Body Language 15 Pinching the Bridge of the Nose

February 16, 2019

You have probably noticed someone, when in a listening mode, pinch the bridge of his or her nose. There are several possible meanings with this gesture, as with all body language signals. I will share the common meanings in this article.

People do not pinch the bridge of their nose while wearing glasses. If a person removes his or her glasses in order to pinch the bridge of the nose, it means the BL signal is greatly amplified.

It is extremely rare for people to pinch the bridge of the nose while speaking. Think about how awkward that would look. The mouth would be blocked by the person’s wrist.

I knew a woman who actually did pinch the bridge of her nose while talking. She would frequently also close her eyes while doing this. It was most disconcerting. I found it difficult to form a trusting relationship with the woman because her communication seemed to be contrived and inaccessible.

With no eye contact, I felt disconnected from her. I learned that this woman was very insecure, and she communicated in this way as a form of protection so she did not have to witness the reactions of others. It was very unusual.

If a person pinches the bridge of his or her nose while listening, it usually means one of two things. The first interpretation is that the person is trying to focus intently on the meaning. It signals high interest in the incoming message and a desire to focus the energy directly into the brain. The extreme form of this would include closing of the eyes in order to block out any other confusing signals. The connotation is wanting to internalize just this information at the moment.

An alternate reason for pinching the bridge of the nose is that the incoming data is jarring or difficult for the person to deal with at the moment. The gesture is a defensive one where the person is protecting the neck, mouth, and nose areas all at once. A corollary to this explanation is that the person might be experiencing a headache, and the information coming is making it worse. Also, closing the eyes might be in reaction to a painful amount of light coming in.

To determine which of these modes is in play, look at the eyebrows. If they are relaxed and in a raised position, then the person is likely interested in your input. If the eyebrows are narrowed or furrowed, then expect that the second mode is the operative one. The person is in an evaluative or judgmental mode and is experiencing some frustration.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on https://www.leadergrow.com/articles/categories/35-body-language or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Enjoy Your Dance

February 12, 2019

I love to watch young children dance to the music with great abandon. Unfortunately, as we grow into adults, we rarely get the opportunity to be as free and uninhibited as we were when we were kids.

How do you feel about being you right now? Be truthful with yourself, and think about how much you like yourself right this moment. This article, hopefully, will jolt you into a different frame of mind relative to your happiness and the quality of your life.

I teach many online courses, and deal with students from all over the world. I recall one interchange between a student living in a frigid part of the USA and another student in Hawaii.

At one point, the student who lived in Detroit was lamenting another dreary day, and he had reached the breaking point. His comment to the student in Hawaii was, “Well, I have to take responsibility for my own misery. After all, I chose not to live in paradise.” I immediately wrote to the complaining student reminding him that “paradise” is a state of mind rather than a state of the Union.

There are numerous things that gauge the level of satisfaction and happiness we milk out of living. This article focuses on one’s perception of self.
Most of us are in the middle of a long progression of the days of our lives. It feels like a long time since our days of youth and exuberance, and we have a long way to go before somebody puts us in a pine box. We live each day reacting to the forces and challenges that hit us. Some days are good, and others are less happy.

We are what we are because that is what we have chosen to be. Many people go through life being unhappy with themselves and blaming others or circumstances (like if I only had a smaller nose). We have such a short time on this planet, and it would be smart to be happy with ourselves first and foremost.

Nobody else has to wake up with you and be with you 100% of the time, so if you are not happy with yourself, the quality of your precious life is diminished. Who would be to blame for that? Hmmm…let me think.

My observation of our lives in the grand scheme of the universe and the ages is that human beings are all like little kids. You have to go up only a few miles and look down through a telescope, and you can observe us all dancing around all over the world as we move through our day.

We show up and dance around for a fleeting 80-100 years, and then we are gone. Eighty years in celestial time is hardly a blink. Better make sure you are enjoying your dance.

Our possessions that we covet, our money that we lust after, make very little difference in the end. All that matters is how much of an impact we have managed to have on others, how much love we have generated, and how much we have enjoyed our dance.

What are some of the things that contribute to enjoying your dance? Here are a few examples. (Note, this list is not exhaustive.)

Making a contribution:

We all make contributions, both good and bad. If you have provided one shred of thought that has been recorded and provided value to other people, you have made a contribution. Two shreds counts for double that value, so provide many shreds of value to the advancement of society.

