Was It Something I Said? The Trap of High Self-Orientation

It happened again yesterday. It happens about once a week, though I don’t generally notice it until later.

I had a proposal phone call with a potential client. It went well, but they came back a few days later with a concern. I responded at length in an email. The day ended. Another day passed. By then, it had begun to happen.

I started thinking, “Was it something I said? I’ve probably blown it. I knew I should have done X, I shouldn’t have done Y. On the other hand, maybe I should have…” and so on. You probably know how it goes.

I once kept track of these episodes for a month. There were ten of them in that month. And in 9 out of the 10 cases, the result was: the other person was just busy, that’s all. They weren’t thinking those negative things about me, in fact quite the contrary.

9 out of 10 times I was wrong. And not just about what they were thinking, but about how much time they spent on it.

Self-Orientation in Trust

The denominator in the Trust Equation is self-orientation (the numerator factors are credibility, reliability and intimacy). The higher your self-orientation, the lower your trustworthiness. The logic is simple: if you’re paying attention to the other person (client, customer, friend, spouse, whatever), then you’re probably interested in them, care about them, and have some positive intent toward them.

By contrast, if your attention is devoted inward, you will not be trusted. Why should you be? You’re obsessed with yourself. We trust people who appear to care, and who demonstrate that caring by paying attention. He who pays attention largely to himself is not the stuff of trusted advisors. (Note: you can take your own Trust Quotient quiz at the upper right of this page.)

Get Off Your S

For those of us who need catch-phrases to remember (count me in), here’s one: Get Off Your S. That is, stop being so self-oriented.

Here’s the psychology of it. You’re not as good as you think you are, you’re not as bad as you think you are–you just think more about yourself than others think about you. To live between your ears is to live in enemy territory. You empower what you fear. If you have a foot in yesterday and one in tomorrow, you’re set to pee on today. Blame is captivity. It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.

Here’s the spirituality of it. To give is more blessed than to receive. To get what you want, focus on getting others what they want. Treat others as you’d wish they’d treat you. Pay it forward. Put change in a stranger’s parking meter. Do a good deed a day. Humility doesn’t mean thinking less of yourself, it means thinking of yourself less. Fear is lack of faith.

Here’s the business of it. Never Eat Alone. Listen before making recommendations. To get tweets, give tweets. Inbound marketing not outbound marketing. Customer focus. Customer service. Samples selling.


Oh, and my potential client? They were just busy. They’re going to buy, they always were.

It’s not about you. It never is.


3 replies
  1. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    Hi Charlie,

    I appreciate your sharing this part of your self.

    I work a lot with clients around trust and I’d like to share some thoughts.

    You end by saying, "It’s not about you. It never is." And, in my work,  I would say, "It is about you; it always is." I’d like to share another perspective:

    Like cholesterol, there’s good cholesterol and there’s bad cholesterol. So, for me, in your trust equation, the bad cholesterol is  "self-orientation" – a flavor of ego-centricity, narcissism, and the like – the "little I", the ego-based notion of who I am, notions that are self-limiting and self-sabotaging.  The good cholesterol, if there were another element in the equation, would be "self-awareness"  – a deep understanding of the mental, emotional and spiritual psychodynamics that make me, "Me" – touching into the capital "I" – my True, Real and Authentic Self that is not ego-based, that is supportive of well-be-ing. This may touch on your "intimacy. You can tell me if that’s so.

    To your statement, "Was it something I said? I’ve probably blown it. I knew I should have done X, I shouldn’t have done Y. On the other hand, maybe I should have…” I have this interpretation, maybe incorrect, as the ego self in action, the "little I," the "me" that was created as a result of my childhood experiences. And most likely, in my experience, this little being (generic, not you) experienced many, many events, circumstances, and individuals who did not, for whatever reason, respond to his needs, or responded inappropriately, when he needed a response. The common result is that one learns not to trust. Moving into adulthood, this same dynamic plays out.  And, I’ve been her.

    For example, there’s some "need" I have (again, not you) vis-à-vis this client and it’s not being met – perhaps a need for me to be in control of the situation, a need to be "seen," recognized and appreciated right now that is not being met, a need for financial security, etc. So, I’ve been "wired" in some way to have certain expectations, and also wired in some way to react when these expectations are not met. My reactivity might show up as  mistrust, resentment, hatred, anger, rage , the need to make up stories about the "other" and the like. (We integrate the foundations for our reactivity, mistrust, early on.)

    So, to extend the need-expectation-reactivity dynamic (my trust), how might I then react when I order something and it’s late in being delivered, or when my son/ daughter is out later than the time they said they’d be home, or when my partner is late, or when I order Chinese food and it’s late, etc? Am I trusting when my needs aren’t met according to what? my timeline, my expectations, my need for control…?

