Building Higher Trust 72 Trust and Ice Cream

May 19, 2022

Most people think of trust as one thing. They believe they know what the word means. When I ask groups to define it, they come up with numerous different answers.

Groups typically come up with more than 20 different definitions of trust in about 10 minutes. All the answers are correct, so it means that trust is a lot more complex than most of us realize. 

Generic trust, meaning “assured reliance,” is easy to understand, but the complexities of the concept can boggle the mind.

Taste, Like Trust, is Complex

Suppose I blindfold you. You trust me enough to put some food in your mouth, and you easily identify it as ice cream.  You know the consistency, temperature, and creamy-sweet taste instantly.  Then, if I ask you what flavor ice cream you are eating, that may cause you to think a bit.  When you cannot see what you are eating or drinking, your taste is not nearly as reliable as you might imagine.

For example, I cannot tell the difference between grape and orange soda when blindfolded. Try it sometime and see if you can. Before doing the test, I was 100% certain that I could easily distinguish between the two. With ice cream, I would likely be unable to tell the difference between cherry and black raspberry.

Different Kinds of Trust

The ice cream metaphor works to describe trust for most people. While you know what trust is generically, the subtle distinctions between various types of trust may be harder to distinguish.

Trust is Contextual

For example, I might trust you to feed my cat, but not trust you to overhaul my car engine. I could easily trust you to get change for a 20-dollar bill. I might think twice about giving you $10,000 in cash to deposit at the bank.

I might trust you to admit you made a mistake, but not believe you can tell truth from fiction. The logic can get pretty convoluted.

It is impossible to list all the kinds of trust in life. Clearly, trust is not just one thing. We have trust in numerous things every day without giving it a thought.  We have some level of trust with every person we know.  We may trust the products we use, or we may not.

Trust within Organizations

People may trust the organizations they work for, but that is not always the case.  The Edelman Trust Barometer measurements show that in the USA, roughly 55% of people trust business to do right. However, less than 20% of people trust their leaders to tell the truth when faced with a difficult situation.

People would find it hard even to go to a store if they did not trust the infrastructure of roads and bridges. They would not drive if they didn’t trust the brakes on their cars.

Trust in the Media

People find it difficult to trust what they hear on the news. They can dial up whatever flavor of news they want to hear at the moment. Trust in the media has consistently gone down for several years. Various news outlets try to undermine each other. They have dropped the pretext of being “unbiased” and admit their news is flavored, just like ice cream.

Images and Textures

The complexity of trust in our lives is daunting, yet people need to trust in things and other people every day.  The whole matter of trust becomes a kaleidoscope of images and textures. Everyone experiences trust every day all day long and rarely think about it. The result is that people have confidence or not depending on what it all means personally at that moment. 


The phenomenon of trust is far more ubiquitous and complex than people realize.



Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 

Building Higher Trust 71 Open Door Caveats

May 13, 2022

If you are like most professionals, your company has an “open door” policy. The stated rule is that if an employee feels something is not right, he or she has an open door to discuss the problem with the supervisor.  If the supervisor cannot resolve the issue, then the employee has an open door to go higher in the chain or to HR for resolution.

This process is one of the most commonly employed HR strategies to ensure individuals do not feel trapped under an ogre of a supervisor with no way to communicate their frustration. Open door will be effective if there is high trust between the employee and supervisor. If there is not, then the employee must escalate the issue to a higher level, and that is where the trouble starts.

Unfortunately, the strategy is often dysfunctional, and it can actually do more harm than good. Let’s put the “open door” policy under the microscope and see what makes it dangerous, then suggest an antidote that can help.

The Open Door Policy sounds so inherently right, few employees question it until they are embroiled in a problem and have to try to obtain the intended benefits. It reminds me of an insurance policy. You assume protection until you have a claim, then you find out what the fine print was all about.

