So what? Who cares?

Closeup portrait dumb clueless young executive man, arm out asking why what problem so who cares, I don't know, isolated orange color background. Negative human emotion facial expression feelings

I have been teaching people how to write for over 21 years now. It is, after writing itself, my favourite thing to do, so I’ll never stop. I teach workshops, but I also regularly go into the education system to design, deliver, and assess units in what I believe is one of the best writing courses in the world, the Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing. It occurred to me, after all these years of designing, delivering, and assessing writing courses, that there are things I find myself saying over, and over, and over again. Maybe I’ve been at this too long. Or maybe they are basic, fundamental things that need to be constantly driven home.

This is one of the most common:

As you write, every few paragraphs, ask yourself:

“So what? Who cares?”

It might sound simple, but it isn’t. When you sit down to write – indeed, when you sit down to plan a business – you think that everybody will care. But the truth is that they don’t.

And oh: how those questions strike at the ego! And point and laugh at it as it lies, winded and humiliated on the floor!

Obviously, I’m a horrible teacher: no student likes to have “So what? Who cares?” scrawled on their precious piece of writing. But the students who decide to ignore their bruised-and-battered egos and ask themselves those questions immediately become infinitely better writers. With instantly interested readers. And hopefully, they forgive me – eventually.

So what? Who cares?

When you communicate professionally – whether it’s writing content, or answering questions on the phone – you must be able to answer these questions. They keep you focused. When you’re trying to communicate with your audience or market, it’s no time to be abstract or to indulge in punditry. You need to know why people should read your words or listen to what you have to say. And if you don’t know why, you have to ask yourself, “Who am I doing this for?”

So what? Who cares?

No matter how interesting, beautiful, or thought-provoking what you have to say is, there has to be some payoff for the receiver. If that sounds like self-interest on their part, that’s because it is self-interest, and it should be: they have invested considerable time or money in either what you provide or what you have to say, and investments require dividends.

I used to subscribe to a very popular, well-regarded business newsletter. One time, the weekly mailout was about presidents of the United States who had been atheists. It was interesting because, you know, we hear all the time about how they have always been men of faith, but towards the end, I was waiting for the big wrap up. I was waiting for something that would tell me how this was relevant to me and my business, and it didn’t happen. It didn’t even lead to someone’s new book about atheist presidents. It did nothing.

What you communicate professionally has to actually stand for something for the people you’re communicating with. You need to address the things that concern them; the things that benefit them.

Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m opinionated. If you’ve read my personal work, or if you’re my friend on Facebook, you’ll know that I can go on and on. My professional communication can’t. That’s because my professional communication isn’t about me, it’s about them.

So what? Who cares?

A few days ago I was on the phone to the telephone company. The operator on the line – who had her limits, and with whom I sympathised – was telling me this protracted story about why the technicians would take between seven and ten days to get back to me about my son’s broken mobile phone line. Lady, none of that stuff has anything to do with me. It’s irrelevant. Just give me a solution to the problem so I don’t have to worry myself into a fresh ulcer every time my son walks out the door for the next seven to ten days. (She couldn’t, by the way. I had to come up with a solution of my own. Like I said: she had limits around her responsibilities, but it points to this company’s woeful policy or training that her focus was explaining the company position rather than exploring how to solve my problem.)

So what? Who cares?

Write these questions on cards and stick them on your computer monitor, next to your phone, on your whiteboard… anywhere that professional communication happens. When you can answer them honestly and consistently, you are a student no longer.

Photo credit © SIphotography via Depositphotos

You don’t need better communication.

Closeup portrait young annoyed angry woman with bad attitude giving talk to hand gesture with palm outward isolated grey wall background. Negative human emotion face expression feeling body language

As far as quotes go, it’s right up there, leading the charge for favourite question during the annual Classic Movie Trivia Night at the local pub: the Captain, a tyrannical prison warden, has just whomped Paul Newman’s Luke over the head for being sarcastic, leaving him collapsed and reeling, and then suggests the problem is this:

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Anyone who’s seen Cool Hand Luke – and anyone who hasn’t, maybe even you – knows that what they’ve got there is nothing to do with communication. The communication is fine: that baton over the head conveys everything it needs to convey. No – what they have there is, in actual fact, injustice and hypocrisy. And yet the very same people who all-too-clearly see what the problem is in this scene often do not see that the same applies to them. They think that in business, or at home, communication is the issue, and better communication should be their goal.

