Jim Blasingame Radio Interview

Two weeks ago, I published this blog post highlighting four steps one can use to restore broken trust in any relationship. A week later,  Jim Blasingame of The Small Business Advocate invited me on his radio show to discuss broken trust. In the two segments embedded at the bottom of this post you can listen to the show. The first segment includes three steps that can restore trust, and the second reveals what would cause someone to break their trust with you and help you establish an environment where they feel safe to tell the truth. Enjoy! 

Rebuild Broken Trust

The fundamental building block of any relationship — business or personal — is trust. What do you do if someone has broken your trust or you have broken theirs? You can make a significant difference with some simple steps.

If someone has broken your trust, there is usually a fear that the trust will be broken again. Unfortunately, that is often the case unless these four key steps are taken.

1. Make sure they feel safe to tell you the truth.

Consider how you might have conditioned someone to break your trust. Did you punish someone for telling the truth in the past by becoming defensive or upset? Did you penalize them in some way? Many people would prefer to lie than to deal with that kind of reaction again. If you have conditioned someone to not tell you the truth, it is possible to recondition them. The best initial step is to apologize for your behavior and for creating an environment where they don’t feel safe to tell you the truth. Apologies go a long way to re-building trust. Then ask, “What can I do in the future to make you feel safe, so I can be assured that you will tell me the truth?” Based on their response, decide on an agreeable plan with specific actions you will perform to establish an environment in which they will feel safe to tell you the truth.

2. Ask the person, “What is going to be different from this point forward so that I know I will be able to trust you?”

If they answer the question by using vague language about unspecific actions, chances are good the trust is going to be broken and the undesired behavior will occur again. Lines such as, “Well, I have learned my lesson” or “I am going to try harder” or “I am going to be more disciplined” or “I won’t do that again” mean it is probably going to happen again. People often have good intentions, but after time has passed and emotions have died down, we tend to revert to our old ways. The past predicts the future, unless we take action to do something specifically different. If you are a manager, it is perfectly appropriate and actually responsible
to ask specifically what is going to be different — how they will achieve their goals. If they can’t come up with any specifics, you can bank on nothing changing.

3. Create a consequence ahead of time for what will happen if trust is broken again and things don’t change.

Let’s consider the previous example. When someone is not achieving their goals, you can say, “In the spirit of honesty, I just want you to know that I am going to start documenting any future failures. I have to hold you accountable, just like I do everyone else, to achieving the established goals.” This may sound harsh, but by taking this step, the person knows you mean business. If things don’t change, it sets in motion (without any surprises) what you are going to do next. Make sure you are ready to implement the consequence. Otherwise, you will be conditioning that person that you don’t mean what you say and that the old behavior is okay.

On the personal front, a friend of mine kept making promises that he was going to make a decision about moving in with his girlfriend. After a while, people around him lost trust that he would ever follow through and make a decision. After making another proclamation, someone suggested that if he did not follow through with his latest deadline, he should dress up like a woman and walk around a department store. When he balked, some people challenged him. They said if he really was going to follow through, he would agree to the consequence. The reason for his resistance was that he knew he probably wouldn’t follow through. After consideration, he realized they were right and things weren’t going to change. He agreed to the consequence, fulfilled the commitment, and they are now happily married.

Sometimes a challenge allows us to see the real issues more clearly. One quick and easy way to gauge how committed someone is to change is to use the $100 test. The $100 test is where you ask the person, “If you do not do what you said, will you be willing to give me $100?” The answer often reveals whether they are serious about changing. You may even want to ask for $1000 and watch their response.

Another way to implement a consequence is to ask the person what they think should be done if they don’t fulfill their promise. I like this strategy, because it gets the other person involved in making sure things change. It also reveals how serious a person really is about changing. You could say, “In the spirit of honesty, I need to know that I can trust that this is really going to change. If you are committed to changing, what will you be willing to do as a consequence if things don’t change?” Then allow the person some time to think and respond. If the person gives an easy consequence, you can push and challenge them about it, but you should understand that they are probably not committed to change. If someone really is going to change, they will have no problem making a major commitment with a severe consequence. Why? Because they know the consequence is not going to happen, because they know they are going to keep their promise.

4. Acknowledge the person if and when things do change.

Appreciation lets the other person know that you are aware of their efforts. It also goes a long way to encouraging someone to build their momentum and continue to change.


If you have broken someone’s trust, flip the advice around. First, sincerely and immediately apologize. Then tell them specifically what you are going to do differently. To give them confidence that you are really going to change, establish a severe consequence that you will self-impose if things do not change.

One piece of advice — if you do change and the person keeps bringing up the past, it is fair to ask of them, “What needs to happen so that you stop bringing up the past?” Often people are unaware of how frequently they bring up the past, and until you point it out, they do not recognize that things really have changed. Make sure you have really changed before you do this. 

Trust is the foundation of any great relationship, at work and at home. Without trust, a relationship is like a car on blocks. It isn’t going anywhere… and after a while, it will rust and deteriorate. You can make a difference by taking a few simple steps to put your relationship back on track. You hold the keys.

Getting to the Honest Truth

LEARN HOW TO GET THE UNSAID SAID, The Most Important Communication Strategy To Boost Teamwork, Increase Trust, Build Remarkable Relationships, And Get Things Done!

September 26, 2013-Washington DC Metropolitan Area

This highly engaging and interactive seminar is delivered by Steven Gaffney, and based on his popular selling books, Just Be Honest and Honesty Works. Honesty is still not only the best policy, but it is the easiest and most effective way to communicate when it comes to resolving conflicts and producing results. A key problem within organizations and between individuals is not what people ARE saying, but it’s what they are NOT saying to each other. How much of your organization’s productivity, efficiency, and collaboration is affected due to unspoken communication? How much time and money is costing your organization due to not having honest and open dialogues?

