We started out as strangers, now we’re friends

Our tendency to divide people into Us versus Them seems to be getting worse, in both the workplace and the world. But what if we can help people experience a better way? What if people can see how even strangers - people in different places and different circumstances - can come together in a way that provides mutual support and benefit?

This past week, Anna in Germany sent me a message about her WOL Circle. She told me her group is “between 25 and 55 years old - single, married, with and without kids, all different styles of living and different career steps.” She captured a feeling I’ve heard many times before, so I asked if I could share her note today.

I'm in week 6 of my first WOL experience - and I love it!!! My circle members are the best I could have chosen. I really appreciate them and how we are growing together. 

Our WOL circle is like magic. We started as 5 total strangers with such different backgrounds and last week we met for the first time in real life and it felt like we had been friends for years.  

Thank you so much!!!

Week after week on a video call, Anna’s Circle is experiencing a very human process of giving and receiving, discovering they have much more in common than they might have expected. Their exchanges deepen a sense of trust and relatedness between them, and they feel connected instead of divided.

Imagine if we could spread this feeling of “Us” instead of “Us and Them”? Once you learn how fulfilling it is to develop meaningful connections with four strangers, you can practice it with anyone. 

Spreading the Feeling of “Us”


Intimacy with a stranger in 20 seconds

Ten thousand years ago, if you were rejected by your social group you would die. To improve our collective chances of belonging and surviving, we evolved highly sophisticated ways of tracking status of group members in ways that help us cooperate and collaborate. 

Deep in our brains, we still carry this instinctual need for belonging. It may no longer be life or death, but we feel pain when we sense we’re being rejected and we feel better when we sense we’re accepted and safe.

Knowing this can change how you relate to people.

Is it safe?

In The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, author Dan Coyle asserts that the cultures of the world’s most successful groups “are created by a specific set of skills which tap into the power of our social brains.” The first of these skills is to “build safety,” learning how to exchange signals that build social bonds of belonging and identity. These signals, or belonging cues, communicate three things.

  1. I see you.

  2. I care about you.

  3. We have a shared future together. 

When we exchange these signals, we feel safe and accepted. When we don’t, we feel uncertain and increasingly anxious.

A fundamental human skill

The phrase “psychological safety” may seem more suitable for the laboratory than the workplace or home, but Google’s research into effective teams lists psychological safety as the first of “five key dynamics that set successful teams apart from other teams at Google.” The belonging cues are even taught at elementary schools, using the SLANT strategy

“SLANT” is an acronym that stands for ‘Sit up, Lean forward, Ask and answers questions, Nod your head and Track the speaker.’ It is a simple technique to encourage and remind students on being attentive and active in class. 

The crux of the SLANT strategy is to enhance learning and student performance by creating a behavior incorporating the conscious use of positive body language.

Track the speaker and make eye contact. I see you. Nod your head and ask questions. I care about what you have to say. Ask and answer questions. We have a shared future together. If you think this seems silly or unnecessary, try having a conversation with your child or partner while they’re looking at their phone. How effective is that conversation? How do you feel?

Is it difficult to learn how to do this?

Recently, I heard Dan Coyle speak at a conference in Houston. He’s an insightful, intelligent, engaging presenter - and I had to give a talk after him! I related the exchanges of signals that Dan talked about to the giving and receiving that takes place as you Work Out Loud. In the workshop after my talk, I included an exercise of offering a contribution of appreciation, and a woman in the audience demonstrated how easy it can be to communicate belonging cues.

With a single sentence, she made it clear she was listening to what I had to say, was interested in it, and expected to use it in the future. Writing it took just a few seconds, and it led to a further exchange during the workshop.

But if it’s so easy, why don’t we have more successful groups and positive cultures? Because the hard part - the art of communications and good relationships - is to practice making these exchanges over and over again, reinforcing and enhancing social bonds. That’s the thing most of us struggle with. We forget to say what we feel, we avoid the risk of discomfort, we assume the other person knows.

The basis of human connection is an exchange of signals over time. What signals are you sending?