Wrong. So wrong.

Communication is not an end goal. Communication is not a destination. Communication is a vehicle.

You don’t need effective communication. What you need is the myriad benefits that communication can bring you.

In my LinkedIn profile I describe myself as, “a communication specialist to people who never think they need help with their communication.” This isn’t just a description of me, but of the people I like to work with. Someone who calls herself a communication specialist likes working with people who don’t think they need help with their communication? Sure. That’s because these people know what the problem is, and how I can help them solve it. Easy.

On the other hand, my most problematic clients (or rather, would-be clients, because they don’t get past my initial interview these days) are the ones who can’t vocalise what terrible problem more effective communication is going to solve for them, or what you-beaut benefits it’s going to give them.

When you understand what the problem is, and how communication can help or solve it, not only is the strategy straightforward, but you can measure the results far more easily, ie. by seeing whether or not the problem is still there. On the other hand, when you don’t really know for what purpose you want this new-and-improved communication, you’re not really satisfied because you don’t know what the end goal is. That, or you’re supremely satisfied, but the problem remains and is chalked up to something else. Waste of time and money.

Knowing what you want, and what the problem is, is vitally important.

People are fond of this quote by Henry Ford:


I myself think that Ford was a nasty piece of work and this quote displays what I think is a typically arrogant attitude. See, when the customer has a problem, they are aware of what they want, even if they’re unsure of how to get it. In Ford’s time, people did know what they wanted: they wanted to get places faster. They may not have known that a motor car was possible – enter a visionary like Ford who did – but they definitely knew what their problem was, and what they wanted.

If you know what the problem is, and you know what you want, better communication can get it for you, or at least help you get it.

On the other hand, if you don’t know what the real problem is, and you don’t have a goal beyond “better communication”, then all the best communication in the world won’t help you.

So let’s talk about a worst-case scenario, in which you or your staff really have lousy communication skills of whatever type, and communication really is a problem: what then? You still need to know what problems these lousy communication skills are causing, and you need to pin them down and make them concrete. What is this communication gap costing in terms of time, or productivity, or profit, or morale? Once you know, you can address it in the best possible way. And if you can’t pin it down, you may need to face some tough truths: many is the team member who has been accused of lacking communication skills, when the real issue wasn’t theirs, but that the boss simply didn’t like them or their style, or perhaps saw them as a troublemaker, or perhaps was mismanaging them.

Far easier then to say, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate”, isn’t it?

Failure, yes. But not of communication.

Photo © SIphotography via Depositphotos



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Lies, damned lies, and Serena and Essena

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It was a week where Insta-famous teenager Essena revealed the reality behind her oh-so-perfect image: starvation, photo altering, depression, tanties, desperate approval seeking, et al. And Serena Williams proclaimed she was a superhero for hunting down the thief who stole her phone, until CCTV footage revealed that events weren’t as dramatic as she had described.

Lies. Damned lies. All of it.

Or were they?

I had a student who loved calling my course in creative writing, “Learning to tell lies”. He got this from something I taught the class, and that most storytellers will defend to the death: truth is sacrosanct, and facts are dispensable. And it is quite in order to sacrifice facts in order to get at a fundamental, emotional truth.


Yes, yes, absolutely shocking. Until, of course, you fully understand that everything we tell and write is recreated. We can’t transfer experiences straight into people’s brains, so recreation it is, and while we’re recreating, we might as well concentrate on the details that are meaningful.

And people don’t find meaning in facts. They find meaning in truth.

Truth, not fact, is what will make most parents nod in sympathy when you say, “My kids are driving me crazy.”

Lookit: there are no facts in that sentence.

My – Not yours. Human beings haven’t belonged to other human beings since we abolished slavery.

Kids – They are children, not baby goats.