In this session with Steven Gaffney, participants will be challenged to open up and engage in open discussions and exercises as well as applying the Gaffney Guiding Principles for honest communication to help improve relationships, build trust, and make work and life easier.

Possible outcomes and key deliverables for participants are:

  • How to get others to tell the truth
  • How to have an honest breakthrough conversation with anyone
  • How to eliminate fear so that people are honest and open with you
  • How to open lines of communication and convey crystal clear messages
  • How to create an environment where honest communication is a non-negotiable
  • How to prevent misunderstandings by using Notice vs. Imagine technique
  • How to share ideas, information, opportunities, and solutions without hesitation
  • How to receive and give feedback
  • How to reduce defensiveness
  • How to correctly evaluate familiar and unfamiliar situations
  • How to handle others whose negativity undermines initiatives
  • How to manage expectations
  • How to increase accountability and get things done efficiently
  • How to prevent repetitive and unproductive conversations that waste time and money
  • How to build trust with anyone
  • How to recognize and resolve small issues before they become gigantic problems
  • How to avoid being blindsided by eliciting open communication
  • How to prevent close-minded thinking


Thursday, September 26, 2013
8:30 AM – 4:30 PM
Best Western
8401 Westpark Drive
McLean VA 22102
$995 per person


Click here to sign up!

“In Honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.” – What if Martin Luther King, Jr. had compared himself to others?

Imagine a world in which Martin Luther King, Jr., had been nothing more than a preacher with a sizable congregation, Bill Gates was nothing more than an effective manager at an IT firm, and Oprah Winfrey just a newscaster at a Baltimore television station. Suppose Warren Buffet was nothing more than a man who managed his money well in order to provide a nice life for his family. We probably wouldn’t know their names, yet by most standards they would still be deemed successful.

Yet I believe that true success is the degree to which we reach our full potential. By that standard, Martin Luther King, Jr., Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, and Warren Buffet could not be called successful if they did not achieve what we all now know they were capable of. If they had been satisfied with comparing themselves favorably with others, they may have not been inspired to achieve what they achieved. Where would our society be without the contributions they have made? What would the landscape of twenty-first-century America look like without them?

Fortunately, they did not suffer what many people suffer from–Comparison Success Obstruction ™ (CSO). People with this affliction compare themselves with others to gauge their own success. Those comparisons can sadly set us up for mediocrity. If Warren Buffet suffered from CSO, he could have taken a look at his neighbor and been satisfied with the idea of building a bigger house, purchasing a nicer car, and sending his children to better schools. Oprah Winfrey could have landed her job as a Baltimore newscaster, compared herself to friends and colleagues, and decided she was doing quite well just where she was.

Many organizations suffer from CSO. They even go so far as to benchmark their achievements against other organizations. Perhaps yours does this too. While benchmarking can produce some good results, it can also chain your organization to the common results of others—restraining you from catapulting beyond the competition and producing breakthrough results.

Comparing ourselves to the competition begs the question — so what? So what if you can move widgets faster than Widget Movers Express? So what if you are the leader in a certain technology? So what if you are the highest in retention? Are those reasons to be content? So what?

Maybe your organization has untold “Martin Luther King, Jr.,” potential. Maybe there is a life-changing discovery or invention lurking within your organization — within the minds of your employees. Maybe it is within you! But this is unlikely to happen as long as you or others around you suffer from CSO.

I once heard an interview with John Wooden, the famous UCLA basketball coach who won seven straight NCAA titles and nine titles in eleven years. The interviewer asked Wooden for his keys to success, and Wooden said that after each game – regardless of the score — he asked his players, did you play your best? Think about this. In professional sports, team dynasties result from an effective coach and a few outstanding players who are with the team year after year. But the make-up of teams in college basketball is constantly changing as new students join the team and others move on to graduate. But the changing roster didn’t hinder Coach Wooden. He built a dynasty in part by asking the ever-changing faces on his team, did you play your best?

Imagine if we were asked that on a daily basis. What would your answer be? Is it time to step it up, push ourselves, regardless of what others say? I think so. Not because we have to, not because there is something wrong, but because we can. After all, isn’t that what true success is all about?

That is why I believe we need to drop the judgments and comparisons with others. We need to stop looking behind us to see who is chasing us. Instead we need to run fast regardless of the others in the race and push ourselves to see what is possible. This is what striving for true success is all about.

Are you playing your best, or are you settling for what you think you can get rather than going for what you truly want? What are you willing to do about it? After all, the only person you can control is yourself. You cannot necessarily control what others do, but you are fully responsible for the way you respond and the actions you take to achieve the results you really want. Attaining perfection may be hard, but making progress is easy.

WARNING: If you choose to stop suffering from CSO and strive for what you can become, brace yourself and make sure you enjoy the ride, because there is an ironic twist that will come your way. The twist is that successful people often don’t think of themselves as particularly successful. If fact, the more successful they are, the more they recognize the gap between where they are and what they can become.

A while back, I saw a documentary about the incredible life and achievements of Martin Luther King, Jr. One of the many things that shocked me was that he was plagued by the thought that he had not yet done enough. Imagine that. As successful and accomplished as he was, he was not satisfied—not even close.

Martin Luther King, Jr., was chasing down a dream. He knew that there was always more to do. There was always more that he could expect of himself. He had a vision for the future, and that vision was not limited by comparisons or others’ expectations. True success is not about how we compare with others, but how we compare with what we truly can become.

Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, and Warren Buffet aren’t playing small either. They each have their own vision for the future, a vision that I would argue continues to expand as they achieve more and more. Who can they become? How about you? What dreams can you accomplish?

While others are fixated on comparing themselves with others or preoccupied with looking over their shoulders to make sure no one will overtake them, keep challenging yourself and those around you with what you can become.