Finding honest love:

If we feel deeply in our soul that we have loved the people in our lives, then we go to our grave reflecting on a life well lived. This, of course, includes family, but it also includes heroes, mentors, classmates, pets, friends, grocers, frogs, lamps, books, and any other person or thing that we truly love.

Believing in an Infinite Power:

Many people think of this as religion, but it really covers the entire realm of spiritual awareness. I do not know about you, but I really do believe that something is guiding my steps at times, and it is not just me.

There have been too many remarkable surprises handed to me in life for me to take credit for thinking them up or for them to be just random coincidences. You can call it what you wish, but there is an Infinite Presence there somehow.

Helping others:

Whenever you give of yourself to help another, you feel great about yourself. That effort is a really good dance in your daily routine. The help can come in any form, and the only criterion is that at that time you were thinking more about the other person’s situation than your own. The help could be financial, physical, emotional, or even comical.

Making something:

To create a thing of beauty, or even ugliness since beauty is subject to interpretation, is a good dance. Some people are really good at this, like my father, who painted over 2000 fine watercolor paintings after the age of 55. Some people create great food or fine woodwork. To shape the elements into a new configuration that has never been done is intrinsically rewarding. Most creations are not marketable, but they are physical evidence that we were around and dancing happily.

Teaching or mentoring:

As we seek to impart some of our wisdom onto other people, we give the gift of knowledge. It is a subset of helping others, but this one is special, because we target the help on an individual who benefits from it.

For a person with great insight and knowledge to keep it to himself really wastes his dance time. I think it is really difficult to mentor from the grave, although some people do believe strongly in doing it or receiving it, which is part of their own dance.

Appreciating what you experience:

This attitude is all about not being numb to the beauty all around us every day. Seeing the small acts of kindness of one person toward another brings us joy. Marveling at the beauty of a flower, the taste of raspberry Jello, or the Bach B Minor Mass provides deep joy, but only if you are awake and paying attention.

Loving what you do:

The ability to look at each day as an adventure into the possible instead of a drudgery of our current agony is what lifts us up. Hope is there when you enjoy your work and your play. There is a choice you make every day as you dance through it.

Those are just eight examples from the top of my head of how to make the most out of your 80+ year dance. Who knows, you might beat the odds and dance until you are older than 100, or you might check out in your 20s.

You will notice the absence of wealth or possessions on my list, because I think those things dry up and blow away very quickly after we stop dancing. In the grand scheme of the world and the eons of time, the only thing that really matters is what you did with your opportunity to dance, not how big a pile of clutter you were able to generate.

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, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Body Language 14 Hand Gestures

February 8, 2019

In my article last week, I covered wringing of the hands. This week I want to make some general statements about hand gestures and discuss several of the ones that are of high interest to me.

There is no way that I can list even half of the gestures that people use in this short blog article, but I will share my favorites and give some caveats on their use and misuse.

In an article in “Science of People,” they reported that the most viral TED Talks contained roughly two times the level of hand gestures than the least viral talks.

Gestures generally improve the accuracy and interest of communication. Usually the use of hand gestures is a positive thing for communication, but we will see that it is not always the case.

First of all, recognize that if you have hands, you are going to use them when you communicate verbally. If you doubt that, just observe yourself as you talk with other people naturally. You will use your hands to embellish your points as naturally as you breathe in and breathe out. If you ever do observe a person who can talk for 10 minutes with no hand gestures, check his pulse, he may be dead and just playing a recording.

On the other extreme, some people use excessive hand movements to emphasize their points. It can get to be distracting and even annoying. I know a public speaker who uses excessive gestures to emphasize every part of every sentence. I found myself listening to him and began to realize that all the movement eventually distracted from his meaning, and I started to lose trust in him.

The habit of hand gestures is nearly impossible to break, so an important concept is to monitor how much gesturing you are using and watch how other people react when you speak. If you see a fatigued, confused, or bored expression, you may be doing too much gesturing.

If you do any speaking in public (including training or teaching), it would be wise to get a tape of yourself from time to time to view your level of gesturing. You may be surprised by what you see on the tape.

Just like all body language, hand gestures are highly culturally specific, so do not assume your gestures will translate accurately to everyone. For example, when Neil Armstrong first walked on the surface of the moon, he turned to the camera and made an “O” gesture with his first finger touching his thumb and the remaining three fingers straight out.

For people in many countries, the implication was clearly a signal meaning “AOK.” However, the people in Japan interpreted it as “Zero” and the people in Brazil and Greece saw an obscene gesture. Be careful with that gesture!

The position of your hands as you speak also reveals a lot about your attitude. For example, extended hands with palms up is a signal of openness and honesty. This type of gesture works to enhance the level of trust. The other extreme where the palms are hidden from view while gesturing often has a negative impact on trust.

In any context, pointing is one of the more hostile gestures. It tends to put people on the defensive. If you point a lot while you speak, you would do yourself a favor by toning it down. It takes a lot of effort to break the habit, but you will improve your relations with others if you refrain from pointing, unless you are giving directions or directing attention to something of interest.

We tend to indicate the relative size of things by the distance between our hands or fingers. This gesture is usually done when we are comparing one thing with another. We might have our hands apart by 18 inches when describing a very large boat and then only a few inches apart when we talk about the dinghy.

One gesture that I found particularly useful in the business world was the “Time out” sign, where you put the tips of the fingers on one hand to the palm of the other hand. I found that sign to be helpful in a team environment to allow one member of the group to signal he or she is questioning what is going on. You have to make an agreement at the outset between all parties that anyone can make the gesture without fear of being ridiculed.

Once you have that agreement, the “time out” sign is useful at enabling more meaningful discussions that enhance the level of trust between people. If someone thinks we are “spinning our wheels” he can just indicate that with the time out signal.

When people want to communicate literally, they will often use “air quotes” where each hand bends the first two fingers simultaneously. This gesture is easy to understand, but there is a caveat. It may mean that the speaker wants people to understand the specific wording, but it can also be a kind of mocking gesture where the person does not believe what another person has said and wants to point that out for the record.

You need to decipher the meaning from the context of the message. The use of air quotes can signal disagreement between parties in a discussion. One party may be trying to mimic what another party said with an tinge of scorn.

The famous “thumbs up” gesture is a quick way to indicate approval, and the reverse (thumbs down) gesture indicates the opposite. These gestures are generally consistent from one culture to another. I have never heard of these signals being reversed in any particular culture.

These are a few of the thousands of hand gestures that people use all the time. The important thing is to use gestures well but not to excess and be very careful when using gestures outside the specific culture where you live. When going to a culture you are not familiar with, it is a good idea to check out the specific gestures for that country. A good book to help with this prepping is “Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands: How to Do Business in Sixty Countries” by Morrison, Conaway, and Borden.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on https://www.leadergrow.com/articles/categories/35-body-language or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


The “I AM RIGHT” Paradox

February 6, 2019

One of my MBA students made a comment once that really caught me off guard. He said “I am the type of person who always does what he thinks is right.” The statement sounded perfectly logical until I thought about it a little more. I wonder if there is a person alive who could not make that same claim.

Invariably, people are going to do what they believe is right at that moment. If there is a better alternative action, then they will do that. Human beings instinctively rationalize all data to come up with the best option now, “all things considered.” In essence, we all wear an invisible “I AM RIGHT” button all day every day.

I started weaving this concept into my leadership classes, because it represents some insight that can help leaders build higher trust, if they understand it. The challenging part is to become smart enough to practice it in the crucible of everyday events. This article will describe the process to become enlightened and how to implement the concept in your life. The ideas in this paper can reduce conflict regardless of one’s position in life, but I will focus the remainder of this article on how leaders can use the concept to increase trust within their span of influence.

Sometimes I run into a leader who claims to not have this problem. He might say, “I have always been a highly participative manager and do not form opinions until I understand what my people are thinking.” Regardless of how much information is gathered in advance, once a leader reaches an understanding of the “right” decision, he then owns that point of view. (Note: In this article, I will use the male pronoun to avoid the awkward “he or she” language, but the logic is gender neutral.)

Another way leaders try to be participative is to send out “test balloons” that sound like this: “I am wondering what you all think about reducing the level of overtime for the next couple months.” The problem here that by simply broaching the question, the leader has put his thumb on the scale, so everyone already knows what he considers the “correct” answer.

Once a leader has reached a conclusion, regardless of how he got there, he owns that opinion, so if someone else has a dissenting point of view, the leader instinctively believes that person is “wrong.” Human nature then takes over, and the leader pushes back on the person who disagrees. This pushback is not reinforcing to the person who disagrees. The leader in some ways punishes the dissenter for having a different opinion.

According to behavior theory, being rewarded for an action will cause more of that behavior in the future and being punished tends to extinguish that behavior in the future. People quickly learn not to cross the leader once his opinion is known. It is just not safe to do it because the leader has positional power and the ability to inflict future pain in numerous ways. This is where the link to trust is critical.

In my leadership work, my favorite quote is, “The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.” My observation is that trust between people will grow easily in an environment of no fear. Creating a culture where people know the leader is not going to punish them for having an opposing view is the best way to reduce fear in an organization.

This is where the I AM RIGHT concept has so much power. If the leader can picture that the person who is not in agreement is also wearing the button, then it reminds the leader to modify his behavior when another person brings up an opposing point. The leader recognizes that he believes his way is right, but also recognizes the other employee believes his view is the correct one.

That understanding can change the conversation from one of defensive pushback and punishment to one of curious inquiry, deep listening, and understanding. The opposing employee will feel rewarded rather than punished. If the leader changes his stance based on the input, then the reward is direct. If the leader considers the alternate seriously but goes with his first instinct, the employee still feels he is rewarded because his points were heard, he was treated like an adult, and he was shown respect. So, regardless of the final decision, trust has been enhanced rather than reduced.

Leaders need to know that the first instinct to defend their initial position may be working against higher trust. They can modify the approach to suspend their own judgment when there is a question or alternate view and truly listen to the opposing view. Asking others what they think about the question will also help to reinforce the nay-sayer, and the trust will still grow. Discussion can also help the employees understand the full set of considerations that went into the decision and therefore appreciate the wisdom of a broader view.

The essential ingredient in this formula for building trust is for the leader to recognize he is wearing the I AM RIGHT Button, but that everyone else has on an invisible I AM RIGHT Button too. The ability to do that is a game changer for leaders who want to have a culture of high trust.

I call this skill “reinforcing candor,” because it is a key behavioral change that has huge impact on the culture. To be able to calmly accept a dissenting view and treat the employee with respect often goes against the gut instinct behaviors. That is why it is so uncommon in real life. If you can learn to do this, you will become one of the elite leaders of our time. It takes practice to do this, so start today and watch the trust level in your organization rise steadily.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Body Language 13 Wringing of Hands

February 1, 2019

When you think about it, the human hand is a remarkable instrument. We have amazing dexterity and control of motion that is not seen in any other species. I once saw a demonstration by a speaker who had no hands. In order to illustrate the impact, he had a member of the audience come up on stage. There was a bottle of water on the table. The speaker asked the man to take a drink of water. Without using his hands, it was impossible for the man to get the bottle open. Think about how you would attempt to do it.

We take for granted how blessed we are that most of us have full use of our hands for most of our lives. We signal some of our emotions with gestures using our hands all the time. Just to sample a few common gestures, you can convey the following concepts with simple gestures. Try to show the following concepts using just your hands:

Stop
Hurry up
Call me
Just a little bit
Great job
See you later
Text me
I’m not sure
Go ahead

In future articles, I will deal with various ways we use our hands to communicate meaning and amplify our verbal communication. In this article I will focus on the gesture of wringing the hands. It is a common form of body language that we have all witnessed and all practice at some point. Like all gestures, there can be more than one meaning to this gesture, but the most common one is anxiety.

When a person is nervous, it is natural to put palms together and squeeze and slide one palm over the other in a wringing motion. Next time you are at the dentist’s office waiting for your appointment, if you are not reading a magazine or fiddling with your phone, look down at your hands. Chances are you will be doing some form of hand wringing. Until you stop and think about it, you are probably unaware that you are even doing it.

Let’s imagine together a cluster of body language signals that indicate a man is probably anxious. He is wringing his hands. His head is lowered toward hunched shoulders revealing less exposed neck. His jaw is set and lips are pursed. His head is slightly tilted. He has an upward glance and a slightly raised eyebrow. With that cluster of gestures, we can be quite certain the man is anxious about something.

Hand wringing can also result from the hands being cold. The physical friction of one hand sliding over the other creates some heat, and the hands feel warmer. Often rather than wringing the hands in a closed pattern, when people are cold, they tend to slide the palms and fingers over each other with fingers pointing straight up.