Driving me – How can you be driven? Are you a car? And if you can be, surely you drive yourself?

Crazy – No, you’re not, and even if you were, “crazy” is neither a legal or medical term.

But perhaps “The actions of the children I bore are making me feel as though my sanity is temporarily compromised” doesn’t quite cut it.

Metaphors, similes, hyperbole, idioms, onomatopoeia, exaggeration, omission, generalisation are tools of fiction that help us get to the core of truth of the factual thing that happened.

And the results are glorious.

“I was eleven months pregnant.” – Erma Bombeck

“The world had taken a deep breath and was having doubts about continuing to revolve.” – Maya Angelou

“When I go to the swimming pool, I take my glasses off, and I can’t even see where the WATER is. One time I almost killed myself in an unfortunate little incident involving a glorious swan-dive and a blue picnic blanket.” – Danny Katz

These are fictional sentences in non-fiction pieces. But if you’ve ever been heavily pregnant, or aware of witnessing an important event, or if you’re near-sighted, those sentences will make the bell of truth ring deep inside you.

Business storytelling these days is, well, big business. Many – me included – teach workshops and write blogs on how to do it, but really, it always comes down to this one thing: presenting your audience with truth.

Which is why the people looking at the CCTV footage of Serena Williams and going, “But it didn’t happen the way she said!” are missing the point, or at least suffering a chronic lack of imagination. Guys, guys, guys – she’s not a journalist reporting on the scene. She merely told a story, with an embedded metaphor, to reveal a truth: that we must all get in touch with the superhero inside. Stories aren’t for information – we read them and listen to them partly to learn something about the storyteller, but mostly to learn something about ourselves. Which is why, as I put on my Wonder Woman tights of steel, I don’t care to nitpick over whether Serena ran after the thief or walked.

What drives the truth home isn’t just the story, however: it’s being willing to stand or live by those truths.

And this is where Essena failed.

Unlike Serena’s story, Essena’s six years on Instagram weren’t an exercise in getting at an emotional truth for others’ benefit. They were an exercise in narcissism and self-aggrandisement. Very sad, particularly given that she started seeking our approval when she was only 12 years old, but narcissism and self-aggrandisement nonetheless. More importantly, however – because there certainly are, and have been, many narcissists whose stories we treasure – she did not live the truth of the story she told. Her message on Instagram was, “Love your body, treat your body with respect” while hating her own body, and mistreating it. There was no story there. Just lies. (That said, there’s been emotional truth aplenty since Essena has started to redress this imbalance.)

When you tell your stories, focus on the emotional truth. And make sure you and your business stand or live by those truths. Because Serena Williams may only be a metaphorical superhero, but we all know that she sure as hell could have pummelled that guy into the ground.

Be there.


It happens to me all the time: if I’m not brought into a company 18 months after they’ve been struggling with some aspect of their communication, then I’m being brought in, like this time, after they’ve been struggling for six. What was it this time? Six months, two marketing execs, and countless meetings later, they still couldn’t come up with the sentence that described what they did, to use as their tagline.

Six months. For one sentence.

And until that sentence was chiselled into stone as if Moses himself had brought it down from Mount Sinai, there was to be no website, no marketing material, no email campaign, no nothing, or the customers would get the Wrong Idea about them.

Forget the damn sentence, I told them.

We can’t, they said. What will it cost us if we get it wrong?

What has it cost you not communicating with your customers and prospective customers for six months? I asked.

Silence. Suddenly, the words “six month sentence” took on a whole new meaning.

I see this kind of atrophy all the time. The Internal Editor is alive and well, and not just living inside writers when they face a blank page, but also exerting undue influence inside companies and organisations, telling them that they have just one chance to get it right.

This time, however, it was more than atrophy. It was complete and utter confusion, and it was entirely about the consistency of their communications.

Last week I talked about people needing rice, or – if you don’t appreciate a fine metaphor – consistency.

The first consistency is meeting your clients’ needs, at every stage of their journey. The second consistency is in your communications. And that consistency needs to revolve around the precise three things that this company was confused about:

Consistency in message

Consistency in voice

Consistency in timing

If you do these things, you will always be there. There for them, and there with them. And they will be there for you.