Likewise, many managers hide behind the open door as a kind of cure-all for organizational low trust. Both symptoms mask an underlying malaise that must be rooted out and destroyed. On the surface, the open door leads to greater transparency and fairness, but in the real world, there are several reasons it rarely works that way.

The “Open Door” policy can be a shamIf an employee wants to use the open door policy it is usually because of some kind of rift with his or her immediate supervisor. There is something bad going on according to the employee’s interpretation, and the supervisor is unwilling or incapable of dealing with the situation. 

During these times, trust between the individual and level-one supervision is at an all-time low. Since talking it out with level one will only bring additional grief, the employee uses the open door and tries to clear the air by talking to level two.

The level-two manager is not fully familiar with the issue, so the only recourse is to listen politely to the employee and then have a chat with the level-one supervisor. In the process, the level-one supervisor immediately becomes aware that he or she has been “blown in” to the boss.

Regardless of how professional both leaders are, this series of discussions usually results in a further reduction of trust between the three levels and the individuals involved.  Since trust was compromised to begin with, the poor employee is now under an even more ominous cloud. 

The “Open Door” can lead to games – I recall a discussion with my boss. He wanted to use the open door policy correctly and not jeopardize the employee, who was working for me.  At the time, I had nearly 2,000 people working in my organization.

My boss told me one of my employees had complained that I was not treating the person fairly (he was careful to keep the discussion gender-neutral to make it harder for me to guess who might have the issue).

I had taken over a new area, and the trust in me was under development. My boss would not tell me who the individual was, or the specific area involved.  He would only tell me that there was someone out there that did not trust me to treat him or her fairly.

He would not share the specific area of concern nor give me enough data to have a clue for how to fix it.  This discussion served to put me on notice, but it caused me to start second guessing every interface or action attempting to uncover the problem.

In the end, I never did figure out who the person was or what the issue was. For months I went around like Sherlock Holmes trying to figure out what incorrect signals this one individual had been getting. Meanwhile, the rest of the population, who were not concerned with my fairness, thought I was acting a little weird.

“Open Door” has a bad reputation on the shop floorIn many organizations, employees are fully aware that the open door policy is something that makes management feel good and looks good in the employee handbook, but it is a poor vehicle to use if there is an actual issue on the shop floor.

If the symptom leading to the need for an open door conversation is low trust, then how can escalating the issue to the next higher level be helpful? There are also folk tales of the poor soul who got so upset with a situation that he actually did use the open door and lived to regret it every day thereafter until he finally quit the organization.

Far better to suffer the current injustice than call in the big guns and ensure more pain.

Open Door” failures lead to Ombudsmen – When the open door gets a reputation for causing additional grief and not resolving problems, organizations often resort to a third party grievance resolution mechanism called an Ombudsman.

Again, from an HR or legal perspective, this practice seems reasonable and fair. It really can resolve some issues, but it is also fraught with cloak and dagger nonsense that usually further undermines trust as the clueless Ombudsman seeks to understand what is really going on without upsetting people.

Meanwhile, the employee is on tenterhooks hoping the desperate action to call in a third party will not backfire. Once again, since the root cause of the problem can be traced to a lack of trust, the Ombudsman approach is at best a last resort effort to save utter collapse.

What if the level-two manager is a jerk too? If an employee has a problem with the integrity of the level-one supervisor, then the level-two supervisor is often in question as well.

From a shop floor perspective, all management is painted with the same brush. Actually, there are situations where there is a bad apple in the middle and employees really do trust the second level more than the first level.

More often, all management is suspect if there are weak links. After all, if the big boss tolerates a bully in the supervisory ranks, then that manager is not doing his or her job either. Why would employees feel high trust for that person? They more likely picture the big boss as a well-intended but clueless manager who has no idea how miserable things are two levels below. 

These are five very real symptoms of problems with the open door policy.  I am not saying it is a bad thing to have or that it never works. What I am suggesting is that there is a better way.

