Can I Trust You?

By Judith E. Glaser |
Published: June 26, 2013

Play as WE or stab me in the back?

As long as we feel we are gaining, not losing, we play as WE. However, our fear is that someone else will get more. And the fear is always this: I’ll trust you and then what? You’ll stab me in the back.

Even though most of us value being considered a partner, the ability to work together interdependently is one of our least-developed skills. This skill is so vital that, in its absence, good leaders turn bad, good executives become ineffective, and good colleagues turn into adversaries. The skill of opening up to others — and of creating the emotional space for others to open up to us — requires deep trust. Trust is the most precious of the golden threads. Without it, there can be no WE.

When we open up WE to include partners outside of our conventional thinking, we encompass stakeholders and allies beyond the traditional boundaries of the enterprise — including vendors, customers, and donors. We expand the way we work and how we generate value. After all these years, we are starting to see how shifting boundaries — throwing the net wider — is a way to achieve alliances in a new way. With the golden thread of trust, we can weave our lives together like a beautiful tapestry.

WE-centric relationships are built on trust. I trust you will not harm me, and you trust I will not harm you. When we have that level of trust, we do not feel the need to duck into protective behaviors. We automatically assume a mutual support, and we move forward from there.
When we experience doubt about the good intentions of others, for whatever reason, we need to recognize the importance of having the kind of conversations that bring us back to trust. Creating the space for open dialogues enables us to reclaim trust with others.

5 Vital Questions
There are 5 vital questions that, if not addressed on an explicit level, will be working “behind the scenes” and eroding trust at every corner.

• How do I protect myself?
• Who loves me, who hates me?
• Where do I belong, where do I fit in?
• What do I need to learn to be successful?
• How do I create value with others?

As we interact with others, we are asking and answering these 5 Vital Questions with every interaction. Our human communication system with others is designed to send energy out and get an answer back. As we send out these questions in the form of direct questions or indirect messages to others, we calculate our “coordinates with others” and navigate either with them or against them. When we are seeking to understand where we stand with others, we are listening, I-centrically. Once we get these questions answered we energetically shift into a “WE-centric” relationship and trust emerges.

Co-creating a Book is Like Giving Birth!

The 5 Vital Questions are key to the health of a relationship, team and organization. These fundamental questions are what propelled a team of us — 18 coaches, consultants, and practitioners at the Creating WE Institute — to do an experiment in co-creation and trust building. We decided to work on writing a book together!

When we started our co-creating conversations, we didn’t know what the other was thinking about — we trusted we would find a way to build a conversational space for our best ideas to emerge — and we did.

We didn’t know what we would do if we had either conflicting ideas that would clash, or too many ideas. However, we trusted we would find a way to work through it, and we did.
We didn’t know if our ideas were strong enough or big enough, yet as we listened to each other’s ideas, and became inspired by what others had to say–we did.

Judith E. Glaser, CEO Benchmark Communications, Inc. & Chairman of the Creating WE Institute; Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results by Judith E. Glaser (BiblioMotion – Forthcoming October 2013;  Pre-order now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble)

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Build Trust


By Judith E. Glaser |
Published: June 22, 2013


Getting in front of the truth curve.

Fear somehow touches almost every aspect of our lives. It is woven invisibly into the fabric of our existence and often sets into motion a chain of reactions and circumstances that affect the way we think and our behavior, for better or worse, with others.

As leaders we need to ensure that fear does not consume our firms and degrade the performance of our partners. Especially in small firms — where every interaction and ripple effect on the ‘productivity of a culture’ — being able to set the stage for trusting relationships enables you to get in front of the fear-curve and shape your culture for higher levels of success.

WHY is this important?

Neuroscientists are revealing — through the use of fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) that when we are afraid, our brain goes into a state of distrust; we close down and move into protect behavior. We are not open to sharing and we are not open to learning. Instead, we become attached to our own beliefs and ideas and are not open to have healthy conversations about what’s really on our minds.

Firms grow when people are open to ‘share and discover’ from each other. Learning what is working and what is not, is the lifeblood of all organizations, especially small firms, where having open, healthy, candid and caring relationships is the essence for sustaining not only strong internal relationships but also strong relationship with clients.