This company had confused their sentence with their message. Your message is inextricably tied to your purpose: it’s not just about what you do and who you do it for, but more importantly, about why you do it. Despite what you may have heard, you don’t need to tell people your message. Although you can, doing so is a little bit like what I tell those 20-year-old women who have something like “SEXEE” on their number plates: darl, telling people you’re sexy doesn’t automatically make it so. Far better to show them. And you show them by making sure that everything you communicate – in both word and deed – reflects that message. When everything you say, write, and do consistently reflects your message, the message becomes sturdy and entrenched deep in people’s minds.

The next thing this company got wrong was in giving too much importance to a tagline, when people actually don’t give a damn about your tagline. What people engage with isn’t your tagline: it’s your voice.

Voice overrides taglines, slogans, and mission statements. Voice permeates communication and delivers it. Voice is the constant.

I’ve spoken about voice before, and written about it before – both here and in assorted whitepapers – but it’s worth mentioning it again. It is vital to cultivate a voice that is unmistakably yours, even when you have a stable of writers at your disposal. Kate Kiefer, a content curator at Mailchimp, created with her team a tone and voice guide for would-be contributors to Mailchimp. The tone and voice had to be:

  • Fun but not childish
  • Clever but not silly
  • Powerful but not complicated
  • Smart but not stodgy
  • Cool but not alienating
  • Informal but not sloppy
  • Helpful but not overbearing
  • Expect but not bossy.

These guidelines inform voice so simply and effectively that it captures the company personality perfectly, and any one of us who use Mailchimp could swear the content is being written by one person (and heck, it could be that little chimp him/herself).

The company’s final mistake was not thinking about their timing. During their six months of radio silence, this company thought their customers would just be sitting there, waiting for them to communicate. And they don’t, you know. Neither customers nor would-be customers wait for you to communicate, no matter how good your comms have been in the past. If you don’t communicate when they’re expecting you to communicate, they shrug and move on to someone who does. So not only do you have to communicate with the people who need to hear from you, but once you’ve set up expectations of what you’re going to communicate, and when, you need to meet them.

If your communications are consistent in these three ways, you can change taglines every week. Not that you’ll want to. You’ll be far too busy with your new and established customers.

Give them rice!

White rice in a black bowl close-up and chopsticks. vertical top view

It was a heartbreaking situation.

A dear friend, who worked for a community organisation, had placed an Asian child – it could have been any war-torn Asian country – with a foster parent in rural Australia, and the child was going downhill, fast. She didn’t talk. She didn’t smile. She didn’t play. And she didn’t eat.

Every morning, the girl poked her cornflakes around in the bowl, watching them turn slowly in the milk. She didn’t know what they were. Didn’t really know what to do with them.

“The child needs rice,” my friend told the foster parent.

“Rice! I don’t have time to cook rice in the morning!”

“You don’t need to. We’ll get you a rice cooker. All you need to do is put it on in the morning and just leave it on all day. She can help herself whenever she’s hungry – you won’t have to worry about it.”

“No! She’s in Australia now – she’ll have to learn to eat what we eat.”

To most Asian peoples, rice is important. Not just as a crop, but socially and psychologically. In some Asian countries, the equivalent of “How are you?” is some variant of, “Have you eaten rice today?” And because rice porridge is most often a child’s first food after weaning, rice is their oldest taste memory. So to deprive an Asian child like this one of rice isn’t to deprive them of a mere ingredient: it is to deprive her of basic nourishment, as well as of a sense of community, of identity, of stability, and of continuity.

The girl’s problem wasn’t lack of rice. Her home country was at war, and she was dealing with a range of very serious issues that rice alone couldn’t fix. But that one small consideration would have restored something vital in her, and the stability and continuity would have meant a little less homesickness, and a little more strength, with each bowlful. She would have engaged with her foster family, and her new culture, far quicker and easier than she did.

Many businesses believe that engagement happens when you set out to be different. They believe, and are constantly told by the pundits, that engagement happens to the Heston Blumenthals of the business world, not the tea ladies. “Look at THIS!” they shout, lifting silver cloches for their clients and would-be clients to reveal wondrous dishes.