Maybe there is “Martin Luther King, Jr.,-Bill Gates-Warren Buffet-Oprah Winfrey” potential in you and the people around you just waiting to be awakened and inspired. Think of the difference that that could make. It can begin now. It’s up to you.


Here is a 6-Step Formula to Start You on Your Journey:

1. Recognize you may be suffering from CSO, and do something about it. Throw away the comparisons. They limit your potential.

2. Create a vision for the future that is not a reaction to the past or a comparison with others in the present. Spend some time reflecting on what you believe you can become. Dream. Brainstorm. Use what if? What if we had nothing stopping us? What if we could really accomplish our ideal product or service? What if we had the perfect economy?

3. Avoid dream crushers, vision smashers, and naysayers. Don’t be hampered by low expectations – your own or anyone else’s. Instead, search for people who dream big and believe in themselves and in you.

4. Execute the next step. No matter how big the vision, no matter how daunting the task, ask yourself, “What is the next step?” Then do it.

5. At the end of each day, reflect and ask yourself, “Did I play my best? What can I do better tomorrow?” This attitude is the key to long-term success.

6. Build your support network. Share this article with others. Pass it to others who have remarkable potential. The fewer people who suffer from CSO, the easier it is for you and others to accomplish breakthrough results.


“Achieving Full Capacity” – Assests Required to Create an Honest Communication Success Culture

Organizations these days face limited resources and numerous external challenges, yet the demand to achieve full capacity remains constant. More than twenty years in business with employees tells me the key to achieving full capacity is to build and continuously nurture an Honest Communication Success Culture (HCSC) because such a culture makes all the difference to innovation, efficiency, and teamwork as well as the bottom line.

An Honest Communication Success Culture (HCSC) is the key differentiator between organizations that are successful and dominant in the market and those that are not. It is also the primary differentiator between organizations with employees who are fully engaged and those who are not. Considering that a recent Gallup poll revealed that 70 percent of employees are not engaged or inspired in the workplace, I would assert that it is time to consider the role of culture in facilitating engagement in order to win in the marketplace.

An Honest Communication Success Culture has two primary characteristics—proactive sharing and taking responsibility—as illustrated in the grid below. These concepts seem simple, but their application may be a bit more complex than meets the eye. Let’s take a quick look at what proactive sharing and taking responsibility really are.

Proactive Sharing

In an organization with a strong HCSC, people openly and honestly share their thoughts and opinions because they understand the biggest problem in an organization isn’t what people do say, it’s what they don’t say. Proactive sharing is sharing without being asked, and it involves three levels of communication that we call the three I’s:

Level 1: Information. This is the first and most basic level of sharing. Information is critical for people to make informed decisions, and one
of the biggest problems in the workplace is uninformed decisions. Although any sharing is helpful, simply sharing information—or doing a data dump—isn’t enough. Some employees do share information but never draw conclusions or alert others to problems that are brewing.

Level 2: Issues. You can also refer to issues as problems or challenges that must be shared to insure the health of the organization. Problems that are ignored or hidden grow and become more complicated and expensive to fix as time passes.

Level 3: Ideas. Ideas directly impact innovation. You can’t move forward on an idea you don’t know about, and you can’t develop a rough idea into a solution that will positively impact your bottom line if you’ve never heard about it.

In organizations with the strongest HCSC, people proactively share at all three levels: Information, Issues, and Ideas. All are necessary. It’s easy to see why organizations that promote proactive sharing—up, down, and across the organization—are more effective and efficient and able to dramatically increase revenue and profits.

Taking Responsibility

Sharing is destructive rather than constructive if people don’t take responsibility. When people share but play the blame game, others will get defensive, hunker down, and blame back. This behavior can actually stall organizational growth. If left unattended, destructive sharing becomes entrenched in the culture and can lead to a downward spiral for the organization. By encouraging everyone to take responsibility rather than to shift it, organizations find solutions rather than fault and create an environment that encourages people to take initiative, think out of the box, and excel with velocity.


Because organizations consist of people, and people make up culture, understanding whether your employees are enhancing your organization’s HCSC or undermining it is crucial. The grid below identifies the four key modalities that employees operate with (usually without even knowing it) and demonstrates each modality’s level of proactive sharing and taking responsibility. All employees fall into one of the four categories — Pointers, Apologists, Hiders, and Assets — and, as the grid reveals, each impacts your HCSC. These categories are not personality types; they are modes or perspectives that anyone can fall into.

The reason to identify these roles is not to place blame, but rather to create awareness and develop a plan to move people into the Asset category. Helping employees become fully engaged benefits your organization and everyone in it. As you look at these perspectives, remember
to assume your employees have good intentions. Many people want to do their best for you, but their past experiences can lead to wrong conclusions and actions in the present. Understanding these modalities will enable you to improve your culture, engage your employees, and get your organization to operate as close to full capacity as possible. Let’s take a look at each one.

Honesty Grid- final 8.26.13

To get the rest of this article on how to identify the four categories – Pointers, Apologists, Hiders, and Assets – and learn how to convert all of your employees into Assets, send an email request to breyana@stevengaffney.com or call 703-241-7796. Feel free to circulate as well!

Beware of the 5 Communication Myths!

When it comes to dealing with problems or issues with others, we are likely to believe one or more myths of communication–ideas that are touted as solutions, but can actually result in more problems.

Myth #1: Time heals all wounds.

The truth is, that time usually deepens wounds. If time really healed all wounds, people would not blame their behavior on their childhood and past events as they often do. In fact, time can deceive us into thinking that problems with others have been resolved, but all it takes is to see them again or something to remind us of those previous unresolved issues and we will become upset all over again. In essence, our unresolved past is lying around waiting to strike us in the present.

What to do? Do not rationalize by thinking, “Well, they are not saying or bringing it up, so I will just let it go.” Just because they are not bringing it up does not mean that they have let it go. They may feel awkward or embarrassed or they may not know how to bring it up so they have decided to bury it. The key is to proactively bring up issues and resolve them.

