Leading with Trust

Boss Doesn’t Trust You? Here Are 4 Likely Reasons Why

We’ve all probably had an instance or two when our boss hasn’t shown trust in us. I recall one situation where I was bypassed for a critical project. I felt demoralized that I wasn’t trusted enough to get the assignment. I was ticked-off at my boss’ decision and I also felt disappointed in myself for not having done enough to earn the trust of my boss so that I was the natural first choice when this project came along.

There could be dozens of reasons why your boss doesn’t trust you in a particular situation, but they all can be traced back to the ABCD’s of trust: able, believable, connected, and dependable. Research has shown these four elements comprise trust in a relationship. A fundamental truth about trust is that it’s based on perceptions, and it’s our use of trustworthy or untrustworthy behaviors that cause others to form a perception about our trustworthiness. If your boss is showing a lack of trust in you, examine the behaviors you’re using, or not using, under each of these four elements of trust to determine which element of trust is lacking.

AbleDemonstrating Competence. Being able means you possess the skills, knowledge, and expertise appropriate for your role or job. You demonstrate your competence by establishing a track record of success, consistently achieving your goals, and effectively solving problems and making good decisions. Could it be there is an element of your competence that you boss doesn’t quite trust? If so, what could you do to build your competence in that particular area?

BelievableActing with Integrity. Integrity is at the heart of trustworthiness and it’s impossible to be fully trusted without it. High integrity people are honest, tell the truth, admit their mistakes, and act in alignment with their values and those of the organization. They walk the talk. If you’ve ever cut corners, taken the easy route instead of the harder but more ethical path, or refused to take ownership of your mistakes, it may be your boss has doubts about your believability.

ConnectedCaring about Others. Trustworthy people value relationships. They care about people and act in ways that nurture those relationships. Connected people establish rapport with others by finding common ground and mutual interests. They share information about themselves and the organization in a transparent fashion, trusting others to use information wisely. Most of all, connected people are others-focused. They place the needs of others ahead of their own. When you examine your relationship with your boss, do you need to strengthen your connectedness with him or her? People trust people they like and know, and you can’t underestimate the power of a personal connection in the workplace. If there is a lack of trust with your boss in this area, explore ways to build a deeper level of connection.

DependableHonoring Commitments. Fulfilling promises, maintaining reliability, and being accountable are critical aspects of being dependable. Trustworthy people do what they say they’re going to do. They don’t shirk responsibility or hold themselves to a different (i.e., lower) standard than others. In my experience, a lack of dependability is one of the chief causes for low trust in workplace relationships. As a leader myself, I need to be able to depend on my team members to do what they say they’re going to do, when they say they’re going to do it. Even if I have a high level of trust in a person’s ability, believability, and connectedness, if I can’t depend on them to come through in crunch time, I’m not going to trust them with critically important assignments.

Every language is built upon an alphabet, and the language of trust starts with the ABCD’s: able, believable, connected, and dependable. If your relationship with your boss is lacking in any of these elements, don’t worry, you can fix it. Building trust is a skill and you can learn how to become more trustworthy. But you need a game plan.

Consider attending our upcoming virtual training session on Building Trust on May 29th. In this four-hour training (two, 2-hour virtual sessions), you’ll not only learn the framework of the ABCD Trust Model and the associated behaviors that lead to high-trust relationships, you’ll take a self-assessment to understand your strengths and growth areas in relation to the ABCD’s of trust, gain practical skills in how to have trust-building conversations, and learn a three-step model for rebuilding broken trust. Seats are limited so register now!

The Leader is the Topic of Dinner Conversation – What is Your Team Saying About You?

As a leader, have you ever considered that you are often the topic of dinner conversations of your employees?

Think about it for a second in relation to your own life. How often do you find yourself talking to your spouse or family members over a meal about things that happened at work and how your boss treated you? It happens quite a bit, doesn’t it? So why wouldn’t your employees be doing the same thing in relation to you?

Viewing the impact of your leadership through the eyes of how your employees describe their workday can profoundly shape your leadership style and practices.

When your team members have dinner with their families, are they talking about:

  • How you micromanaged them to the point where they question their own competence and believe you must think they are idiots?
  • The only time you interact with them is when you find fault with something or have negative feedback to deliver?
  • How you only care about yourself and impressing your own boss?
  • You not having a clue about their jobs because you never took the time to learn what they do?
  • How untrustworthy you are because you frequently break your commitments?