Except that people don’t need Luxury Pie and tower-shaped soup every day.

People need rice.

Rice is nourishment. Rice is connection to the expected and the valuable. Rice is easily recognised as good.

Rice is consistency.

Consistency is the basis of engagement, because engagement is connection. Connection – true connection, one that’s profound and long lasting – happens not at the moment that someone leaps out to surprise you, but when you feel you know someone. It’s a direct result of steady, congruent actions and communications over time.

Big acts of razzle-dazzle may catch someone’s attention, but they won’t create engagement. In fact, the best time to schedule your big act of razzle-dazzle is once you know you’ve been consistent: an engaged audience is a receptive audience. In fact, going for the razzle-dazzle without laying a foundation of engagement first means that you’re risking suspicion and distrust. I mean… who are you to these people? Why should they engage with you when they are suffering from extreme marketing and social fatigue? Like that foster child who had plenty but did not care for any of it, they won’t, even if you are offering the proverbial feast.

But consistency gives them a reason to engage.

Consistency also gives them the context.

So your bowl of rice can be a bed for something dazzling or different, whether it’s lobster or ribs.

Your investment of consistency is repaid in engagement and loyalty. That’s over the long term, because consistency is a marathon, not a race. The engagement prize may be a while coming, but once you get it, you get to keep it (unless, of course, you stop being consistent).

Where many businesses fall down at this point is in confusing consistency with sameness. So a business may provide the same thing, and even excel doing it and meet their clients’ needs for a long time, but when clients’ needs change, they are not there to meet those new needs. They lose longtime clients and scratch their heads, wondering where they went wrong. This happens countless times a day, the world over.

The solution? Make meeting your clients’ needs at every stage of their journey your first consistency.

If you do this, you will have continuous, long-term engagement, and you and your clients with sup together at a sumptuous table for a long time.

What is the second consistency your engagement strategy should have? Let’s chew over that next week. In the meantime, if you’d like to talk about engagement, content, productivity, or anything else comms-related, get in touch.


Image © lenyvavsha @ DepositPhotos

How I Instantly Improved My Social Media Feed (and How It May Have Included Deleting You As a Contact)

Johor, Malaysia - Jun 14, 2014: Facebook friends icon on keyboard button, Facebook is a popular free social networking website in the world, Jun 14, 2014 in Johor, Malaysia.

A few years ago, I did a coaching course. One of the things we were told was to “grow the network” as part of our coaching practice. This included joining networking groups, getting out into the world, and adding as many people as we could to our social media profiles.

You know how Facebook works, right? You add a bunch of people to your contacts, and a bunch of people add you, and it begins this chain reaction where your “friends” list grows at tremendous speed. You may not know everyone, but by gum, you are all in the same boat, and you all have friends in common, and that’s a network.

Because of this advice, I had thousands of such “friends” on Facebook.

And last week, I deleted most of them.

What happened? Well, rather than crickets chirping and tumbleweeds rolling by, my feed became clean… and meaningful. The hubbub of voices all clamouring the same things died down, and instead there were individual voices. Personalities. Realness. Connection.

Why did I risk “the network” it took me years to build?