Myth #2: Don’t rock the boat.

The truth is, if you don’t rock the boat, the boat will probably sink. Faced with an issue or problem that is bothering us, many people rationalize, “I am not going to say anything. It is not that big of a deal. I don’t want to rock the boat.” The problem with this way of thinking is if we don’t say anything, the issue is unlikely to be resolved. Then what was once a small issue may fester and grow into a big problem.

What to do? As stated above, proactively bring up issues as they happen.

Myth #3: Be diplomatic.

The truth is, if we are too diplomatic, the point we are trying to make will not get across and nothing will get resolved. Have you ever had someone claim that they told you something, but you really don’t remember or didn’t understand the message they were trying to send? This happened because the message being conveyed to you was so subtle that you missed the point.

What to do? When we have to communicate an issue, bringing it up in a respectful way is important, but make sure the issue and what you want done is clear and direct.

Myth #4: Sandwich what you really want to say between two compliments.

The truth is, the “sandwich method” is so obvious that people immediately identify the strategy and feel manipulated. The sandwich method is when you place what you really want to say between two positive compliments. “I appreciate how hard you work, but blah, blah, blah… and thank you for working with me on this.” This communication trick can permanently damage relationships.

What to do? Tell people the truth. People are smart, but we are lousy actors, so be honest and clear. If you have issues, talk about them and get right to the point. When you have something nice to say, bring it up in a conversation unrelated to the problem so you can get the most benefit out of the conversation.

Myth #5: More communication leads to resolution.

The truth is, simply having more communication can lead to wasting time and possibly more misunderstandings. Sometimes it is believed that the more people talk about something, that easier the message will emerge from the sheer volume of information. But how often have you been in a meeting where people “talked about things” and nothing got resolved.

Consider this: if the solution were simply to increase communication, wouldn’t you expect that the increase in e-mail, cell phone use, and video conferencing would have significantly reduced communication problems? In spite of all of these extra tools now accessible to us, it seems that there are more misunderstandings, mistakes, and conflicts than ever before. And people still complain that they don’t receive the feedback they need to do their jobs properly.

In fact, communication technologies can also help people spread misinformation with blazing speed, sometimes leading to devastating results. Communication technology is not inherently bad. However, the way people use it is often ineffective. Increasing the amount of communication through multiple channels is not the answer.

What to do? Instead of just increasing the amount of communication, make sure that people know how to effectively use the different methods to communicate. These methods can make the critical difference in successfully resolving issues as they arise.

Take Action

Pass this tip on to people you care about; your co-workers, your boss, your employees, your family and friends. Use it as a basis to talk to the people around your office, in your organization, and your personal life. Have an upfront conversation about the “myths of communication” and assess what everyone is willing to do differently. This way everyone will benefit from the knowledge and wisdom we all have to contribute.

“The Perspective of a Lifetime” – Three Life Principles to Beware and One to Live By

ADVICE. It’s everywhere. Magazine covers. Morning news broadcasts. E-mail forwards. It seems everyone has some advice to give, and most of us must be looking for it, because self-help books continue to sell and those morning shows keep booking guests who offer life direction in perfect sound bites.

Recently I started thinking about some of the guiding life principles that I hear repeatedly – those easy-to-remember ideas that supposedly can help guide us through our daily lives and help us make decisions. I quickly realized that if we were to fully implement many of these life principles, we wouldn’t be too pleased with the results.

The trouble is that these ideas get repeated so often that we fail to think critically about them, and we miss opportunities to find a life principle that can help us safely navigate our daily lives. I want to alert you to three common life principles that could cause you harm and give you one life principle that I have found to provide sound guidance. First let’s look at three life principles you should watch out for.


It is good to enjoy the moment, and I do live by this principle – to an extent. For instance, if I’m spending the day with family or friends, I try to focus on them rather than obsessing over business while I pretend to listen to them. In that way, living in the present is great advice. But the trouble is that this principle of living in the moment doesn’t always offer the right perspective. How can it possibly help you make effective business decisions, career decisions, financial decisions, or family decisions? Those decisions require long- term thinking. I love McDonald’s – in the moment. But afterwards McDonald’s doesn’t make me feel so good. Living in the moment is important, but it can make us shortsighted and cause us to choose the wrong things.


The Golden Rule. Hard to argue with, isn’t it? The trouble is that we are profoundly different from one another. Treating people the way you want to be treated often only works with people who are like you. Suppose you’re a meat lover and you’re having a family of vegetarians over for dinner. Should you serve them meat? Of course not ! Life demands that we develop greater flexibility than this principle suggests. The best leaders and man agers I know have expanded their capabilities and developed the muscles to adjust to other people’s styles and personalities.


This sounds kind and loving, but sometimes what people say they want is not what’s best for them. If your friend is an alcoholic and he says he wants a drink, should you give it to him? Or, to be less extreme, think about people who say they want honest feedback but in the next breath tell you that they only want feedback in a particular area or in a certain way. As I discuss in my seminars and coaching sessions, when people set conditions for honesty, it limits honesty because others will use those conditions as a reason not to be truthful. The result is missed opportunities for growth. This may be the way these people want to be treated, but that doesn’t make it the best. This assessment got me thinking about what makes a good guiding life principle. It didn’t take me long to realize that for years I’d been observing a valuable life principle in action, but simply hadn’t realized the power it could have for me.

Three of my four grandparents lived long lives, and my relationships with them taught me that people who are approaching the end of their lives often reflect on their accomplishments, their disappointments, their regrets, and all they have to be thankful for. They examine how they’ve made use of their time on this earth. So why not live as if the ninetyyear- old me is present with me to give me advice and wisdom right now? At ninety we will understand what is important in the long run, but we’ll also know the value of enjoying the present. At ninety we’ll know how to treat others, but we’ ll also understand the importance of saying what needs to be said and of making the decisions that may be unpopular but are the right thing to do. At ninety we’ll understand the grave importance of being clear on our top priorities, knowing our negotiables and non-negotiables, and choosing to spend our time with people who enhance our lives and treat us the way we deserve to be treated.