    Is this situation with this client similar to other situations where I have created expectations based on my needs and they are unmet? Or is this incident reflective of a pattern that manifests as, "no one ever responds in a timely manner; the delivery is always late," etc? That is, am I usually non-trusting even though I’d like to be but there’s just "something in me" that won’t allow me to trust? 

    For me, my judgment about the client being "late" in responding (my self-orientation) is often based on my lack of "self-awareness" – i.e., my conscious understanding of the psychodynamics operating within me that bring me  to unconsciously react in a knee-jerk manner when I forget who "I" am and allow the "i" to take over.  

    I would say if  one is paying attention to one’s self, being present to one’s self, watching, observing and witnessing one’s self –thoughts, feelings, emotions, physiological sensations –  as part of  one’s conscious spiritual life practice, then one will often come to trust that True Nature (The Universe) is in good order, as it always is,  and what is happenings is what needs to happen for one’s emotional and spiritual growth and development. That each person, event and circumstance is happening FOR ME, as my teacher. Even if I then "choose" not to trust I can begin to witness the "split" between my True Self and my ego-self – an observation that supports one to move into presence and be with "what is" without needing to get into a story about it, i.e., respond, not react. Self-awareness.

    So, in this case, the practice is to consciously move into one’s body, focusing on one’s sensations (breath, heart-rate, physiological sensations, feelings and emotions. Etc.) allow them and see what they have to tell me, most often my heart/soul (True Nature) will inform me about what I need to know and do, first about yourself and then about another (i.e, right knowing, right understanding and right action), leading to an emotionally and spiritually mature response rather than a child-ish (re) action. This is the opposite of being "obsessed with yourself."  Now, if I choose to act, say something, email again, or do nothing, etc., it will come from an "adult" place where the energy is that of well-being, patience, inner peace, understanding, loving kindness, etc., not from the place of "push-back" in some way, sharp or form.

    As for the spirituality of the experience, I believe it does start with me.

    As for the " It’s never too late to have a happy childhood" notion, in my experience (not yours), that does not happen with a quick "making up my  mind" to change my wiring, to re-make who I am just by mentally deciding to do so and starting at 3:00 this afternoon, I’m a changed person…as if to negate my childhood and its myriad effects on me "just like that." 

    The vast majority of folks live through the "here I go again" after they have decided to "change" and within seconds, minutes, hours, days, or months are right back in the (child-ish, reactivity) thick of it. Why, because I  believe the mind, and mind alone is insufficient to solve spiritual issues – and ego-based issues are spiritual issues, core issues, heart issues – not just a matter of deciding to delete negative mental structures.  This is why when we bury emotions, we bury them alive. They are ever-present in our bodies, our cells, in our molecular make-up and no amount of "thinking" (positive or otherwise) can process, melt and metabolize them. We have to experience them directly,  feel them directly, engage and focus on them directly to both understand their message to us and to resolve them. Unfortunately, most today follow the indirect path – read about them, think about them,  go to workshops about them, but never truly engage them , directly and consciously, as they need to be engaged to be processed.

     So, as for "Oh, and my potential client? They were just busy. They’re going to buy, they always were," I’m curious what you might experience vis-à-vis  trust if their payment is late, later and really late.  For many, (as I don’t know how you will react) they allow their "mind" take over with such musings as, for example, "Well that trust issue was different. This is about money, my livelihood (or some such) and well I better trust and verify…) or have second thoughts about their integrity, or….

    For me, Charlie, this is how the mind works and that’s why "recidivism" is so, so common when we "try" to change but in actuality seldom ever do. The mind and so-called willpower won’t work and that’s why this is, for me, a spiritual issue, not psychological or (gasp!) a mental, logical, rational thing.

    Until we get a handle on understanding what’s underneath the statement, "I am who I think I am," and really explore the "I" who’s speaking here, and ask, "Was it something I am?" in addition to "Was it something I said?," my take is most folks will continue to be reactive when the client doesn’t reply in the time frame "I" think they should.

    When true self-awareness trumps self-orientation, then how I engage with others and why, might creates another equation. 

  2. Bradley J. Moore
    Bradley J. Moore says:

    Charles –

    Three cheers for admitting and using the word "spirituality" in a business discussion! Yes, I agree with you, we can spend far too much time caught up in our own ego and completely miss the bigger points of life, and business. And as you point out, there is an economic benefit to business spirituality (used in the universal context of putting others before ourselves) in that we gain trust, credibility, a good reputation and ultimately (hopefully) a prosperous business and fulfilling, purposeful work.

    The only thing I would add is that sometimes to take this position, we must trust in something/Someone bigger than ourselves – for me it is trust in God, to know that if I start by trusting God’s  grace and purpose to be revealed in my life, that somehow releases me to be more free to give to others.  It helps me lower that S in your equation.


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  1. […] He realized he’d made a mistake and that he should not blame others for it.   That shows a low self-orientation, another Trust Equation component. Intimacy Trumps Failure After the officer terminated my son’s […]

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