Coincidentally, anxiety can also cause the hands to become cold, because the body instinctively sends more blood to the vital organs in times of crisis or fear. The body is preparing for fight or flight. This is the reason your hands often feel cold when you have a job interview, a performance appraisal, or have to speak in public.

In order for any hand gestures to be effective, the hands must be visible. This is because when hands are hidden you cannot gesture at all to add credibility and congruence to what you are saying. This is the reason that hiding your hands when talking with someone generally results in somewhat lower trust.

We shall revisit hand gestures later in this series because there is a wealth of meaning to be understood. Hand gestures are particularly important when we first meet a person because there is a lot of evaluation going on at that time. We can actually plant a seed of trust (or not) within just a few seconds, as I will explain in a future article.

In the meantime, take note of the hand gestures you see. Note that usually wringing of the hands goes along with some form of anxiety. Also note that some people use hand movements to emphasize almost every word they utter while other people are much more restrictive with their hand gestures. Take note of how you use your own hands when talking to other people. You do it all the time, but are rarely conscious of these actions.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on https://www.leadergrow.com/articles/categories/35-body-language or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Body Language 12 Pulling on the Ear

January 26, 2019

Pulling on the ear lobe is a gesture that you have seen from time to time, but if you are like me, you may have been unaware that it often has a specific meaning. Actually, there are many different interpretations of this gesture, as I will outline in this article. Be careful to get additional information before trying to ascribe meaning to a person who is pulling on his or her ear lobe when listening to you.

The first interpretation is that when a person is listening to you and is absent-mindedly pulling on his or her ear lobe, it is a signal that the person is interested in what you are saying and that you have the floor. As with most BL gestures, there is some element of physiological basis for the movement.

In this case, the best way to understand the underlying meaning is to exaggerate the gesture to make it more pronounced. If you were talking to me and I cupped my hand up to my ear in order to amplify the intake of sound waves, it would be a more overt form of pulling on the ear lobe. I am interested in hearing every part of what you are trying to convey. I do not want to miss any part of what you are saying.

When you see the gesture of someone pulling on his or her ear, continue to talk and know your input is of high interest.

Another interpretation is almost the exact opposite of the first one. In this case, pulling on the ear lobe is thought to be a way to block the information from coming in. The interpretation is that the person wants to “hear no evil.” The extreme form of this gesture is when children try to cover their ears when they do not want to hear what is being said.

If the interpretation is negative, it could be in reaction to increased stress because the person believes you are exaggerating or lying. The increased stress causes additional blood flow to the ear which may trigger pulling on the ear lobe.

Another interpretation of tugging on the ear lobe is that it could be just a physical itch from eczema behind the ear lobe or some other physical reason, such as a woman with an uncomfortable earring.

The easy way to detect if the gesture is one of interest or covering up a lie is to notice if the ear itself has turned red. A flushed ear or neck is a telltale sign of stress, so check out the source of that stress before trying to interpret the meaning of the gesture. If increased stress is the case, trust is likely being compromised by continuing the conversation.

Be very careful when you are addressing a person and he or she is pulling on his earlobe. It could be a negative sign to interpret as blocking information or a positive sign to interpret as high interest. You need to judge which meaning is likely valid by observing the facial expression and including the context of what is going on when the gesture is made.

For example, if the forehead is wrinkled or the eyebrows furrowed, then you can assume the gesture is a negative one. If the forehead is high and the mouth has a slight smile, you can assume the person is interested in what you are saying. Keep in mind that clusters of body language increase the accuracy of proper interpretation, so look for multiple signs.

Look out for habitual gestures where a person does something all the time. I knew a man who would frequently stick the eraser end of a pencil in his ear and move it around like he was cleaning his ear, except he always did it only to the right ear. There was no particular significance to this habit, it was just sort of a nervous tick he had.

There is another BL gesture that is common, and this one usually signifies high interest on the part of the listener. It is putting something in his or her mouth as you are speaking.

It may be a paper clip, or the back end of a pen, or even the person’s pinkie or thumb. The gesture is a desire for more information and is thought to be the equivalent to saying “feed me.” I want to hear more of what you are saying.

Normally, gestures that include hands to the facial region can have more than one meaning, and it is important to sort out the one indicated by what you are seeing. In most cases hands to the face indicate high interest, but you need to observe closely the concurrent other signals before interpreting these gestures.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on https://www.leadergrow.com/articles/categories/35-body-language or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Three Tricky Questions About Trust

January 4, 2019

I am intentionally breaking into my series on Body Language to write about my core material on trust because a new Podcast Interview has just been released that contains some vital information about trust. The interview is with Andrew Brady, CEO of the XLR8 Team and author of an upcoming book, “For the ƎVO⅃ution of Business.”