The Antidote

What if we taught managers at all levels to reinforce candor? Employees would learn that is not a career-threatening opportunity to bring an issue to the immediate boss. In fact, when they bring up scary stuff or perceived inequities, they are rewarded in some way. The reward would be regardless of the level.

It would mean that the need for escalation would be significantly reduced in the first place, and for those few situations where a higher level discussion would be useful, then the employee is still reinforced.

Imagine the poor Ombudsman with less work than the Maytag Repairman. Imagine an entire workforce concentrating on the mission and vision of the organization instead of constantly negotiating their way through minefields of bureaucratic protectionism. Imagine running an organization based on trust instead of fear. It is possible if we simply teach leaders to reinforce candor. 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Building Higher Trust 70 Loose Lipped Leaders

May 5, 2022

A leader with loose lips is a real disaster. I recall early in my career overhearing a manager in my division going from one cubicle to the next, and saying to each person, “This isn’t public knowledge, so don’t tell anybody, but…” 

The Impact of Spreading Gossip

After hearing this manager share the same information with 3-4 other people asking each person not to tell anyone else, I lost all respect for that leader. Doing this in an area where there were cubicles rather than closed offices shows that this manager had a deficiency in intelligence as well as discretion.

Integrity is one of the most important characteristics for any leader. The idea of a leader who intentionally spreads gossip is repugnant.

Why They Do it

I can only imagine the motivation of the errant manager for his actions. I suppose he was attempting to buy loyalty by letting certain people in on the inside dope. The ploy backfired. 

We labeled him as an individual who could not be trusted to keep private information confidential. A leader who is not trustworthy gains no trust.

It reminds me of the leader who tells one employee some negative information about a fellow employee. It might sound like this, “Confidentially, I am worried about Martha; I think she may have a drinking problem, but please keep that to yourself.” 

Any employee hearing such inappropriate information casually leaked by a manager would wonder, “What is he telling other people about me when I am not around to defend myself?”  A manager with no integrity simply has no credibility. We all know this, so why do some leaders spread gossip anyway?

Sharing a Real Example

Depending on the topic and other conditions in the organization, it may be tempting at times to share privileged information based on some rationalism. For example, picture a work unit that will be experiencing a downsizing in the next quarter. The announcement has not been made yet, but the leader wants to be sure adequate cross-training occurs for a particular individual who will replace one of the exiting employees.

The manager may pull Martha, the employee who is staying, aside and say something like, “I need to share that Alice is going to be leaving in the layoff next month. This is not public information yet, so please keep it confidential, but you will be taking on her responsibilities. Please begin to pay attention to what she is doing with her clients, because there will not be much time for cross-training once the layoffs are announced.”

Impact of Spreading Gossip

Trying to mitigate potential problems by warning certain individuals of an action ahead of time may sound like a positive step, but it is a disaster on many levels. Let’s examine the real impact of such a discussion.

  • It will cause Martha to act in ways that tip Alice off that she is doomed.
  • It plays favorites with one employee, which will leak out to others.
  • Martha may also leak the information to others either unwittingly or on purpose.
  • Other people may surface asking about their status in the layoff.
  • The manager has lost the respect of Martha, at least, and many others as well.

Better to Be Transparent

A far better approach is to be transparent about the entire situation early to allow public discussions of how people can cope with this difficult transition. Even if the news is bad, you are better off making it public as early as possible, because then you can be more helpful to both the employees who leave and the employees who remain.

  • It allows the impacted people to look for other work while still employed
  • It provides for adequate training of the replacement
  • It treats people like adults


One way to build trust with people is to refuse to discuss information out of turn. One of the easiest ways to destroy trust is to show a violation of someone else’s trust when talking in private to another person.  Don’t do it!

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Building Higher Trust 69 Instill Values

April 29, 2022

A vital function of leadership is to instill a coherent set of values in the organization. Notice I did not say the function is to “articulate” good values.

Too many leaders believe they have accomplished the job when there is a set of values hanging on the wall.  Unfortunately, that attitude does more harm than good because any hypocrisy in living the values ends up undermining the whole concept.