Or does the dinner conversation of your team members center around:

  • How good you made them feel when you praised them for a job well done?
  • The faith you showed in them by giving them a challenging new project?
  • How you built trust by admitting your mistake in front of the team and apologizing for your behavior?
  • How you went to bat for your team by advocating for their needs with senior leadership?
  • The great example you set by jumping in to help the team meet a critical deadline?

I’m not suggesting the goal of your leadership style should be to make your employees your best buddies or send them home with warm fuzzies at night because you’re such a nice guy. We all know leadership is a tough gig. It’s not unicorns and rainbows every day.

What I am suggesting, however, is to view the ultimate impact of your leadership through the eyes of your employees. Start with the end in mind. What is the legacy you want to leave? What do you want team members saying about the impact of your leadership long after you no longer work together?

You know your team members will be talking about you over dinner. What do you want them to say?

The 1 Thing That Provides “Overdraft” Protection for Your Relationship Bank Accounts

Insufficient Funds—Maybe you’ve had that awkward experience when you’ve reviewed your bank account statement and discovered you made a purchase but didn’t actually have enough money in your account to cover it. Most likely you had overdraft protection on your account. That’s where the bank will advance you the money, allow the payment to be processed, but charge you an extra fee for covering your indiscretion. Overdraft protection is valuable insurance, because even though you may not intend to spend money you don’t have, sometimes you overdraw your account by mistake.

Sometimes we overdraw our relational bank accounts too. Careless words that hurt feelings, angry reactions that leave emotional scars, or broken promises that lead to disappointment…all examples of an overdrawn relational bank account.

Fortunately, we have overdraft protection for relationships and it’s called trust. I experienced this overdraft protection recently with a colleague at work. My coworker unintentionally said some things about me that were hurtful and not true, but since we had the overdraft protection of a high level of trust in our relationship, we were able to:

  • Address the issue directly – I confronted my colleague about what she said and was able to honestly share my feelings with the confidence it would lead to productively repairing the situation rather than making it worse.
  • Discuss the issue openly and honestly – Trust allowed us to talk about the issue objectively and without fear of reprisal. Our history of trust had demonstrated we were both committed to the value of the relationship and were willing to discuss the hard issues in a way that was respectful and honoring to each other.
  • Hear each other – It’s one thing to listen, it’s another to actually hear what’s being said. The trust we have in our relationship allowed us to hear one another. My colleague was able to hear how I felt about what she said and I was able to hear about what the intentions were behind her words.

Trust serves many purposes in a relationship. It’s the foundation of all successful, healthy relationships, and it’s also the fuel that powers relationships to higher levels of growth and intimacy. Trust is the lubrication that keeps relationships functioning smoothly, and thankfully, it’s the overdraft protection when relationships get overdrawn.

Leave a comment and feel free to share about your own experiences where trust has provided overdraft protection in your relationships.

Who Do You Choose To Be In 2018? 6 Areas to Examine

Here we are, one week into the new year. Many people are emerging from their holiday cocoons to re-engage with the real world, now that it’s time to head back to work, school, and the routine of life. But before you hop back on that hamster wheel, why not take some time to consider who you want to be in 2018?

I recently read an article by Margaret Wheatley, published in the Summer 2017 issue of Leader to Leader Magazine, in which she poses several insightful questions to help us think about how we want to influence others through our leadership. We live in a crazy and chaotic world that only seems to grow more so by the day. It’s hard not to become pessimistic about the state of our world and our ability to create positive change. However, the one area we have the most control over is our own sphere of influence. We can choose the kind of leaders we want to be. We can choose how we want to show up each day. We can choose how we treat people under our care. But first, we have to be clear on the kind of leaders we want to be. Use these questions to think about the kind of leader you want to be in 2018:

Quality of Relationships: How are you relating to those around you? Is trust increasing or decreasing? Are you investing more or less time in developing strong relationships? Are people more or less self-protective and what can you do to increase a sense of safety in your group? Are you willing to go the extra mile or not? What is the evidence for your answers?

Fear versus Love: Examine your relationships and see if there are patterns that illustrate the growth of fear or love. In your leadership, what role does fear play? Are you using fear as a lever to ensure compliance? Do you believe there is a place for love in leadership? Would the people in your sphere of influence say you lead with love or fear?

