harvey Silverglate tells us, in "Trust me: Justice is my Last Name"  that there has been a systematic, growing increase in the abuse of the justice system by Federal Prosecutors. If true, that one’s scary.

I don’t know that I’d agree with Henry Miller on everything , but he’s made a nifty observation by identifying the Type 1 vs. Type 2 risk equation facing regulators; and having done a stint at the FDA, we owe him a good listen. If you’re a regulator, which is worse, he asks: the Type 1 error of approving a disastrous product, or the Type 2 error of not approving a good product. You don’t have to be a self-aggrandizing bureaucrat to see how we’d all respond conservatively in such a situation; and the policy implications of that low trust are large and ugly.

Pollster Zogby notes, in Mending America’s Broken Trust, an interesting anomaly: Republicans trust Wall Street more than Democrats, but are also more likely to think that bankers got a sweetheart deal in the bailout. Which suggests their core belief is more anti-government than pro big business. 

From across the pond, Quentin Letts reminds us gently in Skepticism is More Powerful than Trust that a healthy dose of skepticism—quite a dose, actually—is periodically a very good thing. Furthermore, public shaming is still powerful; witness the official who used public funds to build a duck house, and was followed about town by people flapping their elbows and quacking. He resigned.

On the other hand, Melik Kaylan in Relationships of Mutual Mistrust suggests the risk of shaming can get way, way out of control. Citing a former secret police officer in Rumania, where there is no privacy, the threat of blackmail is a constant presence. In his view, this same sort of risk is posed by Facebook et al, and serves as a chronic negative drip against the development of trust.

Larry Ribstein has a piece I resonate with, called Battling the Mistrust-makers. He points out how, in contrast to just about everyone else’s claim that trust is declining, in certain ways it’s increasing: we are more and more dependent and intertwined with others. But there’s a force battling the kind of trust we need for successful economic cooperation, and that’s what he calls the “mistrust-makers.” He particularly singles out the media, politicians, and the plaintiff bar. In light of the Shirley Sherrod case, and the much ado about nothing case against death benefits payment cases in the insurance industry, his commentary is timely.

To end up on a (partly) upbeat note, Karlyn Bowman, in Distrust: as American as Apple Pie notes that with all the declining numbers about trust, Americans are still positive on their constitutional system of government and core values like the belief in America as the land of opportunity. (There are some data to suggest that last belief is not so well-founded these days, but let’s not quibble about a happy ending note).

Inbound Marketing, Inbound Sales, Inbound Life

My guess is about a third of my readers know this subject way better than I do; and the rest have barely heard of it. Hopefully the third will forgive me my errors, in hopes of giving the two-thirds something of interest. 

My sense of inbound marketing is cadged together from several sources, and I don’t remember to whom I should give credit. Hopefully they’ll write in to claim it. Anyway, here we go.

Inbound marketing, nominally, is a reaction to many media-based forms of selling. Our phone has become an instrument for outgoing calls only. Email is beginning to resemble spam. We have spam filters for email, caller-ID and do-not-call lists for the phone, time-shifting and premium channels for video. All to keep marketers at bay.

The alternative is networks we choose: LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and communal sites like The Customer Collective. We invite people in to those networks, and so we answer the “phone” or the “beep” or whatever. Those people, and those channels, are the ones we accept marketing from.

So how does one market to that channel? 

By serving Others. On Twitter, it’s doing 10 tweets about others to one about yourself. On blogs, it’s writing 10 comments on others’ blogs to writing one post on yourself. On LinkedIn it’s participating in 10 conversations to starting one yourself. And so on.

This is both radical and old as the hills. It’s radical for most mass marketers who are still trying to break through the email barrier, and for most corporate bloggers who think the world wants their official brand-spins. Basically, it’s radical for any marketers still trying to sell instead of offer engagement.

It’s as old as the hills for anyone who understands reciprocity. You give to get. You get what you want by getting others what they want. The love you make, you take, and so on. 

In the online marketing sphere, companies like HubSpot do a great job of offering high quality free diagnostics. Having gotten something of value, their customers become trusting, and curious. Trusting that HubSpot knows what they’re doing, and curious to find out more. The most natural thing in the world is to respond favorably to an open-ended question about whether they can offer more help. Of course, thanks for asking.

In the life sphere, we do the same. We like people who do not need, and who give of themselves. We do not like people who are needy, particularly those who deny it, and who seek to get without giving. Given the chance, we hang out with the former, and not with the latter. 

Thereby proving either the unfairness of life, or the paradoxical key to life, depending on how you look at it. 

If you get inbound marketing, I’ll bet you believe in the connectedness of people, and the basic decency of mankind. 

If you think inbound marketing is for fools who will only get themselves conned, I’ll bet you believe in the innate nastiness of people, and the need to protect yourselves from them.

Guess who’s happier.

It may not be quite all that simple—but mostly it is.