Leaders need to exemplify the values and talk about them at every opportunity for them to become firmly planted into the hearts of the organization’s people. Here are some tips that can make your values shine and create a foundational bedrock for the work of your business.

Create the values together

Values do not come from one person. They come into being through a process of creation and selection. There are literally thousands of values one could choose. Words like integrity, loyalty, respect, trust, and flexibility are frequent choices. Words like honor, dependability, family, innovation, and transparency are less often used, but equally effective. It is important for people in the organization to participate in the crafting of a master brainstorm list and the voting on how to winnow the list to a vital few.

Don’t have too many values

To be most helpful, values must reside in the hearts of the population and be simple enough to remember.  It is a mistake to have a dozen or more values for an organization. Few people will be able to remember the entire set.  I recommend five values or six at the most. These will form the core of why we do things the way we do. Take the time to do a  Pareto vote to cull out the less important candidates from the longer list.

Announce the values

Make sure everyone knows the values by communicating them at every possible opportunity. Say things like, “We have decided to tell people about this problem because one of our core values is transparency.”  As people hear a value reinforced every time leaders model it in the organization, it becomes stronger and more useful to the business.

Reinforce people who point out inconsistencies

If an action or decision does not appear to be consistent with a stated value, it is important to encourage and reinforce employees who point out the apparent contradiction. If employees feel punished when they voice concern over a possible lapse, then they will clam up, and the values will quickly lose their potency for the organization. If leaders reward people for bringing up concerns, then the values will spring to life and become even stronger with time.

Allow infrequent changes

Values form a bedrock for the actions of a community. It is important that these statements of intent have stability, and yet it is a mistake to be totally rigid. If an additional value to the current list would help clarify some common activities, feel free to add a new value with great ceremony.  Beyond some number, it is wise to retire a less relevant value when adding a new one. This can be tricky because no value is totally useless.  If you retire a value, make sure to state it is still important, just less frequently called upon in the current environment.

Reinforce actions consistent with the values

The easiest way to perpetuate actions consistent with the values is to reinforce people when they follow them.  A simple thank you is not sufficient reinforcement here. The conversation should sound more like this, “That was a great point, Martha. When you recognized Ed for not backing down in the face of pressure from the angry employee, you demonstrated empathy, which is one of our key values.”

The magic in having values is teaching all people to model them every day, but that is only half of the job. You must make the connection between actions and values highly visible at every opportunity to ensure the values drive the right behaviors far into the future.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Building Higher Trust 68 Restoring Lost Trust

April 22, 2022

Trust between individuals is bilateral. At any point in time, we have a balance of trust with every person whom we know. Trust is also directional; I trust you at some level and you trust me as well, but not at the exact same level.

In all our daily transactions with others, the trust fluctuates based on what happens: what we say, our tone of voice, body language, texts, and even what other people are saying.  It is a very complex and dynamic system. 

I believe that if the trust in one direction is very different from the reciprocal trust for a long period of time, that relationship will not endure unless forced to endure, or unless something happens to resolve the disparity. 

At work, we have a trust level with each person based on everything that has happened thus far in the relationship. Rebuilding trust is a situational thing, and not every situation calls for the formality offered below.

Nine tips to rebuild lost trust

  1. Act Swiftly

Major trust withdrawals can be devastating, and you need to address the situation immediately. Just as a severe bodily injury requires immediate emergency care, so does the bleeding of emotional capital need repair after a major letdown.

  1. Verify care

Both people should spend some time remembering what the relationship felt like before the problem. In most cases, there is a true caring for the other person, even if the hurt and anger of the moment seem unbearable. 

  1. Establish a desire to do something about it

If reparations are going to happen, both people must cooperate. If there was high value in the relationship before the breach, then it should be possible to visualize a return to the same level or higher level of trust. 