Quality of Thinking: How difficult is it to find time to think, personally and with others? Do you consider “busyness” a badge of honor (it isn’t!)? Are you in control of your calendar or does your calendar control you? How would you assess the level of learning in your organization? Are you applying what you’ve learned? Is long-term thinking still happening in conversations, decision-making, or planning?

Willingness to Contribute: What invitations to contribute have you extended and why? How have people responded? Ongoing, what are your expectations for people being willing to step forward? Are those higher or lower than a few years ago?

The Role of Money: How big an influence, as a percentage of other criteria, do financial issues have on decisions? Has money become a motivator for you? For staff? Has selfishness replaced service? What’s your evidence?

Crisis Management: What do you do when something goes wrong? Do leaders retreat or gather people together? How well do you communicate during crises? Are you prone to share information or withhold it? Do you use challenges as an opportunity to build trust and resilience? Are your values evident in the decisions you make in the heat of the moment?

Margaret and I share the same view that leadership is a noble calling. Leaders are entrusted to care for those under their charge and to help them develop to their full potential. We can’t fulfill that noble purpose if our head is constantly down and our eyes focused just on today’s to-do list. We need to lift our eyes up, gaze into the future, and thoughtfully consider how we want to grow as leaders. These categories of questions offer an excellent starting point for somber introspection. So before you rush off into 2018, getting busy with all of your plans and goals, pause for a bit to consider who you actually want to be in the year ahead.

Here’s to a great 2018!

Where Did the “Us” in Trust Go?

Where’s the good in goodbye,
Where’s the nice in nice try,
Where’s the us in trust gone,
Where’s the soul in soldier on,
Now I’m the low in lonely,
Cos I don’t own you only,
I can take this mistake, but
I can’t take the ache from heartbreak

No Good in Goodbye ~ The Script

“Where’s the us in trust gone?” I was listening to this song this past week and of course that particular lyric caught my ear. The song describes a person who has done something to damage a love relationship and is lamenting the pain of the breakup. It got me thinking of the inherent one-to-one nature of trust.

Yes, trust can be applied on a generalized level such as the trust one has (or doesn’t have) in government, companies, or other entities. But in its purest form, trust is a psychological and emotional construct between two people and there are three important truths that apply to building trust in relationships:

1. Risk is required — You don’t need trust if there’s nothing at risk. That’s called certainty, a sure thing, a guarantee. But if there is risk, if there is a chance you might get burned extending your love, money, or faith to someone else, then trust is essential. A part of that risk involves someone making the first move in extending trust. Trust doesn’t happen by accident. In order for trust to develop in a relationship, one party has to make the decision to extend trust in the hopes it will be reciprocated. That’s the only way it happens. Ernest Hemingway summed this up simply yet eloquently when he said “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”

2. Trust cannot be demanded; it must be granted willingly — Trust, just like love, commitment, loyalty, and other relationship dynamics cannot be forced upon someone; it must be given. Each person is unique in regards to how they grant trust to another. Some have the philosophy of “I’ll trust you until you show me I shouldn’t” while others have the approach of “I won’t give you my trust until you earn it.” Our propensity to trust is shaped by many factors including our level of psychological and emotional maturity, risk tolerance, the balance of power in the relationship, childhood experiences with trust, and our morals and values. Regardless of how a person is “wired” to trust, you can’t demand they give it to you. They must decide on their own to give it to you.

3. Trust must be nurtured — Trust is not a one and done sort of thing. You don’t give or receive it and then forget about it. You must constantly protect and nurture it in order for it to deepen and give life and endurance to the relationship. Trust sustains relationships through the tough times. It’s the element that breeds safety and security in a relationship so each person knows that no matter what happens, I can trust you won’t hurt me or take advantage of me. In the garden of relationships in your life, trust is the water that keeps them growing, blooming, and maturing to fullness. Without trust those relationships will wither and die. Unfortunately, too many people only think about trust when it has been broken. Don’t let that be you. Never lose sight of trust and keep working to make it stronger day by day.

There’s no trust without “us.” You and me. Two people willing to take a risk and make themselves vulnerable to each other with the expectation the other won’t take advantage. We don’t demand it of each other, but we give it willingly because the other person has demonstrated their trustworthiness over time. And we constantly nurture the trust in our relationship so it continues to grow over time and works in a reciprocal fashion to constantly strengthen itself. That’s the “us” in trust.