Implementing the ninety year-old principle has made a significant difference in my life. I lived for years sacrificing time with those I love as well as sacrificing my emotional presence when I was physically present. When I began asking myself what the ninety year-old me would tell me to do, I was shocked by some of my decisions and ac actions in my professional and personal life. I realized I had wasted time doing many things that had brought little, if any, lasting value. I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I have.

Try it. Think of a business or personal decision you need to make, and visualize yourself at ninety. You’re sitting in a comfortable chair with your feet up. You’re smiling and content with the decisions you have made throughout your life. Now ask yourself what the ninety-year-old you would tell you to do now.

Suppose you need to be honest with someone about their attitude, performance, or treatment of others. What guidance might the three damaging life principles offer?

Live in the moment: Unless you love confrontation, this principle may leave you thinking, “Not right now!”
Treat others the way you want to be treated: This could be helpful as long as you don’t mind conflict and aren’t upset by hearing difficult messages. Treat others the way they want to be treated: If the person isn’t open to coaching or often doesn’t want to hear what others have to say, then you’ll have to hold your tongue.

But here’s what the ninety year-old you would likely think about approaching a difficult subject with someone: Things may be uncomfortable and there may be some trouble in the short term, but in the long run, this is the right thing to do. Time deepens wounds and deepens problems, and ignoring situations often makes them worse. I know that pain in the short term can bring gain in the long term. When I look back on this, I’ll be glad I said what needed to be said.

Don’t wait until you’re ninety to gain this valuable perspective. What is the ninety year-old you advising you to do now?

11 Questions to Uncover Communication Problems

All you have to do is turn on the news to see how a lack of honest communication is affecting the workplace as well as everyday relationships we have with one another. In fact, it seems these problems are very common. Therefore, honest, effective communication is even more critical to teamwork, productivity, and profitability and an organization’s lifelong success than ever before.

People at all levels of an organization must be willing to honestly share the information, ideas, and opportunities that come up on a daily basis. This honest communication must also be done in a time-sensitive manner, because things change so quickly in today’s world. If an organization does not receive critical information in time, it can cost them millions or even billions of dollars. Why? Because problems need to be caught and resolved when they are small, and no organization can afford to miss key opportunities.

People make better decisions when they get an accurate, truthful view of problems and situations. They are more focused, proactive, and creative with their solutions, because they know what the problems are as they occur. And they have all the information they need to respond quickly and effectively.

In addition, honest communication allows organizations to attract and retain talented people, because those people feel as if they can succeed in such an honest and healthy environment. In this environment, people listen to and trust each other. They exchange valuable feedback so that goals are achieved and organizations are properly positioned to seize opportunities.

How are you and your organization advancing in the area of honest communication? Do you think there may be some areas that need improvement? Is a storm brewing? To see if you might have some hidden problems with honesty, please answer these Eleven Key Questions to Detect an Honest Communication Problem. (Although this focuses on work issues, you can easily translate it to personal or home issues as well.) If you answer no to any of these questions, an honest communication problem that could threaten you and your organization may be looming.

1. Do you always react positively when someone shares difficult information or unpopular opinions with you?

Many times we say we want honest communication, but when someone gives it to us, we become upset or defensive. We may respond with a nasty look, a raised voice, or by ignoring what has been said. These types of responses speak volumes to the messenger and discourage this person from sharing difficult information or unpopular opinions in the future. In essence, a negative response trains and conditions people not to be forthcoming. If this continues, we might one day say, “Why am I the last one to know? Why didn’t anyone tell me?” The key is to own up to the situation and create a safe environment. Then people can say what needs to be said.

2. Are you the first to hear and find out about things?

People who are afraid to say things directly to you often tell others in the organization what they truly think and feel. Unfortunately, when you finally hear this information indirectly, it is often severely distorted. Remember the game of telephone? Do you remember how distorted the message became after it had passed through several players? Distorted information thwarts our actions, because it is inaccurate. I have watched many projects and contracts become problematic, because they were built and executed based on hearsay information. Being the first to hear and directly find out facts is the key to handling things efficiently and effectively. That is why some of the best executives and managers develop ways to receive direct communication from their customers, potential customers, and all levels of their staff.

3. Do people tell you everything you need to know?

How many times have you finished a project or made a decision only to find out that people did not share key information and ideas that would have altered or changed what you did? You may have thought, If they had just said something, I might have taken care of this issue more effectively and in a fraction of the time. Key information is often there — we just need to receive it. Honest and open communication is crucial to getting a quality job done on time, within budget.

4. Do people argue, debate, and share opposing opinions in your presence?

President Lyndon Johnson said, “If nobody is arguing, only one person is thinking.” I would add, “or only one person is being honest.” It is normal and healthy to have differing opinions; the key is whether people have the freedom to share those differing opinions, tough news, and other information. If people around you never oppose your ideas and plans, they may not be saying what they are really thinking. If everyone always agrees with you, they probably do not. One reason for this dynamic is that people often suffer from The Authority Pleasing Principle — telling their leaders what they think they want to hear. Many people have been conditioned that the way to make people happy and advance in life is to do just that. Think about how our schooling may have conditioned us in that way. If we gave the teacher what he or she wanted, we were rewarded. In addition to the desire to please, employees often fear potential backlash if they share unpopular points of view. When we try to move forward and make a decision, we find that others are dragging their feet and not doing what we need them to do. In other words, they have not bought into the idea. We need to create a safe environment so people can say what they are really thinking — because receiving difficult information and feedback is essential to taking care of problems before they become huge issues.