  1. Because just because we’re connected, it doesn’t mean we’re connected. I had almost zero connection with many of these people – of any shape or form. What did they bring to my life? I mean really? And what, by the same token, did I bring to theirs? There’s no need to answer this one, because if either had been significant, there would have been a connection. End of.
  1. Because not all networks are equal. Some people find that their networks are best composed of people in the same profession, so they can all support and help each other; others prefer a big, wide pool of diversity. Either way, it needs to work. Not merely trust that it’s working because someone said it will work and should work, but you need to be able to test, measure, and prove it for yourself. Facebook didn’t work for me as a professional network. All I had in my social network was a bunch of people trying to sell the same products, services, and ideas to each other. Which brings me to my next point.
  1. Because I didn’t want more cogs from the same machinery. When I did the course I started off with the idea that I could be a life coach, but within a short time had cottoned on that coaching is a methodology – not a profession. So I, like other wonderful people still in my network, added that methodology to other methodologies I use in my area of expertise. But most of the contacts I deleted haven’t made that differentiation, and so they grind away, all of them doing “coaching”, continually encouraged – for obvious reasons – by the coaching industry and culture. It’s actually deadly serious stuff, particularly taking into account the massive elephant in the room that life coaches earn an average of $12,000 a year. Not just that, but even though most coaches work with valuable principles, they haven’t taken the time, energy, or thought to make them their own beyond rebranding them. I don’t need thousands of people in my network doing the same thing with no deviation or thought of their own – that’s what production lines in factories are for. Or cults.
  1. Because I want to hear clear, individual voices. This is, by far, the main reason why I deleted all those people. They all sounded the bloody same. I could overlook – and indeed, did overlook – the previous three things if only the person in question had a clear, individual voice, because voice is everything. It’s connection, and it’s what differentiates what you communicate to the world from the hubbub. I’ve spoken and written about voice for decades now, and it’s worth revisiting again because here’s the deal: it’s all been done before. The philosophies, the brilliant ideas, the principles – all of it. The trick is in doing it once more, with feeling. This means voice. Voice requires knowing your audience, having a clear message, and conveying your attitude, all in your individual style. It takes practice. And it doesn’t happen when your message is actually someone else’s, or you’re using the jargon and buzzwords everyone else is using, or your attitude isn’t genuine. Above everything, it requires vulnerability, and people without individual voices aren’t vulnerable: they’re hiding in plain sight.

Maybe you want to improve your social media feed and need to delete some contacts. Maybe you were deleted by someone and are wondering why. Either way, you probably have some thinking to do. But before you go off to think, I want to leave you with a final thought. A couple of weeks ago in Argentina, I was having a D&M with my niece’s husband, Eduardo. He told me, “You know Viole, the older I get, the more I realise that the people who are not worth your time steal time from the people who most deserve it”.

Now how about that.


Image credit ©dolphfynlow via Depositphotos

The Key of Success: Interpersonal Trust

Key & keyhole with light coming from it

So basically, I’m an idiot.

This is what I thought a couple of years ago, when I was up to my ears in theses and papers – some 20 of them – all dealing with trust in business, and I decided to add to the information by reading a book about trust-based marketing. Except it wasn’t about trust. It was about manipulative influence, to create a semblance of trust – basic techniques anyone can learn in Social Psychology 101.

So I was an idiot. Either for believing that trust requires principles rather than manipulation, or for spending $15 on the book in the first place.

I decided it was the latter.

Imagine the kind of relationship you want to have with others. Imagine the kind of relationships you want your staff to have with each other. Does it involve duplicitous influence or manipulation? Or principled, daily investment? Think about this, and while you do, I’ll just point out that those Social Psychology 101 techniques create a temporary trance people snap out of; certainly not the kind of trust that means people will be with each other through short and long, and thick and thin. (I’ve snapped out of a few of those myself, which means you probably have, too. It’s OK. We’ve all been there.)

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Last week I spoke about the threshold of trust, trust in ourselves. Trusting ourselves is the basis for trusting others and have them trust us, but it doesn’t happen automatically. Interpersonal trust needs to be created. David K. Williams says that “It is the relationships we forge—and the trust we create—that matters most to our success at the end of the day.”

How do we create the kind of trust and relationships that end up being the most important part of our success?

With no one thing. But rather, four ongoing things that contain, in turn, a range of behaviours and beliefs that when practiced on a daily basis ensure your personal and business success.


People look at me funny when I say that communication is everything. They don’t look so funny when I offer the explanation: it’s because everything is communication.

Communication is everything


Everything is communication

I’ve talked about this before: every single thing we do, as well as everything we write and say, is a type of communication, and it is fraught with meaning. Once you realise that it’s all communication, and it’s constantly being read by the people around you, the cycle begins.

If your communications are character- and principle-based, rather than personality- and technique-based, as Covey so beautifully expressed it, the people around you will learn something very good about you. You haven’t asked them to trust you, or indeed asked anything of them at this stage, and there is no need for you to; they are observing and learning on their own.