3 Levels of Trust You Experience in Relationships

I regularly work with individuals and teams to help them build trust in the workplace. Many people think trust just sort of “happens” in relationships, but there are actually four elements of trust you can proactively cultivate to have healthy and thriving relationships.

Because I’m an advocate for building ever higher levels of trust, participants in my workshops often assume I think trust is a one-size-fits-all proposition, that all relationships should have the ultimate, highest level of trust. But when it comes to trust, not all relationships are at the same level. Based on the context of the given relationship—professional, personal, family, social—each one can experience a different level of trust.

There are three basic levels of trust. The first level is deterence-based trust, or what I like to call “rules-based” trust. This is the most fundamental, base level of trust in all relationships. Deterence-based trust means that there are rules in place that prevent one person from taking advantage of, or harming another person. In society we have laws that govern our behavior in personal and business settings. When we engage in business we have contracts that ensure one party can trust another to hold up their end of the bargain. In organizations we have policies and procedures that provide boundaries for how we interact and treat each other, and if we violate those rules, usually there are consequences involved.

The second level of trust is knowledge-based trust. This level of trust means that I’ve had enough experience with you and knowledge of your behavior that I have a pretty good idea of how you will react and behave in relationship with me. Because my experience with you has shown that you have my best interests in mind and will do what you say you’ll do, I feel safe enough to trust you in our everyday dealings. This is the level of trust that most of our day-to-day professional relationships experience.

The third and most intimate level of trust we experience in relationships is called identity-based trust. This level of trust means that you know my hopes, dreams, goals, ambitions, fears, and doubts. I trust you at this level because over the course of time I have increased my level of transparency and vulnerability with you and you haven’t taken advantage of me. You’ve proven yourself to be loyal, understanding, and accepting.

Identity-based trust isn’t appropriate for every relationship. This level of trust is usually reserved for the most important people in our lives such as our spouse, children, family, and close friends. Yet with the proper boundaries in place, this level of trust can unlock higher levels of productivity, creativity, and performance in organizations. Imagine an organizational culture where we operated freely without concerns of being stabbed in the back by power-hungry colleagues looking to move higher on the corporate ladder. Imagine less gossiping, backbiting, or dirty politics being played because we knew each other’s hopes and dreams and worked to encourage their development rather than always having a me-first attitude.

Take a moment to examine the level of trust in your most important relationships. What level are you at with each one and how can you develop deeper levels of trust?

10 Amazingly Simple Ways to Thank Your Employees

Since this is Thanksgiving week in the U.S., I thought I’d re-share one of my most popular posts about how to build trust through the power of telling people “thank you.” Saying “thank you” is one of the most simple and powerful ways to build trust, yet it doesn’t happen near enough in the workplace.

Whenever I conduct trust workshops with clients and discuss the role that rewards and recognition play in building trust, I will ask participants to raise their hands if they feel like they receive too much praise or recognition on the job. No one has ever raised a hand.

So in an effort to equip leaders to build trust and increase recognition in the workplace, here are ten amazingly simple ways to tell your employees “thank you.” I’ve used many of these myself and can attest to their effectiveness.

In classic David Letterman, Late Night style…10 Amazingly Simple Ways to Thank Employees:

10. Let them leave work early – This may not be feasible in all work environments, but if you’re able to do it, a surprise treat of allowing people to leave early does wonders for team morale and well-being. I use this technique occasionally with my team, usually when they’ve had the pedal to the metal for a long period of time, or if we have a holiday weekend coming up. Allowing folks to get a head start on the weekend or a few hours of unexpected free time shows you recognize and appreciate their hard work and that you understand there’s more to life than just work.

9. Leave a “thank you” voice mail message – Don’t tell my I.T. department, but I’ve got voice mails saved from over ten years ago that were sent to me by colleagues who took the time to leave me a special message of praise. The spoken word can have a tremendous impact on individuals, and receiving a heartfelt message from you could positively impact your employees in ways you can’t imagine.

8. Host a potluck lunch – You don’t have to take the team to a fancy restaurant or have a gourmet meal catered in the office (which is great if you can afford it!), you just need to put a little bit of your managerial skills to practice and organize a potluck lunch. Sharing a meal together allows people to bond and relax in a casual setting and it provides an excellent opportunity for you to say a few words of thanks to the team and let them know you appreciate them.