  1. Admit fault and accept blame

The person who made the breach needs to admit what happened to the other person. If there is total denial of what occurred, then no progress will occur.  Try to do this without trying to justify the action.  Focus on what happened, even if it was an innocent gaffe.

  1. Ask for forgiveness

It sounds so simple, but many people find it impossible to verbalize the request for forgiveness, yet a pardon is exactly what has to happen to enable the healing process. The problem is that saying “I forgive you” is easy to say but might be hard to do when emotions are raw.

  1. Determine the cause

This is a kind of investigative phase where it is important to know what happened in order to make progress. It is a challenge to remain calm and be as objective with the facts as possible. Normally the main emotion is one of pain, but anger or stress can accompany the pain. 

Both people need to describe what happened because the view from one side will be significantly different from the opposite view. Go beyond describing what happened, and discuss how you felt about what happened.

  1. Develop a positive path forward

The thing to ask in this phase is “what needs to happen to restore your trust in me to at least the level where it was before?”. Here, some creativity can really help.

  1. Agree to take action

There needs to be a formal agreement to take corrective action. Usually, this agreement requires modified behaviors on the part of both people. Be as specific as possible about what you and the other person are going to do differently. The only way to verify progress is to have a clear understanding of what will be different. 

  1. Check back on progress

Keep verifying that the new behaviors are working and modify them, if needed, to make positive steps every day. As the progress continues, it will start getting easier, and the momentum will increase. 


Modify the process to fit your particular application and do not follow a plan blindly. If a step seems like overkill or is just not practical, then you can skip it, but for serious breaches, the majority of steps will help.

In many cases, it is possible to restore trust to a higher level than existed before the breach. This method is highly dependent on the sincerity with which each person really does want the benefits of a high trust relationship with the other person.


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 



Building Higher Trust 67 Trust and Inspire

April 14, 2022

On April 5, Stephen M.R. Covey released his third book entitled “Trust and Inspire.” I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of the book, and I really enjoyed it. The book is rich with examples to illustrate Stephen’s main point.

Main Premise

The conventional working world has been operating under a “Command and Control” mentality for many decades. This method of leading worked well to obtain compliance in simpler times. Unfortunately, mere compliance is not enough to survive in the current world. Today it is necessary to unleash the greatness in people at all levels that remain dormant under Command and Control.

Enlightened Command and Control

Many leaders have shifted to what Stephen calls “Enlightened Command and Control.” This style of leadership (informed acquiescence) attempts to gain greater engagement by doing more cheerleading.  It is only partially successful in today’s environment because it does not liberate the greatness in people.

Much more Effective Style

Stephen makes a strong case that a better way to lead in the current climate is to “Trust and Inspire.” This style of leadership allows the seeds of greatness that are already in the vast majority of workers to blossom.  The seeds were there all along. Unfortunately, the Command and Control mentality just did not provide the nurturing force to allow full bloom.


Throughout the book, Stephen illustrates the difference between Command and Control and Trust and Inspire by providing paired comparisons.

The Impact of This Book

I believe this book will be one of the top leadership books of this decade. It logically lays out a pathway to better performance.

Stephen shares scores of examples to illustrate the power of this new leadership style. Pick up a copy of this book and read it – twice.

Put the wisdom of “Trust and Inspire” in your leadership practice. I promise you it will be many times more effective.  Order “Trust and Inspire” now.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 

Building Higher Trust 66 Top Down or Bottom Up

April 8, 2022

In an organization, trust is normally generated from the top down rather than the bottom up. Sure, it is important for employees as well as leaders to be trustworthy, but the culture that allows trust to kindle and flourish is usually created by the leaders of the organization rather than the workers.

Blind Spots

It is astonishing for me to see the blind spots that many leaders have about how pivotal their behaviors are to how trust is manifest in their entire organization. If the top leader or leaders do not act with integrity and consistency, it creates loops of “workaround” activity in all of the other layers.  There gets to be a kind of pseudo-trust where people look the part and act the part on the surface, but it is only skin deep. Under the surface, the ability to hold onto trust is as leaky as a bucket used for target practice.