5. Do people keep their promises to you?

People who blatantly break their promises may be breaking other promises we are unaware of. As the saying goes, “Where there is smoke, there is fire.” Watch out for those who say they may not keep their word on small stuff but will keep their word on the big stuff. This is usually not the case. People who do not keep their promises or who constantly adjust their promises and still don’t deliver are probably not being upfront about something. Sometimes they know inside that they can’t deliver, but they are afraid of our reaction or they don’t want to let us down. Others feel weak or defeated when they admit they can’t accomplish something. So, they are not truthful and upfront about what is really going on. Of course, the failure to come clean only compounds the problem, and in the end everyone pays a severe price. So an undelivered promise is often a symptom of a problem that needs to be discussed and resolved.

6. Can you ask the questions that need to be asked?

People who have something to hide often don’t react well when questions are asked. By getting defensive and having a strong reaction, a person can create an environment in which others back off because they are afraid to ask questions. This enables the hiding to continue. On the flip side, we have to recognize our contribution to the problem and our history of asking questions. For example, have you asked the person questions and then used the information later to punish them — even inadvertently? If so, this may explain why the person is defensive or guarded. So if you are uneasy about asking questions, this might be an indication to further examine the situation.

7. When you ask a question, do people answer it directly?

People who are hiding things often skirt the issue, change the subject, or answer questions in global, ambiguous, or vague ways. Often they gloss over the present situation and jump to the future. In fact, some people not only don’t answer the question, they turn it around and ask you a question that distracts you. This tactic often works. For example, if you ask someone about the status of a report, they may say, “Fine. Just working hard. So, what do you have going on for the rest of the week?” How often have you walked away from discussions thinking, I don’t think they ever answered my question. Further and persistent questioning is often the key to discovering and eventually resolving the problem.

8. Do people tell you consistent things?

If you listen closely to what someone says and they are not being upfront, you will often notice inconsistencies. Not being upfront takes energy, a great memory, and lots of creative stories. Most people are unable to maintain this over time. Their inconsistencies should spur you to probe further.

9. Do the people around you display a range of emotions?

People who only show one emotion are often not telling us everything. Displaying a range of emotions is natural and normal. Have you ever had someone, like a co-worker, client, or a friend, always tell you how great things are or how wonderful you are? Although this might be nice to hear and believe, the reality is that no one is always happy and, in particular, always happy with us. We have all heard stories about someone who thought others were happy only to later discover the real truth — their co-worker was not pleased with their work, the contract was not renewed, their spouse filed for separation, or their child was having major problems in school. So seeing and hearing only one emotion from someone can be a sign of a problem that should be further explored.

10. Do people associate with others who you know to be upfront and honest?

By looking at who people surround themselves with, we can get an indication of the kind of person they truly are. The old saying, “Birds of a feather flock together,” is true. People tend to surround themselves with those who are similar. If someone who claims to be trustworthy is constantly in the company of those who are not, it begs the question: why would they choose to be around people who do not share the same values? There may be a good explanation — the associates may be relatives or long-time friends who have been there during tough times. At the very least, however, someone’s odd or questionable associates should cause you to be extremely cautious until you can fully understand the situation.

11. Are people sharing innovative and even crazy ideas and opportunities with you?

In today’s incredibly competitive work world, we must tap into the resources, ideas, and knowledge of the people around us. Research indicates that many of the greatest ideas do not come from headquarters but the front lines. Staff on the front lines are the closest to the problems, issues, and challenges. They know the way things really work. Without front-line information, feedback, and perspective, an organization can become stale, lose its competitive edge, and ultimately become extinct. This is why we need to constantly ask people for their ideas. Honest communication is not only essential to resolving issues but also in exploring new ideas and opportunities.

If these questions have exposed some problems in your organization or your personal relationships, you are now aware of the situation and can do something about it. Many individuals and organizations don’t ask the hard questions quickly enough to uncover problems before the damage is done. Many people believe it is better not to rock the boat. They just hope things will get better. Maybe it is time to rock the boat and find out what may be lurking below so that you don’t pay an even heavier price later.

Here are three suggestions that can have an immediate impact.

1. Organizations, no matter the size, must take specific and tangible actions to create a safe environment for employees to openly and honestly communicate.

2. Leaders must set the tone and the example by consistently demonstrating honest communication and being open to receive honest communication. They must show that it can be done, it is appreciated, and will be rewarded.

3. Employees need to have or need to be taught the skills and techniques to communicate honestly and effectively. People talk about being honest, but few are actually shown how to do it and produce the desired results. These skills will enable employees to effectively express concerns about thorny or complicated issues without fear of a strong reaction from the receiver.

By approaching this on several levels and from different angles, an honest communication environment can flourish and thrive. This way, people can say what they need to say and find out what they need to find out. Ideas can be freely and safely exchanged, and everyone benefits. One easy, first step is to share the Eleven Key Questions to Detect an Honest Communication Problem as a point of conversation.

If you detect honest communication problems, then iron out a plan to make a significant difference in the level of honest communication. Take action before it is too late!

“How to Listen for the Real Message”- Lesson Learned from My Mother

The most terrific woman I know is my mother. Her advice over the years has helped me avoid many problems. As embarrassing as this is to admit, I missed out on many years of my mom’s wonderful advice. Why? Because I was missing the real message behind her words.

My mother, by her own admission, can be somewhat negative. If I say things are going great, she might ask, “But are you prepared for the future?” Even though I run my own business, she reminds me almost every year that April 15 is tax day. There are many things I am likely to forget, but tax day is not one of them. If there is a possible negative outcome to any situation, my mother can usually predict it and advise me accordingly.

Unfortunately, for years I took her words as a form of disrespect. I thought her negativity and her tendency to play devil’s advocate were signs that she thought I was incapable of doing things right and that she had little faith in my business acumen or my instincts for survival. I reasoned that if she really respected me, she would not be the voice of doom.