7. Give a small token of appreciation – Giving an employee a small memento provides a lasting symbol of your appreciation, and although it may cost you a few bucks, it’s well worth the investment. I’m talking about simple things like giving nice roller-ball ink pens with a note that says “You’ve got the write stuff,” or Life Savers candies with a little note saying “You’re a hole lot of fun,” or other cheesy, somewhat corny things like that (believe me, people love it!). I’ve done this with my team and I’ve had people tell me years later how much that meant to them at the time.

6. Have your boss recognize an employee – Get your boss to send an email, make a phone call, or best-case scenario, drop by in-person to tell one of your employees “thank you” for his/her work. Getting an attaboy from your boss’ boss is always a big treat. It shows your employee that you recognize his/her efforts and you’re making sure your boss knows about it too.

5. Hold an impromptu 10 minute stand up meeting – This could be no or low-cost depending on what you do, but I’ve called random 10 minute meetings in the afternoon and handed out popsicles or some other treat and taken the opportunity to tell team members “thank you” for their hard work. The surprise meeting, combined with a special treat, throws people out of their same ol’, same ol’ routine and keeps the boss/employee relationship fresh and energetic.

4. Reach out and touch someone – Yes, I’m plagiarizing the old Bell Telephone advertising jingle, but the concept is right on. Human touch holds incredible powers to communicate thankfulness and appreciation. In a team meeting one time, my manager took the time to physically walk around the table, pause behind each team member, place her hands on his/her shoulders, and say a few words about why she was thankful for that person. Nothing creepy or inappropriate, just pure love and respect. Unfortunately, most leaders shy away from appropriate physical contact in the workplace, fearful of harassment complaints or lawsuits. Whether it’s a handshake, high-five, or fist bump, find appropriate ways to communicate your thanks via personal touch.

3. Say “thank you” – This seems like a no-brainer given the topic, but you would be amazed at how many people tell me their boss doesn’t take the time to express thanks. Saying thank you is not only the polite and respectful thing to do, it signals to your people that they matter, they’re important, valuable, and most of all, you care.

2. Send a thank you note to an employee’s family – A friend of mine told me that he occasionally sends a thank you note to the spouse/significant other/family of an employee. He’ll say something to the effect of “Thank you for sharing your husband/wife/dad/mother with us and supporting the work he/she does. He/she a valuable contributor to our team and we appreciate him/her.” Wow…what a powerful way to communicate thankfulness!

…and the number one amazingly simple way to thank employees is…

1. Give a handwritten note of thanks – Some things never go out of style and handwritten thank you notes are one of them. Emails are fine, voice mails better (even made this list!), but taking the time to send a thoughtful, handwritten note says “thank you” like no other way. Sending handwritten letters or notes is a lost art in today’s electronic culture. When I want to communicate with a personal touch, I go old school with a handwritten note. It takes time, effort, and thought which is what makes it special. Your employees will hold on to those notes for a lifetime.

What other ways to say “thank you” would you add to this list? Please a share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

Reflect Back Before You Say Sorry – Tips for Improving Your Apologies

If you say you’re sorry before truly understanding how the offended party feels, have you really apologized?

That question may not be quite as metaphysical as the classic, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?,” but it’s certainly worth considering if you’re serious about rebuilding trust in relationships.

I remember countless situations when my two sons were young kids and they’d get into squabbles with each other. After refereeing their dispute and performing my fatherly duty to declare one or both of them at fault, we’d inevitably get to the point where I’d tell one of them to apologize to the other. You probably know how the rest of the story unfolds, right? After several declarations of innocence and blaming the other person, one of them would grudgingly utter a terse, resentful, and perfunctory “sorry.” Neither of them were overly concerned with understanding how the other felt; they just wanted to placate dad and get on with their business. That strategy may fly when you’re six years-old, but it doesn’t work as an adult in the workplace.

Delivering an effective apology is one of three key steps in rebuilding trust. However, apologizing isn’t as simple as it seems on the surface. There are key success factors of effective apologies, one of which is reflecting back the other person’s feelings.

Why is reflecting back feelings important and how do you do it?