Psychological Safety

Of all the behaviors leaders display, I think one shines out as being by far the most powerful for sustaining trust, yet simultaneously the most difficult for leaders to master. That is the ability to create an environment free of fear for disclosing one’s opinions about the leader’s actions. In most cultures, people are punished if they express reservations about what the leader is saying or doing. Those cultures continually dampen the ability to sustain real trust, and you get the plastic variety that is evident in many environments.

Reinforcing Candor

In brilliant organizations, leaders encourage and reward sharing of scary stuff. I call this skill “reinforcing candor,” because it means the leader is not only open to criticism but actively seeks it. The few leaders who are able to understand the power of reinforcing candor have an easy time building trust and rebuilding compromised trust.  This trust is genuine and sustainable; it is not the faux-trust that is so common in most organizations.

If the generation and maintenance of trust is mostly a top down affair, the ability to destroy trust is more balanced. It is just as easy for employees to destroy what trust is there as it is for leaders to do it.  Acting in ways that show low integrity is the most common method of harpooning sincere efforts to build more trust. Leaders destroy trust when they are duplicitous and fail to follow through on promises. Employees trash trust when they act without integrity in numerous ways, like stealing from the company or spreading rumors.


The nature of trust is that it is always a relative thing. Trust fluctuates based on the situational context of current actions. One should not always expect to find high trust in any area, even the best ones. There are going to be peaks and valleys, and the smart organizations seek a good average and try to dampen out the spikes, both high and low.  It is possible for most groups to make great strides in the trust level if they simply work to understand it and improve it daily. Leaders should not become discouraged if there is a lapse in trust; rather, they should redouble their efforts to maintain it. 


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 



Building Trust 65 No Problem

April 1, 2022

My wife and I were out to dinner a while ago and ran into a very personable young waiter named Kyle.  This young man was still in college, and he was working to earn money and looking for his future. 

I really liked this waiter because he made great eye contact, and he was polite but not intrusive. He had one annoying habit that was a distraction from an otherwise stellar impression that he created.

No Problem

Every time he would do something, like refresh my water, I would say “Thank you,” and he would reply “No problem.”  For a while I just let it pass and did not think about it, but eventually I recognized that his response habit was hurting the impression he was making for himself.

Missed Opportunity

The statement “No problem” is really not a bad thing to say, but it does represent a missed opportunity to build trust with the other person.  Reason: the statement does not represent a proactive positive response to gratitude. Instead, it reflects a kind of throw-away line that I, the customer, really did not matter much to him. 

The effect is very subtle, so the negative impression is not severe, but a more upbeat response or at least some variety of response would work much better. 

Alternative Approaches

A simple “You’re welcome” would be better than “No problem,” but there could be hundreds of more creative and memorable statements the young man could have used that would further entrench the good impression we had of him.  Remember, he has plenty of time to prepare creative comebacks because he pours water for people every day.

For example, in response to “Thank you” after he poured the water, he might have said, “We double-filter all of our water before we serve it to our guests.”  He could have blown me away with a statement like, “We never serve water that is warmer than 47 degrees.”

Another response might be, “I view your glass as bottomless.”  How about, “I’ll be watching to be sure you never run out.” 

Another tack might be to demonstrate respect by responding, “I am honored,” or “It is my pleasure.”

Making Impressions

The young waiter had to realize that he was serving expensive food to people who could afford it, so every night he was making impressions on people who could potentially influence his life. 

I took the time to compliment Kyle on his demeanor and also give him some coaching on his habitual response to gratitude.  He got the message and was truly thankful for it, because he had never given the matter any thought.  It was just something he had a habit of saying.


The response to a “Thank you” should be a great way to differentiate yourself from the pack, if you are in a customer service occupation. Don’t waste the opportunity with a throw-away line like, “No problem.”