HOW to Reduce Fear and Build Trust at Work?

The key to reducing fear at work is to eliminate mixed messages — the catalytic driver of fear –through direct and clear communication. WE-centric leaders lift people out of fear, frustration, and anger, the emotions that cause people to disengage from each other.

When people are uncertain of how they are feeling, when they feel disconnected they become reactive, project their anxiety onto others, create more fear, blame others for what is missing in their lives, reject first to avoid being rejected, and disengage. Conversationally Intelligence leaders create a culture that enables colleagues to feel connected, involved in living common values and vision, and trusted. When colleagues feel trusted, they work in concert, they learn from each other, develop higher-level skills and wisdom, meet performance goals, and turn breakdowns into breakthroughs.

Manage Three Vital Dynamics:

What can YOU DO to Build Trust…

  • First, put your ego behind you — what matters is what “we can do together” not what “I” can do.
  • Second, learn to manage your own reactions — bullying, intimidating, and micromanaging don’t get results or inspire others to higher performance.
  • Third, and most importantly, let go of the past; focus on the challenges facing you and build healthy, mutually beneficial, trusting relationships.

Mastering these three dynamics will change everything. Your ability to set the stage for a trusting environment will dramatically increase, and your ability to lead will increase exponentially. Plus you will enhance your ability to create inspiring, healthy trusting environments where people work together for mutual gain, growth, and understanding.

What Can You Do With OTHERS?

Our level of trust can be changed, by practicing Conversational Intelligence. CI has three levels of conversational dynamics that you can master. You can elevate trust with others in your firms by changing the quality of your conversations. When you do, you reduce the ‘mixed messages’ and elevate clarity about relationships and the result will be profound. Your goal is to practice moving into Level III with others…

Conversational Intelligence & the Neuroscience of Trust

Level I: Transactional Conversations
Conversations that are mostly “telling people what to do” trigger fear and resistance. You may think you are communicating but you are not. You are trigger the lower brain and people are feeling you have an agenda, not their best interest at heart.

Level II: Positional
Conversations that are mostly “advocating your point of view” with low levels of listening, are also prone to create distrust. If you are selling your ideas and advocating your position, you also are sending non-verbal signals that your goal is to ‘win at all cost.’ Also signaling the brain to ‘distrust your motives.’

Level III: Transformational
Conversations that are mostly “sharing and discovering” where you are really interested in others thoughts and ideas, and are open to influence, are the highest levels of conversational dynamics. Listening is high, and you are communicating with both caring and candor, which sends signals of trust to those with whom you are communicating.

Here are some Conversational Intelligence Neuro-tips to remember:

Conversational Intelligence Neuro-tip #1: Trust and Distrust
Distrust activates the fear-networks in the brain – spewing a hormone call cortisol, which closes down conversations. Trust activates the trust-networks and also activates oxytocin, which facilitates conversations.

Conversational Intelligence Neuro-tip #2: Conversational Triggers
Conversations trigger physical and emotional changes in our brains and bodies through altering the amounts of two of the most powerful hormones that affect social interaction: oxytocin, which enables bonding and collaboration, and testosterone, which enables our aggressive behaviors.

As you weave, practice moving into Level III with others, you will find the quality of your conversations going, up, the wisdom that emerges from your conversations elevating and the feeling of ‘we’re all in this together’ rippling into everything you do – especially how you work with your clients.

To get to the next level of greatness depends on the quality of the culture, which depends o the quality of relationships, which depends on the quality of conversations. Everything happens through conversations!

Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results by Judith E. Glaser (BiblioMotion – Forthcoming October 2013; Pre-order now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble)

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How is your conversational intelligence?

Could your conversation skills use some improvement? Judith Glaser joins Jim Blasingame to reveal the three levels of conversational intelligence, plus the role that trust plays in connecting with the other person in the conversation. [Listen]

Power and Influence


By Judith E. Glaser |
Published: June 9, 2013


Decipher the language of leadership!

Power in the workplace has traditionally been defined as force, dominance, assertiveness, strength, invincibility, and authority. As we observe others rise to higher levels of leadership, we ask ourselves “How do they do it?” Our observations can easily lead us to conclude that the most powerful (most dominant) make it to the top and that the rule of thumb is that to rise to a leadership position, we must bring into play our behaviors of force, dominance, aggression, and strength.