  • Reflecting back feelings is important because it allows you to understand how the other person is feeling. It also allows the offended party the opportunity to process, share, and release the feelings he/she has been holding on to, which is important for moving beyond the hurt of the situation.
  • When you apologize, give the other person time to speak and share their feelings. The apology is as much about them—their pain, emotion, state of mind—as it is about your behavior. Don’t make the apology all about you.
  • As you listen to the other person share his/her feelings, don’t rebut, argue, or defend yourself. The purpose of reflecting back feelings is to show the other person you understand how he/she feels. It’s not to debate or argue points of facts.
  • Reflect back feelings by using statements like, “I heard what you said,” and “I understand why you feel that way.” Using statements like “Tell me more about that,” or “Help me understand what you mean by…” will open up the conversation and allow the other person to share in an environment of safety.

So I’ll take a shot at answering the metaphysical question: If you say you’re sorry before truly understanding how the offended party feels, have you really apologized?

My position is no, you haven’t fully apologized if you don’t understand how the other party feels. Admitting your harmful behavior is half of the apology. You can take it all the way home by understanding, acknowledging, and addressing how your behavior made the other person feel. Following this approach will increase the effectiveness of your apologies and lead to higher trust in your relationships.

How Does Your Presence Affect Team Members? 3 Questions to Ask

leadership presenceTension. Dread. Nervousness. Anxiety.

Early in my working career, those are feelings I experienced when I would meet with my manager. The feelings stemmed from a variety of factors. I didn’t think the manager had my best interests in mind, so I constantly felt on guard, like I had to defend my decisions, actions, or my direct reports. I also didn’t believe the manager had the competence to really understand how the business operated. It was difficult to accept her direction or support when I felt it wasn’t based on a true understanding of our present reality.

Regardless of the cause of those feelings, I left meetings with my manager worse off than when I arrived. That’s not a good place to be.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. ~ Maya Angelou

If you’re a leader, flip the situation and personalize it to yourself. Are your people better off because of your presence? When your people interact with you, do they leave as a better version of themselves or a less capable one? It’s a sobering thought to consider. When I take the time to reflect on interactions with my team members, I try to ask myself the following three questions:

  1. Did I make them feel more trusted? In order to build trust with your team members, you must first extend trust. You can extend trust by giving the team member an opportunity to demonstrate competence. Give her room to recommend decisions and implement plans. Trust her integrity to do the right thing and to follow through on her commitments. Resist the urge to steer the employee to your way of thinking so she’ll do what you want her to do (that’s manipulation) or to micromanage her efforts. That will cause the employee to leave the interaction with you feeling less trusted, not more.
  2. Did I make them feel more valued? Everyone wants to know they are valued and accepted as individuals, regardless of their job title, position on the org chart, or the number of digits on their paycheck. You can make employees feel validated by expressing encouragement, listening to their input, incorporating their ideas into decisions, and giving a voice to their questions, concerns, and ideas. Don’t ignore, dismiss, or demean their contributions.
  3. Did I make them feel more powerful? Real, effective, and authentic leadership involves helping people discover and capitalize on their power. Weak and egotistical leadership is about robbing people of their power so they feel more dependent on leadership. It’s only by giving power away do you unlock your own leadership greatness. Sharing information, letting people make their own decisions, and giving team members opportunity to take on new challenges are among the many ways to move employees from powerless to powerful.

Much of how team members perceive us as leaders has to do with how we make them feel. That doesn’t mean our job as leaders is to hold hands with our team and sing Kumbaya, or to coddle and baby our people just so they feel good about our leadership. That’s just as bad as being the hard-nosed leader who has a slash and burn style with no regard to personal relationships. It takes a blend of being a competent and focused leader who also attends to the relational needs of the team. It’s balancing people and results.

The Most Important Decision Every Leader Must Make

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Leaders are faced with myriad decisions in any given day, week, month, or year. Questions such as these fill our days: What’s the right strategy for our organization? What are my most important priorities? Who is the right person for this job? How much time do we allocate to this project? How much money should we spend? Some are big, some are small. Some carry great significance; others not so much. Some days there are more decisions to make and others there are less. But one thing is constant: there are always decisions to be made.

I would argue there is one decision more important than any other you face, and the way you respond to that decision will shape the course of all the others you make. What is that decision? It’s the decision to trust.

We all have moments of trust where we can decide to move toward connecting, engaging, and trusting one another. Or we can decide to move away from one another by choosing fear, distrust, self-protection, control, or ego. Since a large degree of leadership is about accomplishing work through others, leaders must trust and depend on people at some point. It’s impossible to do everything on your own, and besides, it’s undemocratic and boring to do it all yourself!