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 

Building Higher Trust 64 Measuring Morale

March 24, 2022

Can you measure morale accurately simply by walking into a room and observing people? I think you can, but it can be a bit tricky.

In my courses, I often ask participants to tell me the best way to measure morale. Most of them come up with the idea of an employee survey or some other form of lagging indicator, like turnover rate.

While both of these techniques are useful, I think there is a far faster and more accurate way to measure the morale of people in an organization, and you can do it while there is still time to take corrective actions. All you have to do is observe the individuals, and their body language will give ample clues as to their morale.

Recognize that interpreting body language takes a lot of practice, and it is not an exact science.  The best practice is to look for clusters of signals rather than interpret one specific expression or gesture as a fool-proof indication of a person’s emotion.

Here are seven ways to measure morale by watching what people do.


If a person is standing with one hip raised and a challenging look on his face, that is a sign of a poor attitude. It is often a hostile gesture where the individual has a chip on his shoulder and is daring you to knock it off.

If people are sitting in a slouched-over configuration, that may be simple fatigue or it may be they feel beaten down and fearful when managers are around.

If you walk into a room and people are sitting around a table leaning back with their arms folded, you can immediately sense these folks are dug in, grumpy, and not happy.

The most sensitive areas for posture are in the shoulders and the position of the spine. I once walked into a restaurant to meet up with a colleague for a chat. She was sitting in a booth with her back to me and did not see me approach. All I could see of her was the back of her head and the upper 6 inches of her shoulders. I accurately determined before seeing her face or hearing her voice that she was in crisis mode due to some personal situation.


When people are together, watch the gestures. If they are doing a lot of finger pointing as they speak, that is likely a hostile environment. If their hands are most often open with palms up, that means they are open to ideas and suggestions. 

Watch to see if the gestures remain the same when managers come into the room. For example, if people are having an animated conversation about some outside event but clam up both verbally and with gesturing when the manager walks in, it may be a sign of trouble. Check into it in order to get an accurate assessment.

Hostile or vulgar words or gestures are likely indications of poor morale. The best display of good attitudes is if the gesturing remains the same when a manager approaches. People are comfortable and not threatened by this leader. When groups of people “stiffen up” as a leader approaches, it usually means they are not comfortable with the leader for some reason. See if you can determine if this is the case.

Facial Expression

There are thousands of facial expressions that have meaning, and many of these are specific to the culture in which they are used. The eyes and mouth hold the most information about attitude. For example, when a manager is giving information, if people roll their eyes, the meaning is that they believe the manager is basically clueless and is wasting their time. If they are tight lipped, it is normally a sign of fear and low trust or obstinance.

The most positive expression for morale is a slight smile with bright open eyes and highly arched eyebrows. This expression indicates either interest or possible surprise.

Tone of voice

When people speak, their tone will give away how engaged they are in the conversation at hand. Apathy is easy to spot with a kind of roll-off of words in a low pitch that says “I don’t care.”

If the voice is stressed and shrill, that usually connotes fear of some type. Anger is easy to detect as the voice becomes choppy and the pitch and volume go up dramatically. People sometimes take on a sneer and mocking tone when they mimic other people.

Medium voice modulation with good diction usually means good engagement and attention.


When people make jokes at the expense of the other people, it often is thought of as just kidding around. The fact is, there is always some kind of truth underlying every dig. If people are mocking a manager for always showing up late to the meeting, it may cause a chuckle, but it often reveals that people believe the manager has no real respect for them.

Some groups are world class at making jokes at the expense of team members. I maintain this is a sign of poor rapport that will show up as a lack of good teamwork. This poor behavior can be stopped easily by just coming up with a rule that we will no longer make jokes at the expense of others.

At one company where I was teaching, the rule about not making jokes at the expense of others was the third behavioral rule on their list (I always have groups create such a list.) It was easy to extinguish the bad habit because we just allowed people to hold up three fingers whenever anybody violated the rule. The poor behavior, that had been going on for decades in that organization, was extinguished in less than one hour.