This communication/learning phase is crucial and potentially the most time-intense. How long it takes depends on what you’re communicating, on how the other person learns, and on what exactly is at stake. The important thing is not to devalue or discount it if it’s brief, and to not rush it if it’s taking time.

And then, as if by magic – except it isn’t, and there are no shortcuts – trust happens. At this point, you’ve passed the test, and the other person is willing to be vulnerable in your hands. This is the ultimate definition of trust: vulnerability without fear. People will have confidence in your ability to do right by them, no matter what happens.

The next stage can be lightning fast, because trust isn’t passive. Trust actually drives people to action. The action that people undertake as a result of trusting you could be anything from a sale, to a promotion, to unwavering loyalty. And because it could be anything, you know what that means, don’t you? That their actions will also be communication… to you. And that will kick-start the cycle with you. That’s the beauty of the trust cycle: it’s not something that you impose upon someone else. It’s collaborative. While they are going through the cycle, you are going through your own, and at any point, you can invite other people in.

And it feeds itself, which means that trust isn’t a one-of, make-or-break deal, but an ever-evolving process that becomes more and more significant and powerful as it’s practiced over time.

Practiced by enough people over enough time, it transforms into something even greater: trust in the system. I’ll talk about this next week. See you then!


Photo credit © haveseen via Depositphotos


The Threshold of Trust: Trusting Yourself

Smiling businessman congratulating with himself

I’m still good friends with most of the people in the divorce support group of when I was in the thick of it ten years ago. A lot has happened since then, and one of the most interesting things has been how many of us have opted to not pursue any romantic relationships. There’s the “Been there, done that” and “I’m happy on my own” types, but the really interesting ones are those who say they could never trust someone else ever again.

Have a think about that: one person’s actions ten years ago, making every potential romantic interest suspicious. Every one. Forever. Does it seem fair or logical? No. The issue isn’t with what someone else might do, but with what we might: making a choice, being vulnerable, feeling, acting… that stuff is all us. The subtext of “I could never trust someone else ever again” is actually “I could never trust myself with someone else ever again”.

Last week I introduced the idea of the trust pyramid, with self-trust at the base. There’s a reason: when we don’t trust ourselves, we don’t truly trust anyone, or anything, else. Trusting ourselves also means that when other people break our trust – and they will, if we’re actually out there, interacting with other fallible human beings – we hold firm: it may disappoint us, or even rock us to the core, but it won’t devastate us. But probably far more importantly, self-trust underlies the most important relationship we’ll ever have – the one with ourselves.

How to develop trust in ourselves is a question for the ages, and I have to tell you now that there are no easy fixes, or quick ones. Each step below could also be a book on its own, and worth exploring further if you are serious about learning to trust yourself and reaping the benefits.

Trust pyramid_self_sml

Surround Yourself with the Right People

Let’s get this one out of the way quickly. You may – just may – be surrounded by the kind of people who erode your self-trust. At best they may do it in subtle ways, by constantly questioning everything you say and do, and at worst, they may actually be abusive. Yes: people are supposed to question you occasionally. (I couldn’t do without the handful of people who call me to account if they’re worried about a choice I’ve made.) So ask yourself the key questions: “Is this person trying to support me, nurture me, or challenge me?” If the answer is yes, make them part of your inner circle. If the answer is no, banish them to the outer edge… and poke them repeatedly with a sharp stick until they go.

Keep Promises to Yourself

Trustworthy people come through for others, over and over again. You can learn self-trust just like that – by coming through for yourself. It may not be easy; many people wouldn’t dream of breaking a promise to someone else but think nothing of breaking one to themselves. In talking about promises I mean literal promises, and also goals, and the acts of backing yourself or committing to something. Every time you come through on them, your self-trust grows. If you are not used to keeping promises to yourself, begin now: choose simple promises, make them your first priority, and reward yourself for keeping them. Make promises bigger and hairier as you get good at keeping them. Oh, and by the way? You don’t get out of this one by saying, “If I don’t make promises, I don’t have to worry about keeping or breaking them!” People who don’t make promises are fundamentally suspicious – so there.