Becoming a trusted advisor

The Trust FormulaHave you ever worked with someone you’d call a “trusted advisor”? I mean the kind of person who has a network of close relationships and gets business based on the trust they’ve earned over time. They get paid, of course, but you think of them as a partner more than a vendor. Recently, I met with 2 small consulting firms, friends of mine, who are seeking to earn trust while they earn business. Distinguishing themselves is difficult and getting new business is even harder.

So we talked about how they could  accelerate the process of becoming trusted advisors.

“The Trusted Advisor”

In 2000, three experts in managing professional services firms wrote “The Trusted Advisor” which the Boston Consulting Group CEO described as “an invaluable road map to all those who seek to develop truly special relationships with their clients.”

With chapters like “The Art of Listening”, the authors give sound advice that would have resonated with Dale Carnegie. They break down the elements of trust and put them into a simple formula:

Trust  = (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy) / Self-orientation

They note that “the most effective sources of differentiation in trustworthiness come from intimacy and self-orientation.” Trusted advisors, through their words and actions, showed that they told the truth, did what they said they’d do, and put the interests of their clients before their own.

Traditionally, this takes a long time. The trusted advisors I know took many years to build their network and earn the trust of the people in it. The small consulting firms I visited, still considered start-ups, didn’t have that kind of time.

Another approach

Fortunately, my friends already had the ability to amplify their work and extend their reach by Working Out Loud. They could make their work visible and expand their network in a way the authors of “Trusted Advisor” could not fully envision when they wrote their book. 

Here are the authors’ 4 trust elements and how Working Out Loud provides extra benefits.

“Trusted Advisor” 

Benefits of 

Working Out Loud

Credibility

“Credibility isn’t just content expertise...We must find ways not only to be credible, but also to give the client the sense that we are credible.” When your work is visible on social platforms, the public feedback and discussion about your work enhances its credibility.
 

Reliability

“Judgments on reliability are strongly affected, if not determined, by the number of times the client has interacted with you.” Interacting online gives you many more opportunities to demonstrate publicly that you follow up and do what you say you’ll do.
 

Intimacy

“The most common failure in building trust is the lack of intimacy. Some professionals ... maintain an emotional distance from their clients. We believe they do so not only at their own risk but also their clients’.” In addition to what you say in client meetings, you can deepen relationships through small contributions between meetings. The ambient intimacy you can develop online will bring you closer to your clients more quickly.
 

Self-orientation

“...self-orientation is about much more than greed. It covers anything that keeps us focused on ourselves rather than on our client.” Framing your work as a contribution and leading with generosity demonstrates both your confidence and your willingness to serve.

What should they do next?

The groups I spoke with believed in the need to build their network and that leading with generosity would be a way to do it. But they still weren’t sure what they would do next. So, in a condensed version of the 12-week program, we talked about the people they wanted in their network and, for each person, the contributions the individuals in the firm had to offer.

Want to help recent graduates you might recruit? Each of the analysts could write about what they’re doing and learning. That could help recruits understand what the work was really like and how best to prepare for it.

Want to help potential clients navigate the industry? Maintain a list of the people you genuinely believe are thought leaders and trusted advisors in your industry and then profile some of those individuals. You’ll benefit by association with such people and producing such a list will demonstrate your confidence and generosity.

Want to help clients understand the issues? Publish your work and your thinking that went into it. You don't need to provide client details for this to be valuable. Dissect that strategy project you just completed, for example. Show what goes into such a project, cite your research, and point to case studies. 

Finally, we walked through examples of people and firms that do this well. All of the members of  Change Agents WorldWide Work Out Loud. Jeremiah Owyang did it when he was at Altimeter and does it now at his new firm, Crowd Companies. The venture capitalist Fred Wilson has been doing it for 10 years at Union Square Ventures. Through their contributions, they’re all demonstrating their trustworthiness to a much, much bigger audience than would ever know them otherwise. Just like them, each person in those consulting firms should be working in a more open, connected way to build trust both for themselves and for their firm.

As one meeting ending, the group decided to start by helping graduates as a way to improve recruiting. The CEO, a trusted advisor himself after decades in the business, said: “It could really bring our firm to life.”

That’s exactly right.