Word choice

When people honestly engage in positive conversation and make constructive observations or ideas, it shows high morale. If they undermine the ideas of others or management, it shows a lack of respect that has its roots in low morale.

If the leader asks for a volunteer and you can hear a pin drop, that is a different reaction than if three hands go up immediately. People with high morale spontaneously volunteer to help out the organization. They respect their leader and truly want him or her to succeed because they know if the leader is successful then good things will happen for them.


In a culture of high morale, people have a tendency to praise each other and seek ways to help out other people.  When morale is low, everybody is in it for themselves and will discredit the ideas or desires of other people to preserve their own status.

Leaders who know how to build a culture where individuals spontaneously praise each other for good deeds can foster higher morale by that emphasis alone, as long as the praise is sincere..


These are just seven ways you can identify the morale of a group, simply by observing what people are doing and saying.  You can go to the trouble of a time-consuming and suspect survey, but you do not need to in order to measure morale. 

Measuring turnover or absenteeism will be an accurate long-term reflection of morale, but by the time you get that data, the damage is done. You may have lost the best people. By observing people every day and making small corrective actions along the way, you can prevent low morale and build an environment of higher trust. In that kind of culture, productivity will go up dramatically.


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 



Building Higher Trust 63 Trust Hallmarks

March 17, 2022

For several decades I have believed that organizations that show high trust hallmarks outperform weaker organizations by huge margins. 

While there are hundreds of examples of what high trust looks like, in this brief article I will share five things you will observe in an organization that specializes in high trust. 

What people say

One good barometer of trust is to monitor what people are saying to each other in normal conversation. If you just walk around your place of work for a couple of hours and listen to how people talk, you will get a quick view of the level of trust.

Mark an X on a card every time you hear a conversation about pursuing the goals or vision of the group. Mark an O on the card every time you hear a conversation that is basically badmouthing other individuals within the group.  If, at the end of your visit, you have more X’s than O’s, then you are likely witnessing a high trust group. If it is the other way around, then trust is low or totally missing.

How groups deal with challenges

All groups have challenges from time to time. Groups with low trust are stopped in their tracks, because the interpersonal problems make it very difficult to figure out what is wrong. They spend most of the time arguing about what the real problem is. Groups with high trust can resolve challenges quickly and easily because they communicate honestly.

High trust groups deal with the root cause of problems rather than analyzing symptoms. They also frequently come up with more creative solutions to problems, because they are not fearful and are free to explore out-of-the-box ideas.

The level of people development

In high trust environments, the leaders are vitally interested in developing all employees to be the best they can be. High investment of people is a hallmark of high trust groups.

In low trust organizations you can find leaders who are less interested in training people for a few different reasons:

1) They are so busy trying to survive that they have no time to devote to training,

2) They are afraid if people are well trained they might be overtaken, or

3) There is so much apathy that nobody really feels like development would be helpful.

Making ethical decisions

The study of ethics is very interesting because many leaders are convinced they are ethical, yet they find ways to shade things somehow when nobody is looking.  They rationalize that bad things should be OK “under these circumstances.”

We see this all the time in scandals that seem to come up like crocuses in the Spring. The important part of being ethical is not what you do when people will see it, but what you do when nobody would know if you were cheating. For example, if you are hiding some expenses to inflate earnings, it shows a corrupt leader.

Exposing hypocrisy

When leaders talk a good game but really do not act in ways that are consistent with the words, there is a falsehood that is obvious to everyone.

One current example that is evident in many companies is they state a value of trusting their employees when they are working remotely, but they use tracking software so they can identify the number of keystrokes made per hour.  

People notice the hypocrisy quickly, so the value becomes something we say but not something we back up with actions.  We look good on the outside but we are missing integrity underneath.


These are just five of the ways you can witness the hallmarks of trust in an organization. Stay alert and you can add dozens of additional items to my list.  Since high trust groups outperform low trust groups every time, make sure your group is operating on the high side always.


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.