In my leadership classes, I often like to pose 3 challenging questions about the nature of trust.

As people grapple with the questions, it helps them sort out for themselves a deeper meaning of the words and how they might be applied in their own world. The three questions are:

 

• What is the relationship between trust and vulnerability?
• Can you trust someone you fear?
• Can you respect someone you do not trust, and can you trust someone you do not respect?

I have spent a lot of time bouncing these questions around in my head. I am not convinced that I have found the correct answers (or even that correct answers exist). I have had to clarify in my own mind the exact meanings of the words trust, vulnerability, fear, and respect.

Before you read this article further, stop here and ponder the three questions for yourself. See if you can come to some answers that might be operational for you.

Thinking about these concepts, makes them become more powerful for us. I urge you to pose the three questions (without giving your own answers) to people in your work group. Then have a quality discussion about the possible answers. You will find it is a refreshing and deep conversation to have.
Here are my answers (subject to change in the future as I grow in understanding):

1. What is the relationship between trust and vulnerability?

Trust implies vulnerability. When you trust another person, there is always a chance that the person will disappoint you. Ironically, it is the extension of your trust that drives a reciprocal enhancement of the other person’s trust in you. If you are a leader and you want people in your organization to trust you more, one way to achieve that is to show more trust in them.

That is a very challenging concept for many managers and leaders. They sincerely want to gain more trust, but find it hard to extend higher trust to others. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “It is better to trust and be disappointed every once in a while than to not trust and be miserable all the time.”

2. Can you trust someone you fear?

Fear and trust are nearly opposites. I believe trust cannot kindle in an organization when there is fear, so one way to gain more trust is to create an environment with less fear. In the vast majority of cases, trust and lack of fear go together.

The question I posed is whether trust and fear can ever exist at the same time. I think it is possible to trust someone you fear. That thought is derived from how I define trust.

My favorite definition is that if I trust you, I believe you will always do what you believe is in my best interest – even if I don’t appreciate it at the time. Based on that logic, I can trust someone even if I am afraid of what she might do as long as I believe she is acting in my best interest.

For example, I may be afraid of my boss because I believe she is going to give me a demotion and suggest I get some training on how to get along with people better. I am afraid of her because of the action she will take, while on some level I am trusting her to do what she believes is right for me.

Let’s look at another example. Suppose your supervisor is a bully who yells at people when they do not do things to his standards. You do not appreciate the abuse and are fearful every time you interact with him. You do trust him because he has kept the company afloat during some difficult times and has never missed a payroll, but you do not like his tactics.

3. Can you respect someone you do not trust & can you trust someone you do not respect?

This one gets pretty complicated. In most situations trust and respect go hand in hand. That is easy to explain and understand. But is it possible to conjure up a situation where you can respect someone you do not yet trust? Sure, we do this all the time.

We respect people for the things they have achieved or the position they have reached. We respect many people we have not even met. For example, I respect Nelson Mandela, but I have no basis yet to trust him, even though I have a predisposition to trust him based on his reputation.

Another example is a new boss. I respect her for the position and the ability to hold a job that has the power to offer me employment. I probably do not trust her immediately. I will wait to see if my respect forms the foundation on which trust grows based on her actions over time.

If someone has let me down in the past, and I have lost respect for that person, then there is no basis for trust at all. This goes to the second part of the question: Can you trust someone you do not respect?

I find it difficult to think of a single example where I can trust someone that I do not respect. That is because respect is the basis on which trust is built. If I do not respect an individual, I believe it is impossible for me to trust her. Therefore, respect becomes an enabler of trust, and trust is the higher order phenomenon. You first have to respect a person, then go to work on building trust.

People use the words trust, fear, respect, and vulnerability freely every day. It is rare that they stop and think about the relationships between the concepts. Thinking about and discussing these ideas ensures that communication has a common ground for understanding, so take some time in your work group to wrestle with these questions.

I welcome dissenting opinions on my thoughts here because I am eager to learn other ways of thinking about trust.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com 585-392-7763. Website http://www.leadergrow.com BLOG http://www.thetrustambassador.com He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.