Since trusting others is a requirement of leadership, the question then becomes, How do I know who to trust and how much to trust them?

Deciding Who to Trust

You can gauge a person’s trustworthiness by how their behavior exemplifies the ABCDs of trust.

A is for AbleDemonstrating Competence. People who possess the skills, knowledge, and expertise for their roles earn trust. Able individuals demonstrate their competence by having a track record of success. They consistently achieve their goals and can be counted on to solve problems and make good decisions.

B is BelievableActing with Integrity. Integrity is at the heart of trustworthiness and it’s impossible to be fully trusted without it. High integrity people are honest, tell the truth, admit their mistakes, and act in alignment with their values and those of the organization. They walk the talk.

C is for ConnectedCaring about Others. Trustworthy people value relationships. They care about others and act in ways that nurture those relationships. Connected people establish rapport with others by finding common ground and mutual interests. They share information about themselves and the organization in a transparent fashion, trusting others to use information wisely. Most of all, connected people are others-focused. They place the needs of others ahead of their own.

D is for DependableHonoring Commitments. Fulfilling promises, maintaining reliability, and being accountable are critical aspects of being dependable. Trustworthy individuals do what they say they’re going to do. They don’t shirk their responsibilities or hold themselves to a different (i.e., lower) standard than their teammates.

Deciding How Much to Trust

It’s important to understand you put yourself at risk when you trust another person. You run the risk of that person disappointing you, not following through, or worse case, purposely betraying or taking advantage of you. Your willingness to accept vulnerability is determined by the interplay of several variables including your personality, values, life experiences (especially early childhood), and of course, the situation at hand. Only you can determine how vulnerable you’re willing to be when extending trust.

A helpful way to consider how much to trust someone is to view the situation through what I call The Window of Trust. Based on the person’s trustworthiness (how their behavior demonstrates the ABCDs of trust), and your willingness to be vulnerable (accept risk), you can choose how wide to open your window of trust. The greater a person demonstrates trustworthiness, combined with a greater willingness to be vulnerable on your part, means the more you can open the window of trust.

The goal is not to have a wide-open window of trust for all relationships. The goal is to open it as wide as appropriate for a relationship given its specific context or situation.

All healthy relationships are based on trust. Whether it’s a short-term relationship with a vendor providing you a one-time service, or a lifetime commitment to the person you marry, you must open the window of trust as wide as possible to help the relationship reach its full potential.

4 Ways to Move From Vendor to Partner in Client Relationships

“We’re re-evaluating all of our vendor relationships.” Oomph! It felt like a punch to the gut when our client uttered those words, especially the “v” word. For several years this organization had been one of our top 5 clients, and now this new client contact was replacing our previous partner with whom we had a trusted and successful relationship. He clearly had a new strategy that didn’t involve us and was looking to move his business elsewhere. Despite our best efforts, over the course of the next 18 months our business with this client evaporated.

How did we move so quickly from being viewed as a trusted partner with this client to a vendor who could easily be replaced? It had nothing to do with the quality of our products and services, our price, or our capabilities as an organization. It had everything to do with the level of trust in the relationship with our new client contact.

We had developed an extremely high level of trust with our original sponsor. She viewed us as a trusted advisor who looked out for her best interests. She knew that our primary aim was to help her succeed, not just to sell products and services. We collaborated on projects together, learned from each other, and were vested in creating win-win solutions.

This level of commitment was reflected in the language we used when speaking about each other. She was our client – a person who uses the professional advice of another – and we were her partner – a person in a relationship where each has equal status. Our new client contact clearly viewed us as a vendor– a person who sells something.

So how you do create a relationship with your clients that transforms them from thinking of you as a vendor to one of a partner? I believe you have to build a solid foundation of trust and you do that by being:

  • Able – Competence in your role is a prerequisite for building trust with clients. Do you know the details of your products and services inside and out? Do you know the business challenges your client faces and how your organization can help them be more successful? Clients value and trust the advice of competent professionals who have a track record of success and have taken the time to thoroughly understand their needs.
  • Believable – Are you a person of integrity? Do you admit mistakes and take ownership, or do you make excuses and shift blame? Clients want partners that act ethically, responsibly, and place their needs ahead of your own. Sometimes being a person of integrity means telling the client “no.” Trusted partners are willing to be honest with their clients and advise them when they can’t provide the best solution the client needs. Trusted partners look for creative ways to help the client address their issues and find solutions to problems that may or may not involve their own products and services.
  • Connected – No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care. You can be the most competent professional around, but if you don’t establish a personal connection with your clients, your efforts at building trust will be limited. Trusted partners know their clients as people, not just business associates. Get to know your clients by being genuine, authentic, and demonstrating care and concern.
  • Dependable – Simply following through on your commitments to clients goes a long way in building a trusted partnership. Maintaining reliability with clients involves having an organized approach to your work, only making promises you can keep, and doing what you say you will do. One of the quickest ways to erode trust with clients is to over-promise and under-deliver.