Becoming a trusted advisor

The Trust FormulaHave you ever worked with someone you’d call a “trusted advisor”? I mean the kind of person who has a network of close relationships and gets business based on the trust they’ve earned over time. They get paid, of course, but you think of them as a partner more than a vendor. Recently, I met with 2 small consulting firms, friends of mine, who are seeking to earn trust while they earn business. Distinguishing themselves is difficult and getting new business is even harder.

So we talked about how they could  accelerate the process of becoming trusted advisors.

“The Trusted Advisor”

In 2000, three experts in managing professional services firms wrote “The Trusted Advisor” which the Boston Consulting Group CEO described as “an invaluable road map to all those who seek to develop truly special relationships with their clients.”

With chapters like “The Art of Listening”, the authors give sound advice that would have resonated with Dale Carnegie. They break down the elements of trust and put them into a simple formula:

Trust  = (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy) / Self-orientation

They note that “the most effective sources of differentiation in trustworthiness come from intimacy and self-orientation.” Trusted advisors, through their words and actions, showed that they told the truth, did what they said they’d do, and put the interests of their clients before their own.

Traditionally, this takes a long time. The trusted advisors I know took many years to build their network and earn the trust of the people in it. The small consulting firms I visited, still considered start-ups, didn’t have that kind of time.

Another approach

Fortunately, my friends already had the ability to amplify their work and extend their reach by Working Out Loud. They could make their work visible and expand their network in a way the authors of “Trusted Advisor” could not fully envision when they wrote their book. 

Here are the authors’ 4 trust elements and how Working Out Loud provides extra benefits.

“Trusted Advisor” 

Benefits of 

Working Out Loud

Credibility

“Credibility isn’t just content expertise...We must find ways not only to be credible, but also to give the client the sense that we are credible.” When your work is visible on social platforms, the public feedback and discussion about your work enhances its credibility.
Reliability “Judgments on reliability are strongly affected, if not determined, by the number of times the client has interacted with you.” Interacting online gives you many more opportunities to demonstrate publicly that you follow up and do what you say you’ll do.
Intimacy “The most common failure in building trust is the lack of intimacy. Some professionals ... maintain an emotional distance from their clients. We believe they do so not only at their own risk but also their clients’.” In addition to what you say in client meetings, you can deepen relationships through small contributions between meetings. The ambient intimacy you can develop online will bring you closer to your clients more quickly.
Self-orientation “...self-orientation is about much more than greed. It covers anything that keeps us focused on ourselves rather than on our client.” Framing your work as a contribution and leading with generosity demonstrates both your confidence and your willingness to serve.

What should they do next?

The groups I spoke with believed in the need to build their network and that leading with generosity would be a way to do it. But they still weren’t sure what they would do next. So, in a condensed version of the 12-week program, we talked about the people they wanted in their network and, for each person, the contributions the individuals in the firm had to offer.

Want to help recent graduates you might recruit? Each of the analysts could write about what they’re doing and learning. That could help recruits understand what the work was really like and how best to prepare for it.

Want to help potential clients navigate the industry? Maintain a list of the people you genuinely believe are thought leaders and trusted advisors in your industry and then profile some of those individuals. You’ll benefit by association with such people and producing such a list will demonstrate your confidence and generosity.

Want to help clients understand the issues? Publish your work and your thinking that went into it. You don't need to provide client details for this to be valuable. Dissect that strategy project you just completed, for example. Show what goes into such a project, cite your research, and point to case studies. 

Finally, we walked through examples of people and firms that do this well. All of the members of  Change Agents WorldWide Work Out Loud. Jeremiah Owyang did it when he was at Altimeter and does it now at his new firm, Crowd Companies. The venture capitalist Fred Wilson has been doing it for 10 years at Union Square Ventures. Through their contributions, they’re all demonstrating their trustworthiness to a much, much bigger audience than would ever know them otherwise. Just like them, each person in those consulting firms should be working in a more open, connected way to build trust both for themselves and for their firm.

As one meeting ending, the group decided to start by helping graduates as a way to improve recruiting. The CEO, a trusted advisor himself after decades in the business, said: “It could really bring our firm to life.”

That’s exactly right.