Things changed one day when I was attending a seminar. The speaker reminded us not to get caught up in the words people say but to listen for the true message they are trying to convey. At that moment, the light bulb went on. My mother was talking to me in this way because she cared about me, not because she had no faith in me or my skills! Voicing her worries was her way of expressing her love and protectiveness for me; it was not a form of disrespect. Suddenly, I got it.

I vowed from that moment forward to hear the real message my mom was trying to communicate and to be patient with her. She may use words that sound negative, but now I view her worries and warnings as an expression of love. She is simply trying to contribute and point out things that she perceives as helpful.

Of course, as soon as I really started to listen to my mom, I realized how smart and wise she is. She has subsequently saved me on many occasions by pointing out things I would otherwise have overlooked because of my ceaseless optimism.

Are you missing anyone’s real message? A client’s? A co-worker’s? A friend’s?

Let’s take a work example. When someone complains to you, do you hear just the complaints, or do you take time to recognize the impetus behind the complaints? Perhaps the complainer is not actually trying to be difficult. Perhaps the complainer just wants to be noticed and appreciated for the work they are doing. Or perhaps the complainer is dedicated to the job and wants to excel. Maybe the complainer feels frustrated by a lack of resources and may think it is helpful to point out insufficiencies. Some complainers lack the skill or self-confidence to ask for what they really need. They complain, hoping that others will get the hint and provide it.

Complaining clients who are hard to work with can become our best, most-loyal clients if we take the time to hear their real message and address their concerns. If our clients truly do not want to make things work, or if they really have given up, they would probably remain silent and quietly end the relationship as soon as possible.

If we are not careful to hear the real messages people are trying to communicate, we will miss them… and possibly miss out on great opportunities as well. Remember, you cannot change what people say, but you can change the way you choose to hear them. So now, when my mom is predicting gloom and doom in my life, I simply smile and say, “Mom, I got it. You love me.”

Leading Through Change

In the famous 1974 Rumble in the Jungle boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, Ali leaned against the ropes, covered himself up, and let Foreman hit him for seven rounds until Foreman tired himself out. Then Ali started hitting back and won the fight. This boxing technique, known as the rope-a-dope, proved to be a great technique for Ali to win against a formidable opponent. It’s also a technique that many of us resort to when it comes to dealing with change — and in that arena, it doesn’t lead to a knock-out.

Holding on and laying low is no way to face change, but people do it all the time. It’s one of many reasons that the majority — a whopping 70 percent — of change initiatives fail. People handle change by doing the rope-a-dope because they are tired of “change.” They are tired because they have too many competing priorities and not enough time to get their work done. They are frozen by uncertainty, the tough economic climate, and budgetary constraints. For all these reasons, people lean against the ropes and try to outlast change by holding on, covering up, and laying low. You can’t blame people for trying. Folks have been through so much change, they are suffering from “change fatigue,” as one of my clients called it, so they don’t do anything.

This is why strong, effective leadership is critical these days — because the changing times demand leaders who can successfully lead through change, but people are tired, and they prefer the rope-a-dope to actually making changes. In this day and age, most of us have learned leadership skills, but leading through change is a critical skill set that is often not provided in organizations. Many of us have met leaders who are good at sustaining, building, and even advancing in new markets but lousy at leading, managing, and inspiring through change. To make matters worse, change really is the new norm.

Consider this: “It took twenty years to replace one third of the Fortune 500 companies listed in 1960, against four years for those listed in 1998.”* If you feel like the pace of change is always getting faster, you may be right. Of course, not all of those companies went out of business. Some were acquired. Some merged. Regardless, change happened, and this statistic speaks to the rate of change at the biggest and highest levels of our economy. One could easily argue that those who can lead, manage, and inspire change will probably beat out the competition, making that particular leadership skill set critical to the future.

Four Factors for Leading Through Change

Considering the resistance to change and the uncertain times in which we lead, it is essential that we understand the factors critical to change so we can use them to our advantage. Change is complex, but after working with many organizations for twenty years, I have found that focusing on four key factors can help leaders successfully lead through change. It may sound like I am oversimplifying a complex subject, but things don’t have to be complicated. In my experience, when we focus on a few simple factors and solutions we can make great strides. Whether you are a leader who designed the change or you are leading a change directive instituted by someone else, you can use the acronym OVBS to remember the four critical factors of outcome, value, belief, and steps to help you lead, manage, and inspire so you and your organization can make the knock-out punch.

O — Outcome

No one can get from point A to point B without knowing where they’re going, and that is why effectively communicating the outcome of the planned change is critical. How can you achieve something if you don’t know what exactly you’re trying to achieve? You can’t. A confused mind will produce confused results.

The question to ask is whether the people you are leading know and understand the endgame: the objective of the change. Are the direction, vision, and mission clear? The simplest way to find out is to ask. You might even have employees write down their answers, as if it were a real test. That will give you the most accurate picture of everyone’s understanding. If the results reveal a confused understanding and mixed-up priorities, then creating and expressing your Vision of Success (VOS) should help everyone move forward to achieve actual results.

A Vision of Success is a picture of the desired result of change. The operative word here is picture, because people think in pictures. If people can’t see it, not only will they not DO it, they also probably won’t even remember it. If the change is a big organizational change, then it needs to be broken down for what it means for your area. The best Visions of Success are specific, results-drive, simple and clear, and positively focused towards the future.

V — Value

Communicating a full understanding of the outcome of the change is not enough to successfully lead employees through a transition. Employees must also see the value of the change for themselves. What’s in it for them?

Given the state of the world and economy, many people have concluded there is no such thing as company loyalty. We have all seen friends or family members lose jobs, even when they’ve given years to a company. For that reason, letting employees know that the change is good for the company is not enough to make employees value it. Now more than ever before, leaders must make the case for change by spelling out what exactly is in it for the employees.