Trust is the key ingredient that allows you to move your client relationships from one of being a vendor to that of a trusted partner, and it starts with learning the ABCD’s of trust: Able, Believable, Connected, and Dependable.

5 Tips for Handling Delicate Conversations

coffee conversationOne of the certainties of managerial life is there will be occasions where you need to have a delicate conversation with someone. No matter if it’s an employee, colleague, or vendor, the thought of having a potentially challenging conversation with someone causes fear and hesitation. And of course this isn’t just an issue in the workplace; the same dynamic happens in our personal relationships as well.

I had a delicate conversation with my 21 year-old son last week, and frankly, I could have handled it better. If I had practiced what I’m preaching here, I’m pretty sure the discussion would have been more fruitful. Here’s the tips I should have followed more closely:

1. Clarify your motive and desired outcome for the conversation—In my case, I had been stewing over a discussion my son and I had a few weeks earlier. In that prior conversation, I felt my son had neglected to mention some important facts that I later discovered on my own. I felt he had been less that truthful with me and my motive was to let him know how I felt so I could get the weight off my chest. I thought I was clear on the motive, but looking back I see it was a pretty selfish one. A better motive would have been to learn more about why my son shared what he did rather than accuse him of purposefully omitting facts. I also wasn’t clear on my desired outcome. Was I looking for an apology? Did I want him to acknowledge he made a mistake? Since I wasn’t fully clear on the outcome, it left the conversation in a ragged state when we finished.

2. Pick the right time and place—This one is hard for me because I don’t like to leave things unsettled. I’d rather address an issue quickly and get it resolved, rather than wait for things to settle down and perhaps sort themselves out naturally. When planning for a delicate conversation, choose a location that will create a comfortable and safe environment for the meeting. Choose a time of day when the other party will be at their best, and havethe right kind of open energy that will allow them to hear what you’re saying.

3. Watch your tone—Studies have shown that just 7% of communication is the actual words we speak. That leaves 93% of communication happening through tone and body language. The tone of your voice will literally set the tone for the conversation. Use a tone that is warm, supportive, inquisitive, and non-judgmental. Raising your voice, having a sharp tongue, or using defensive or dismissive body language (e.g., crossing your arms, rolling your eyes) will doom your conversation for failure.

The health of our relationships is directly proportional to the quality of our conversations

4. Invite dialogue—Too often our delicate conversations turn into monologues. That’s because we feel more comfortable if we’re in control of the discussion. We can be afraid of what the other person may say or how she will steer the conversation, so we rattle on at the mouth until we’ve said our peace. The best way to handle a delicate conversation is to invite dialogue. Ask open-ended questions that allow the other person to express her thoughts and share openly. This builds a climate of trust and safety which facilitates more open and honest communication.

5. Express support and empathy—The delicate conversation with my son was a textbook example of what not to do. If you recall, in a prior conversation with my son I was upset he didn’t share certain details with me that I thought were relevant. After he explained why he omitted those facts, I relied upon my trust-building and leadership expertise and responded, “If you believe that, then you’re lying to yourself!” I don’t think I’ll be winning Dad of the Year award anytime soon. I missed my opportunity to empathize with him and express support for his point of view. Instead, I selfishly used the opening to blast him with a critical comment that I had been harboring for weeks. Even if your point of view is correct, a delicate conversation will go off the rails if you shut the other person down by not expressing empathy and support.

Conversation is the vehicle by which we build trust, lead others, and develop relationships. The health of our relationships is directly proportional to the quality of our conversations, so it’s important we develop effective communication skills. When it comes to discussing delicate topics, it’s important to be clear on our motives, choose the right time and place, watch our tone, invite dialogue, and express support and empathy.

%d bloggers like this: