Tuesday, May 23, 2017

It Shouldn't Hurt When We Laugh

I can tell the amount of trust in an organization by the amount of laughter I hear in the hallways. Offices where people trust are more joyful and people aren’t afraid to share their humor.​

There are times when it takes me a long time to get the words out of my head and onto paper. Part of the reason is I start along a particular path and then an off ramp takes me in another direction.

laughter at workThis is what I was thinking when I decided to write about humor and trust. My good friend Michael Kerr is a humorist and has done a lot of research around effective companies, humor and trust. Effective humor at work improves office morale and increases trust. Michael’s humor is uplifting and never cruel.

Now here is my off-ramp...

Years ago I worked for a major telecommunications company in Canada. One of the managers had a second job as a standup comic and was less than a year away from giving up his full time, solid pension and good benefit job to host a TV show. He was that good! His morning meetings were well attended because he would deliver the information in a way that had all of us laughing and listening. There was also a very dark side to him. He was a bully who used humor as a blunt instrument to punish anyone he disagreed with or who had the temerity to hold an opposing opinion. I knew more than a few people who were eviscerated by his sarcasm and humor. I was never a victim but a few friends who were had a difficult time while they were the objects of his dark humor.

I’m getting back on the humor highway now since I know - and studies show - humor helps us trust more if it is used in a trustworthy way. It can be a powerful form of communication that can bring people together and increase community. In his book, The Humor Advantage - Why Some Businesses Are Laughing All the Way To The Bank, Michael Kerr writes about practicing safe workplace humor. Kerr says that reframing stressful events in a funny way has been shown to help people cope more effectively with stress.

If you want to create a positive trusting environment, allow the funny bone to do some of the heavy emotional lifting. As Michael suggests, create a code of humor conduct to remind staff to keep their humor positive. The same rules for a healthy workplace apply to the humor rules: no sexist, racist, political, ethnic, or put-downs.

When people laugh together it helps us overcome difficulties and builds trust. Be sincere. Be authentic. Be kind and don’t be afraid to laugh.

More trust means more success at work and in our personal relationships. I can help build the trust in your organization. If it's your time to tackle this difficult issue, I'm here to help. Get in touch.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Trip Home


I am reminded of a quote attributed to David Duchovny, an actor and star of The X-Files. He says, "The key is to get to know people and trust them to be who they are. Instead, we trust people to be who we want them to be - and when they're not, we cry."

I am reminded of Duchovny’s quote as I prepare for a trip back home to visit family and friends after a sustained absence from Canada while my husband and I waited for our papers to be processed for U.S. immigration. I have been feeling rejected and despondent because of the lack of response from my family.

I sent an email to my brothers and sister letting them know I would be back in the city and asked if they would like to get together. I received a response from one of my siblings; my oldest brother sent a kind and loving message letting me know that he would love to see me. He has always been this way: responsive and kind. The other three? Crickets. Now one brother is a Luddite, so it is possible he hasn’t even checked his emails. The other two, well, I wasn’t surprised, but I was disappointed.

This is where the quote from Duchovny comes in. I do know my family very well and, yet I want them to behave in a way that fulfills my expectations of how a loving family acts. I knew exactly who would get back to me and who would ignore the message and yet I still felt disappointed.

I can’t control their behavior, but I can control my response and my expectations.

It’s not a lot different in business either. Get to know a person or an organization and trust them to be whom they are. What is their reputation? Reputation is a backward glance of behaviors and actions that can accurately predict what we can expect in the future, yet too often we base our expectations on what we want. I don’t go to McDonalds and expect filet mignon... and I’ve never been disappointed.

I wish I could say that writing this has been completely cathartic and I’m OK with the lack of response from my family, but I still need to work on my expectations. Ah well, I’m happy to say my friends are as excited to see me, as I am to see them. Control what you can in life and let the rest go. Like many platitudes, easy to say, harder to do.

Have you had an experience that didn’t surprise you yet you were disappointed? I’d love to hear from you.

More trust means more success at work and in our personal relationships. I can help build the trust in your organization. If it's your time to tackle this difficult issue, I'm here to help. Get in touch.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Facts Don't Change


It is a cold miserable, 'out like a lion in March' time of year. My shoulders and back are still sore from shoveling the heavy wet snow off the driveway, sidewalk and walkway. Ouch! I wish I could walk out the door to better weather, which is what I'm sure, our dog Athena thinks can happen if she just asks the right person.

After a storm they named Stella (you know it’s bad when they actually name the storm), Athena had to go outside. She let me know by coming up with her big Newfoundland paw and giving me a whack. There is no mistaking the request. When she got to the door and poked her nose out, she gave me a look that said, “You’ve got to be kidding,” and turned around and went to lay back down by the fire. I stood there with the door open for a moment trying to convince her, but there was no way she was going outside.

After a few minutes, she went to my husband Ric and whacked him. Yes, we’re those people that have conversations with our dog and telling her how ridiculous she was behaving didn’t stop her. Since I was closer to the door, I opened it, but she gave me one of her looks and refused to even consider it. She knew the weather she could expect if I let her out!

Whack… Ric got hit again. After whining and not giving up, because she obviously really needed to go, Ric got up and opened the door. She was ready to do the same retreat, except this time she had one foot outside before she started to turn around and got a push, and the door closed behind her. She wasn’t very happy with us for not changing the weather as she had asked, and for making her deal with the reality.

Have you seen this same behavior in people? I have. They don’t like the facts they are given so they try going to another person to see if they can get the answer they want. It doesn’t work that way. If there is a storm outside, you can wish and visualize for sunshine all you want but, unless you change your location, it’s still going to be storming.

Facts don’t change because we don’t like them but they can spur us on to make positive changes. I’ve booked my trip down south and leave in a week. How about you? What fact or facts are you having trouble accepting? What changes do you need to make?

More trust means more success at work and in our personal relationships. I can help build the trust in your organization. If it's your time to tackle this difficult issue, I'm here to help. Get in touch.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Withstanding the Storms of Life

After I spoke at Harvard at the Conference on Emotional Intelligence, Wendy Wu, Founder of Six Seconds China and CEO and Founder of Wonder Tech, asked if she could interview me about sustainable happiness. At one point in the interview we talked about families, and she asked me what I want for my children. I wonder if she thought it strange when I said I want my children to have enough heartache and troubles to make their lives richer. An easy life doesn’t always make for a happy life, and overcoming struggles builds resilience.​

Today the wind was blowing so hard that when I looked up into the trees, I felt dizzy watching them sway and felt a tinge of fear that one was going to fall on me. We’ve lost a few trees to storms. Each year we bring in Rob the arborist to walk through our yard and figure out which trees are healthy and which ones will likely come down in high winds. It seems every year we lose a couple. Our beautiful oak tree looks quite ill, yet every year it surprises us with a healthy display of new buds and in the summer gently shades the yard with a beautiful green canopy. In its few hundred years on earth, it has weathered its fair share of storms. The root system covers a broad area of the back yard. In contrast, the young and beautiful hemlock tree surprised us by crashing down in a mild storm a couple of weeks ago. We found out later the root system was shallow and part of it was rotting.

Strong winds can’t blow down a healthy tree; only weak trees with diseases or a damaged root system come down in storms. It is nature’s way of clearing the woods of disease and damage. I was curious. What happens if a tree grows where there is no wind or disease? Are they stronger and healthier? It turns out they aren’t! In biospheres, they found that trees grew more rapidly but couldn’t grow beyond a certain height before they toppled. Scientists discovered the lack of wind caused a deficiency of stress or reaction wood, the wood that helps position a tree for the best sun absorption and also helps it to grow solidly. Trees are more fibrous and grow deeper roots when they are buffeted by high winds; the actual wood changes and becomes stronger.

It is part of nature that all things are strengthened by struggle. This is where the wish for my children intersects with the wind blowing through the trees. Instead of wishing them a life of ease and no pain or struggle, I trust they are stronger and more resilient when they have problems and overcome them. How about you?

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Hat Trick

Upstairs on the first landing of our house sits a chest. You can see it as you climb the stairs to our room. On top of it is my Father’s hat. Not the good one he wore if he had to go somewhere special. No, this is the one he wore when he had to go to the parts department to pick up an extra part for a truck he was working on.

Dad’s hobby was finding old Ford trucks, stripping them down, rebuilding the motor, pounding out the dings and dents, and then selling them. My mother said he usually spent more than he made but it gave him such pleasure seeing the old classics brought back to life. You could catch him any time of day, whistling and working on a truck and smoking a cigarette that he didn’t think anyone knew about. When I see one of those old classics on the road, I smile and think of him.

When he died, I asked my Mother if I could have his old hat. “I’ll see if I can get it cleaned,” she said. “It’s not in very good condition.”

I didn’t want it cleaned. I wanted it with the fingerprints that I could still see on the brim where he grabbed to put it on. I wanted it with the sweat stains on the inside brim, holding on to some of his DNA that helps me to hear his voice when I need to talk to him. I wanted to look at it and still see and imagine my Dad. It is a touchstone to remind me of the importance of integrity, honesty and his wickedly bad sense of humor that helps to light up the days that need to be lit up, and guide me to do the right thing even when no one is watching.

It’s not surprising I speak on trust. Dad believed in it. “If you can’t trust a person’s handshake there’s no sense in doing business with them. You can get a piece of paper but, if someone wants to be dishonest, they’ll find a way around it.” It’s not that he didn’t believe in contracts but, before he signed, he wanted to look a person in the eye, shake their hand and, by that simple act, know the measure of the person he was doing business with. He learned this crucial lesson like many of us do - the hard way.

What is your touchstone? What reminds you to ‘Do the right thing, even when no one is watching’?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Trust in the Time of Trump

This is neither a rant against Trump nor is it a pro-Trump article. As a trusted expert, I want to understand why he was trusted with the highest office in the most powerful nation on earth. This is my perspective of why people voted for him. If you have been following my articles, you know I have said truth telling isn't part of my trust model. Truth can be very subjective, and your truth may not be Trump's or even mine. (Full disclosure - and this shouldn't be a surprise to anyone - if I could have voted in this election, I would have voted for Clinton.)

Many people who voted for Trump were disenfranchised and did not feel Washington understood them. I have heard again and again that change needed to happen, and Trump could be trusted to disrupt and change the status quo. When you have not felt heard or represented, and someone comes along who gives voice to your anger and frustration, the trust level goes up. How can you believe you are cared for when, year after year, you see your life and standard of living going down? He wasn’t a groomed and slick politician who spoke in condescending platitudes. He was earnest and raw, and whether you agreed with him or not, people who voted for him felt he cared for America and cared for them. That is the first C - caring - in my 5 C Trust Model. People who voted for him believe he cares.

With unflagging energy, we saw a man who did not back down. Again, whether you agreed with him or not, he was out, front and center, committed to winning the election. He has said he will bring that same level of commitment - the second C of trust - to his presidency.

“I will make America great again. I will build a wall. I am strong; other politicians are weak. I am the only one who can make things better.” He was always consistent about bringing about change. Over and over again we heard a consistent message. Consistency is the third C.

The Trump brand is around the world and is associated with class and power. When people were asked why they would vote for him, many pointed to his ability to build a billion dollar business. His competence - the fourth C - and the belief that he ran a successful business resulting in his money and power made them trust him. I’m not saying he will be a competent President. That has yet to be seen, but he is perceived to have a high level of competence in running his empire.

The final and fifth C is communication. From Twitter communications at 3am to calling into radio shows to give his opinion, Trump communicated. At his rallies, people felt that he was talking directly to them, not at them. While his rivals were spending millions on advertising, he knew he could turn the focus of the media to talk about him without spending a cent.

When I was having a conversation with a friend and told her I was going to write about Trump and trust, she looked at me in disbelief. “But he can't be trusted - I will never trust him,” she said. “How can you write trust and Trump in the same line?"

I hope this helps her to understand how he was trusted. Now is a time for healing, and trusting that good people used their best intention to vote for what and whom they believed in.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

When being Right can be Wrong for Building Trust

Did you know most motorcycle accidents aren't the fault of the motorcycle driver? Two thirds of all motorcycle fatalities are caused by the car driver. The car driver's usual response is they just didn't see the motorcycle until it was too late. The motorcycle driver might have been right, but how did that help the situation?

What does all of this have to do with trust? So often we want to hang our hat on being right. Just like the motorcycle accident, being right doesn't help you if the outcome is catastrophic and you can't count on being right to save you.

You need to go beyond being right, and use empathy and observation to get the outcome you want. You have to separate impact from intent. We judge others by their impact, but ourselves by our intent. It should be switched around.

Trust isn't about being right. Get that out of your head. It's based on being open and vulnerable, and having positive expectations about another's behavior. It's been awhile since we talked about the 5 C's of trust, so here they are again as a reminder.

Caring:
People will trust and support you if they know you truly care about them. Caring can show up in how you connect with others. Caring leaders give credit to their employees and challenge them to reach new levels. When we care, we lead with the heart and the head. What does care look and sound like to you?

Commitment:
Showing up is an essential part of commitment. It means bringing energy and initiative to the job. It means staying on course and doing what you say you will do long after the time has passed when you first said it. Keep your commitments no matter how small or large. When you can't keep a commitment, you have to communicate and ask to be released from it.

Consistency:
Consistent leaders evaluate themselves and make sure their words and actions are congruent. Are you congruent? Everyone has off days so, if you do fly off the handle, circle back and take ownership of the inconsistency. Imagine a politician who bases his platform on being open and approachable, and won't listen or attend meetings. Make sure you are congruent. Decide what your values are and use them to make decisions. It will help to guide you and keep you constant.

Competence:
People will question your competence if they don't see it in action. When people can see that you know what you are doing, they extend trust. Your competence is developed through experience and requires work. Don't be satisfied with mediocre. Be the best you can be. Keep your skills fresh by being a lifelong learner and listener.

Communication:
Communication is an exchange of information. You aren't communicating until the other person understands what you are saying. Using the trust framework refers to being able to communicate in a caring, committed, consistent and competent way. The Mehrabian model of communication includes verbal, vocal and visual communication.
  • Can we use words that show we care, and are committed, consistent and competent? (verbal)
  • Do we show through our actions and body language each of the four competencies? (visual)
  • Does our tone show each of the four competencies? For example, if we say we care, does our tone demonstrate this? (vocal)
Insisting on being right isn't going to bring more trust into your life. Instead, work on building trust by seeing what is right in others.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Truth Telling isn't Part of Trust (But it's not OK to Lie)

I’ve often seen people mistake opinions or beliefs for truth telling. If truth is based on verifiable facts, we can determine it is true by researching the evidence.

A fact that can be checked out would be: as of 2013, there have been 57 female astronauts compared to 477 male astronauts.

Where it falls off the rails is when people make a judgment based on facts, such as women are discriminated against in the astronaut program. It may be true based on the facts but we can’t be sure. It is an opinion.

Often we trust people who share similar beliefs. Unlike an opinion, a belief is based on a person’s values, faith or morality. An example of a belief based on the astronaut example would be that women shouldn’t be allowed up in space because they should be home taking care of the family. Beliefs are usually emotional appeals that cannot be logically argued.

OK, I know, I know, I might have just geeked out on semantics but I want you to be able to use this to be as trustworthy as possible. What do you mean by truth? Are you telling a fact, giving an opinion, or spouting a belief when you are telling your truth?

If you’re not willing to be wrong then you’ll never be as right as you could be.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Christmas Gift

It was my first big paycheck and I was flush with the possibilities of all that I could buy. Should I invest? Travel? Buy designer duds? None of those ideas felt right. After much thought I decided to surprise my parents and buy them return tickets to England to fulfill a dream they had talked about for years.

Christmas was approaching and I imagined their faces as they opened up an envelope with two return tickets to London. They had never traveled further than a few hundred miles from their home and often talked about “some day” being able to go to England and visit their friends, Tom and Jean. Dad was a blue-collar worker and my Mom worked in the accounting department for Sears. Somehow they had always managed to put enough food on the table and pay for the mortgage on their tiny house but there was never any money left over for luxuries like travel.

Now they were empty nesters and were enjoying a time of abundance, which to them meant there was enough money left at the end of the month to go out for dinner and a movie.

Christmas day! I waited until all four of my other siblings were at Mom and Dad’s house before I gave them the card with the letter from the travel agency. I had prepaid for two economy tickets from Calgary to London and the travel agency had a refundable travel voucher made up. All Mom and Dad had to do was call them and give them the dates.

Dad handed Mom the card and told her to open it. I watched their faces. When she opened the envelope and read the letter her eyes filled with tears. Everyone was excited for them, and I loved the feeling of pride and gratitude from making their dream come true.

A week later I got a call from the travel agency. I thought it would be to tell me that my parents had picked the dates for their trip but, no, it was to tell me my parents had cashed in the tickets. My heart sank.

When I called my Mom to ask her why she canceled the tickets, she was terse and to the point. She told me the stove they had was starting to go and they decided the money would be better spent on something practical. I got off the phone and cried. I knew that was just an excuse and felt angry at what I knew was her fear of the unknown.

A good friend told me that when you give a gift, it is no longer in your control. It was an important life lesson for me. All gifts must be given without expectations.

I learned so much from the giving of the tickets. I learned you have to believe you are worthy of the trip. I learned you have to trust you can travel to places you’ve never been and will be OK. I learned that if you don’t take the trip when it’s offered, you might never have another opportunity.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Time for another Trust Vacation

Is it time for another trust vacation? If you want to build and grow the trust in your organization you need to step away long enough for your team to step up!

How many of you are able to unplug from technology? When you went on your last holiday, how many times did you check your emails and see if there were any problems at work you needed to answer?

It’s not a coincidence that many of the vacations my husband and I go on involve unplugging from technology. I have to trust that, if a client can’t get hold of me for a week, they will call back. When my husband Ric leaves on a vacation, he encourages his staff to step up and handle problems that develop, knowing they have his complete support. White water rafting and camping in the big outdoors means there are no electric outlets to plug in computers and usually no wifi signal to contact the outside world.

I also wonder if you recognize that unplugging and stepping away from your office, and letting others handle the problems that may arise, is a sign of your trust in them. It involves taking a chance and a leap of faith, and with that comes a level of risk. Things may be done differently than you would do them and, yes, there may even be a few things that aren't done at all. If you are going to develop your team and your business, you have to be able to trust and, by unplugging and allowing them to make decisions and take action, you show that you do.

This risk-taking is at the center of building trust. If we want to strengthen trust, we need to use it – and that means giving people opportunities to go a little further than they did yesterday.

Who was the person in your life that believed and trusted in you? How did their trust in you help shape the person you are today? Could you do that for one of your staff?

If you want to develop a trusted workplace, understand the strengths of your staff and ask yourself, “What do I need to do to help them work to their full potential and ability?” It starts with taking a trust vacation – stepping just far enough away from a responsibility so others can pick up the slack.

Are you going to choose to trust someone today?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Strategies for Crisis Communication

Trust and credibility are critically important when we are in a crisis. If you want people to trust you, they have to believe you are capable of managing the crisis and that takes effective communication.

The first memories I have of my nephew are gazing at him through a window at the nursery in the hospital. He was the first child of my brother, first grandchild of my parents, and first nephew of mine. He was welcomed, adored and loved.

I was reminded of that this week when I found out he was isolated at a camp North of Ft. McMurray, Alberta. The city was on fire and he was waiting to be evacuated. Facebook was our connection to him. "Are you safe?" was a question I asked him as I watched videos of ashes and burning embers rained down on cars and people. He assured all of us he was safe.

"What about your company? Aren't they arranging transportation? What have they told you?" He wrote back, "Very disappointed with my company. No information on what we're supposed to do. No information on anything! So I guess we sit here and wait."

What!!?? These were people who were concerned for their lives and they weren't getting any information.

I've talked about this at conferences. The time to make a communication plan is not during or after a crisis. It should be done, evaluated and ready to dust off whenever it is needed. I'm sure no one at my nephew's company was expecting a catastrophic fire but they should have had a plan if they had to do an emergency evacuation. How much do you think the company was trusted during the crisis?

Dr. Peter M. Sandman has 6 strategies that must be kept in mind during Crisis Communication. All of this makes perfect sense and will increase trust.
  1. Don't over-reassure. Over-reassurance pushes ambivalent audiences toward the alarmed side of the seesaw; it diminishes credibility and leaves them alone with their fears. If you have to get it wrong, better to err on the alarming side.
  2. Acknowledge uncertainty. Sounding more certain than you are rings false, sets you up to turn out wrong, and provokes debate with those who disagree. Better to say what you know, what you don't know, and what you are doing to learn more. Model the ability to bear uncertainty and take action anyway.
  3. Treat emotions as legitimate. In a crisis, people are right to be fearful and miserable. Both emotions are at risk of flipping into denial, or escalating into terror or depression, or receding into apathy. To help us bear our feelings, respect our feelings.
  4. Establish your own humanity. Express your own feelings; if you seem fearless, you can't help but model how others should master fear. Express your wishes: "I wish we could give you a more definite answer." Tell a few stories about your past, your family, your reactions to the crisis.
  5. Offer people things to do. Self-protective action helps mitigate fear; victim-aid action helps mitigate misery. All action helps us bear our emotions and thus helps prevent denial. Where possible, offer a choice of actions, bracketing your recommendations with less and more extreme options.
  6. Stop worrying about panic. Panic is rare. Efforts to avoid panic – for example, by withholding bad news and making over-reassuring statements – tend to backfire. People sometimes disobey in a crisis, but that's not panic. Worry about denial, worry about apathy; don't worry about panic.

These 6 strategies should be part of every crisis communication. Are they part of yours?

More trust means more success at work and in our personal relationships. If it's your time to tackle the difficult issue of trust in your organization, I'm here to help. Get in touch.

photo credit PremierofAlberta / Flickr

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Face Palm Moment

Oh boy, I'm tired. I had a dentist appointment at the ungodly hour of 6:30 am. For early risers this is probably an ideal time. For the rest of us, well...

I didn't trust myself to wake up at 5:30am so, starting at 3am, I woke up, looked at the clock and tried to go back to sleep. I did this every half hour until I finally got up at 4:30am after lying there staring at the ceiling for 20 minutes.

When I walked into the dental office I had a huge grin on my face in spite of the early hour. I was sooo pleased to arrive precisely on time. My smile faded when the receptionist looked at me quizzically and told me I was a day early. My appointment is tomorrow so I have to go through this all again. Arghhhh.

While standing at the counter I said I was hoping it was their mistake so I could be annoyed at someone other than myself. She gave me a half smile since she wasn't sure if I was joking. Honestly, neither was I. I really wanted someone else to be wrong. I even checked in my calendar and in the text confirmation that I was sent. It clearly showed tomorrow’s date. Face palm. It was my mistake but, like most people, who likes to be wrong?

As quickly as the realization came to mind, the feeling of wanting to blame was gone. It is a lot more powerful to take control and responsibility for what happens. The most powerful leaders are willing to admit mistakes.

My favorite TED Talk presenter is Brene Brown and she says blame is a mechanism for us to expel pain and discomfort. I had to think on that one for a while.

The problem with blame is I have a hard time trusting others who don't take responsibility for their mistakes, and I imagine you might, as well. Heck, when I'm trying to blame others for the state of my affairs, it makes me feel weak and I don't want that.

Here are a few simple things you can do to get out of the blame game:
  • Be on the lookout for it in yourself. Notice moments of blame. This may be you blaming yourself or you blaming others. Recognize your feelings. What pain, discomfort or negative energy are you dispelling? What did you feel after?
  • See it in others. Spend the next day noticing others using blame. Do you notice pain or discomfort that preceded their moment of blaming? How do you feel about their blaming?
  • Get blame free. Now that you have discovered why we blame, can you be more empathetic with yourself and others? Can you stop blaming?
Next time I want to yell at my husband for the 5 pounds I've gained, I'll recognize that he didn't force me to eat the pizza, cookies and ice cream. Blaming him isn't going to make my pants fit. I'm in control. Next time I'll choose the salad (maybe) but I'll quit the blaming and just enjoy the moment.

More trust means more success at work and in our personal relationships. I can help build the trust in your organization. If it's your time to tackle this difficult issue, I'm here to help. Get in touch.