Live a Life that Is Congruent with Your Values

Values drive us; they are central to who we are. Do you know what your values are? At their most basic and vital? If you don’t, you will be used to feeling conflicted, and constantly doubting yourself. Find out what your values are, and compare them against the choices you make: do they match? When they do, you are honouring something essential, even sacred; this honour nourishes self-trust like nothing else can. When they don’t, there’s a part of you deep inside that asks, “If I can’t trust him to live by this most essential, sacred thing, then what can I trust him with?” When you live a life that’s congruent with your values, you’ll also reap much more than self-trust: you’ll have more peace, happiness, and energy, and making decisions and promises will become a natural thing.

Have High Quality Communications with Yourself

At the end of the day, it had to come down to communication. But not just any communication: your inner dialogue. Tony Robbins said that the quality of our lives is ultimately determined by the way we communicate with others, and with ourselves. This is a big, big statement to ponder, and not necessarily an easy one. What is your self-talk like? As you think about that, I want you to remember the people I mentioned earlier. Who do the voices in your head sound like? The ones that support, nurture, or challenge you, or the ones that deserve to be banished? Everything you do to develop your self-trust can be undone by the kind of cruel messages that you’d never dream of telling others, but think nothing of telling yourself. On the other hand, high-quality communications will lead to high quality lives.

Whether you take all steps at once or one at a time, learning to trust yourself is life changing – and an apprenticeship for what’s next: trusting others. More of that next week. See you then!

Photo credit: © minervastock via Depositphotos

When trust gets personal

Closeup of a mirror reflection of a woman's eye, selective focus

Do you trust yourself? If you do, what does it allow you to do? And if you don’t, what’s that stopping? Not just for you, but in the bigger picture?

I’ve been thinking about what trusting ourselves means because for the first time since I’ve adopted LinkedIn as my social medium of choice, not only have I had to block a contact, but report him.

The irony here is that that little sentence doesn’t even begin to convey the hoops I put myself through to get to the point where I reported him. It’s the hoops, and what they mean – to all of us – that lead to important questions about trust.

A man requested to connect with me on LinkedIn some months ago. He sent me a total of four private messages – he always initiated contact – and that was all the interaction we had. There was no public back-and-forth or engagement of any kind. But his four messages segued from professional, to cordial, to overly personal, and finally, to insulting. Because I didn’t communicate with him, and he wasn’t specifically responding to anything I had posted on LinkedIn, I have no idea what prompted the messages. I wouldn’t understand his behaviour even if someone did tell me what prompted them (and that’s pretty much the case for all of us when we are confronted with behaviour we wouldn’t engage in).

And so on to my decision to report this man. I’d like to say that I acted swiftly and decisively, but I didn’t. First, because I knew that reporting him could have serious consequences for him. But more significantly, because despite feeling that he had harassed and bullied me, I actually began to second-guess myself. He had been so subtle that I began to wonder whether I was imagining it. Was I making something out of nothing? Was I being overly sensitive? Would his messages have had a different meaning if he’d used emoticons? What if my so-called expertise at communications was all a sham and I just really don’t have a clue?

In the end, I took the messages to two people whose judgement I trust. Was I going nuts? The consensus was that no, I wasn’t, and yes, I should report this man to LinkedIn. The validation didn’t make me feel better, but it certainly made me ask myself some interesting questions.

The most interesting – and toughest – question was why I hadn’t trusted myself: my logic, my feelings, or my experience. It turns out that while I’m no stranger to self-trust, I’m not best buds with it, either.

That goes for many, if not most of us.

And we’re missing out.

Because self-trust is not only fundamental and vital to the way we operate as human beings, but it lays the foundation for how we operate as the human race.

Trust pyramid

Over the next few weeks I will be talking about the four levels of trust, and how to build on them step by step, beginning with the basics: self-trust. See you then, and in the meantime, begin to practice more of that self-trust, just like I have. Even if you’re not ready to be best buds with it yet, you can still go on a few dates, right?

See you next week!



Photo credit © Ammentorp via Depositphotos