However, power and leadership are being redefined. No longer are we comfortable equating leadership with force, and power with dominance. In forward-thinking corporations, power is shifting from I-centric to We-centric, and this shift requires a commitment and a plan of action.
Throughout history, leadership has been critical to performance, to success, and to the greater good. The “leader” is often perceived as a solitary, charismatic figure, similar to a movie star. People behind the scenes are often not acknowledged, despite the fact that they all play critical roles!

Who of us wants to be the actor on stage and who wants to be behind the scenes?

Who of us sees ourselves leading initiatives to successful conclusions? We each must choose our roles.

The distinction between the leader and others is not a gender distinction. Women can rise to leadership positions, as long as they understand how.

In the movie 9 to 5, administrative assistants are initially intimidated by their boss’s arrogance and allow him to take credit for work they accomplished. The women finally band together to create a force he is unable to reckon with. They take over their workplace and create an environment in which they and others thrive.

In Working Girl, Melanie Griffith plays an administrative assistant to a female boss, who steals her ideas and presents them to impress a business partner. When her boss falls on a ski slope, Melanie moves into position to represent her idea in her most charming, tactful way, and to show her boss’s true deceptive colors in a public forum.

All of us, both men and women, face similar challenges every day: How to bring our leadership ideas, voice and talents into the world without stepping all over others? How to exercise our talents in a world with other talented executives through fair and honest interactions and dynamics, without one-upping, stepping all over each others’ toes, deceptively undermining, intimidating, taking credit for others’ success, or self-promoting?

In the climb up the ladder of leadership, we need to find ways to move up to the next level. How we influence others along the way will determine how we climb. How do we use our power and influence in ways that create support around us?

Learn how to positively influence.

The meaning of influence ranges from the dominant and authoritative, to the more important and significant. At one end, it is being influential because of “fear.” At the other end, it is being influential out of recognized importance, significance, and contribution to the greater good. To be recognized as important — to have others see our talents and reward us — is the challenge that we all face in the rise to the top.

How can women get recognized?

Why do women have more difficulty making it to the top? Women have as much ambition as men. On the rise to the top, however, women tend to experience more obstacles along the way, and over time their ambition is diluted, obfuscated, and mitigated. We give up and give in — since fighting for what we want gets exhausting. When the obstacles feel like they are too big to overcome, we look for other avenues to fulfill our dreams. We leave and tell ourselves it’s just not worth it.

Men get rewarded and chosen more often because men have a more dominant voice. Women start careers with the same level of ambition, yet encounter forces that challenge their strength and tenacity to make it to the top. One challenge comes from the hardwiring differences of men and women — how each responds when something they desire is taken away.

Men and women respond differently when they face the loss of a desired object — a job, a car, a paycheck, a promotion, or a project. When something men desire is taken away, they tend to become more aggressive and go after what they want. Males are more dominant and will go into fight behaviors more easily and quickly than females.

Females tend to appear more submissive in the face of loss. They may respond by crying or asking a friend for comfort because the female instinct is to bond — not fight. Rather than turning to their aggressive responses, women are more inclined, when a desired object is removed, to want others to comfort them. The pejorative labels of submissive, acquiescing, unassertive, deferential, and meek are often given to women.

These are both truths and stereotypes, yet we are influenced by these beliefs. The challenge of women rising to positions of importance remains our power-puzzle to be worked out.

Here are some guidelines: Create a feedback-rich culture to establish healthy relationships. Make beliefs transparent. Create communication signals to move forward together in a healthy way.

Shift from an I-centric to We-centric behavior and mindset. Emotional IQ: Self-awareness and self-management. Collaborative IQ: Ability to build mutually beneficial relationships with others. Innovative IQ: Making the future health and success of the enterprise the center of attention.

Avoid potential de-railers: Failure to manage your bio-reactive behaviors; failure to build mutual relationships with others; and making you the center of attention.

Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results by Judith E. Glaser (BiblioMotion – Forthcoming October 2013; Pre-order now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble)

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How to Dispel Distrust at Work


By Judith E. Glaser | and
Published: April 24, 2013


In 2009, security staff at a Texas bank smelled something funny in the air and asked customers to evacuate because they suspected a carbon monoxide leak. Thirty-four people were rushed to the hospital complaining of chest pains and headaches. Of course carbon monoxide is odorless; the cause of this sudden hysteria turned out to be a strong whiff of a lady’s perfume. But by announcing that there might be something harmful in the air, the context was
 created for people to think the worst — and they did.

In fact, it’s very easy to create a climate of distrust. According to Mitzi László, the neuroscientist who told me the story above, it takes .07 seconds for our primitive brains to move to “threat-based interpretations” of any uncertainty or danger we perceive, even if it’s just an unfamiliar smell. Of course, people don’t typically rely on their olfactory senses to sniff out friends and foes. Dogs, whose noses are much more sensitive to odors than ours, might be able to instantly smell if another animal is to be trusted or not. But we humans use body language, facial expressions and language to do the same. It’s a much more complex neurological process. Still, it can be short-circuited when we’re primed for distrust — for example, when we’re introduced to a new colleague, when leaders are sending mixed messages, when we sense a power struggle, or when we don’t feel heard.

So how can we prime our brains for trust instead?

Shift from threat to transparency, uncertainty to understanding.
In the absence of information, the brain works overtime. Uncertainty activates the amygdala and spurs the production of cortisol, the neurotransmitter of fear, which prompts those negative interpretations of reality. After all, we’re programmed to anticipate harm and protect ourselves from it. Think about a time when your boss and a colleague starting meeting regularly and you didn’t know why.You probably started wondering if you’d been left out of an important project, or if they knew something you didn’t. Leaders can shift people’s thoughts away from threats by fostering an open, transparent environment in which everyone shares and discusses as much as they can about what’s really going on. This sends a strong signal to everyone’s lower brain that “trust is in the air”. One conversational ritual you might try is hosting regular sessions with your team members to talk about pressing issues, challenges, concerns. You might even give it a name like “What’s Up?”. When Gary Rodgers was CEO of Dryer’s and Edy’s Grand Ice Cream, he ran these sorts of meetings and always started by taking off his coat and undoing his tie to signal he was about to open up and be candid. At pharmaceutical company Pfizer, they have a “Straight Talk” program. People actually have coins they can put on the table to signal that they want everyone to speak frankly and there will be no retribution. Another example comes from AVON. When executives at the cosmetics company realized they didn’t really understand the business challenges of their seven million sales representatives very well, they created a ritual called “A Day in the Life of…”, during which management had to spend a few days speaking with and working alongside people in the field. The experiences were eye-openers. As a result, the company completely changed its marketing materials and beefed up its sales rep support systems, significantly boosting sales over the next six months.

Shift from resistance to relationship, self-interest to shared success.
Our brains respond well to reciprocity, or “I scratch your back and you scratch mine”. When you encourage employees to support and do generous things for each other, it creates a virtuous circle of sharing, activating the prefrontal cortex, triggering the mirror neurons that give us more empathy for others, and stimulating neurotransmitters, such as oxytocin, which promote even more collaborative, trusting behaviors. Although we’re hard-wired for self-protection, we’re also inherently social, and leaders can make sure that the latter instinct trumps the former by painting a picture of what success will look like if everyone works together. A few years ago, a prestigious art museum hired me as a consultant to help with some internal conflicts. The curators were supposed to put together a special exhibit showcasing the best of the period on which they each focused. Yet they feared that their own sections of the museum would suffer if they gave up their top pieces, and this anxiety prevented them from even talking about how to build the show. We tried another conversational ritual: pairing people into “pods” and asking them to draw out one another’s strengths. As the partners’ explored their respective collections and identified the highlights, walls quickly began to come down. The exhibit based on these exercises became the biggest draw in the museum’s history, and management decided to set up curator co-creation events four times a year to look for more museum-wide, thematic projects that would energize and enlighten the staff.

Remember that change, confusion, uncertainty, and lack of clarity can prime people for distrust. If employees smell smoke, you can bet they’ll assume there’s a fire. But you can prevent this negative spiral by adopting the best practices for trust-building above. Warning your employees to avoid heavy cologne or perfume probably wouldn’t hurt either.

Read more blog posts on Harvard Business Review by Judith E. Glaser