The most effective way to make that case is to connect with employees with logic and emotion. You have probably heard it said that people make decisions based on emotion and then justify those decisions with logic. Have you ever made an impulse purchase? I have. We make impulse purchases based on emotion, but by the time we’ve made it home from the store, we have our reasoning lined up to back up our purchase. Connect emotionally, and then win their hearts and minds with the value of the change.

Consider this: change always starts within ourselves. You have to reach people by striking what motivates them. Based on our research and experience, we have identified seven drivers of human behavior. Talk with your employees and put some appropriate benefits in place. Continue to keep in touch with them throughout the change. Don’t be afraid to get to the heart of the matter. Ask them this valuable question: On a scale of 1 through 10, how valuable is the change to you? What would it take to make it a 10? The answers to that question will give you a lot to work with.

Helping employees value the change may sound like hard work, but it is critical. Otherwise the change will slide right off their priority list, and all the repetition of your VOS will fall on deaf ears.

B — Belief

The third critical factor in leading others through change is belief. People can understand the outcome and the value of the change, but if they do not believe in the outcome and the value, they likely will not execute on the change. A lot of changes fail for this reason — lack of belief.

In my work, I’ve discovered many reasons why people don’t believe in change, but there are three major ones. The first is that we, as leaders, may not believe in the change that we’re in charge of executing and our employees can feel that. Let’s face it. We’re not Academy Award-winning actors. We are leaders, and people are smart. They know when we don’t believe in what we’re saying. Usually they hear it in our tone. How we say something is usually more important than the words we say. If you find this is happening with yourself, go back for more information and get the perspective from those who designed the change, so that you can do your best to get yourself to believe and then lead others through the change.

Another reason people don’t believe in change is due to failed changes in the past. When people have seen changes that fail to deliver on the promised outcome and value, they can become skeptical. Since research shows that 70 percent of changes fail, we know that most people have had some bad experiences with change. You have to explain why this change is different. If you are not sure how things are going to be different, then I would take a step back and find this out as best you can. This is a challenge but one that can be very valuable. Lessons learned from our past can give us great perspective in the present and truly impact our future success.

A third big reason we fail to get others to believe in a change is a lack of a relationship connection — the feeling that we’re on the same side. When that connection is missing, people may hear what we say, but not truly listen and take it in. Have you ever had someone walk up to you, and before you even hear what they have to say, you think, “NO”? Usually this happens due to a lack of relationship connection — we don’t like or respect the person. If this is happening, examine what issues may be blocking this relationship connection. Some possibilities are past change initiatives that have failed, or maybe an emphasis on revenue and profits to the point of people being skeptical that this change will impact the goals they are being pressured to achieve.

People won’t take action if they don’t believe things will change. The bottom line is that belief is the engine of change. It keeps us going during hard times and great uncertainty.

S — Steps

Change is not a one-time event. It is actually made up of many steps. Are people clear about their next steps? Do they understand the plan? More important than understanding the plan, people must understand that the plan is about progress rather than perfection. Providing clarity about the next steps is a critical factor to leading through change because that is what enables people to make genuine progress.

The first step in making progress toward change is helping employees let go of lower priorities and old initiatives so they can focus on what needs to be done. One tactic for accomplishing this is to have employees make a list of all the priorities and initiatives from the past and then make a conscious choice to either let those things go or at least put them on the back burner. As the management consultant Zemira Jones says, we need to “fail fast.” That means we have to help people recognize and let go of what’s not working, and take the benefits and lessons learned from the past to reinforce and build a stronger future.

Next, break the change down into very small steps. This gets things moving and creates momentum. “Change” can feel insurmountable, but when it’s broken down into small, achievable goals, then people see the value more quickly and “change” is no longer impossible to achieve.

I have learned a lot from my friends and clients in the military, and one thing I’ve learned is the value of training and repetition. Training is important because sometimes people genuinely don’t know how to undertake their part of the change. Furthermore, sometimes people must be urged to achieve their priorities and take action. Having people take small, specific steps creates good habits that will help the change continue to move forward.

One of the main reasons people are resistant to change is they are simply not sure what to do. Using small, clear steps to move forward combats confusion. When people know exactly what they’re accountable for and what step to take next, they are less resistant to change. Since change is a process that takes time, clear and repeated communication about the next steps helps everyone to stay on track.

The Change Equation

Let’s take a moment for a quick review. OVBS stands for the four critical factors to leading people through change:

O — Outcome

V — Value

B — Belief

S — Steps

After working with numerous organizations and observing how incredibly complex organizational change can be, I have come up with a simple equation for an organizational change quotient that can guide you as you lead through change.

Outcome x Value x Belief x Steps = Action → Results

To use the equation, rate each item from 0-10. If either outcome, value, belief, or steps are rated as a zero, then you can easily see that you’ll get zero action and zero results. If one factor receives a stronger rating than another, action and results will be produced; but if all are high, then the change will be strong. Although all these numbers are arbitrary, this does give you something you can benchmark later within your organization. For example, you can share this with your leadership team and ask them what needs to happen to improve the score. Then you can revisit it a month later. The equation provides you with a snapshot, and it also helps you to see what dials may need to be turned up. What is your organizational change quotient? What specific actions can you take to make it higher?

This equation can help you evaluate change on any level — from individual change to sweeping organizational change. It can also empower you to discover what may be the problem. For example, if your area is not producing the results you’re looking for, examine the actions that are being taken. If people aren’t taking much action (changing their behavior) continue to work backward to look at the source of the outcome, value, belief, or steps.

*Commission of the European Communities, Green Paper: Entrepreneurship in Europe 9 (2003), at http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/site/en/com/2003/com2003_0027en01.pdf.

If you would like to learn six additional strategies to help you improve your organizational change quotient or to receive an electronic copy of the complete article, please call us at (703) 241-7796 or send an e-mail request to info@stevengaffney.com.