Misdiagnose. Often, leaders are causing the fear but denying
it. “Who me? I don’t do a thing to make people feel uncomfort
able.” They haven’t Learned to Look. They’re unaware of their
Style Under Stress. Despite this disclaimer, the way they carry
themselves, their habit of speaking in absolutes, their subtle use
of authority-something out there-is creating fear and eventual
Then there’s the other misdiagnosis: leaders who face “head
bobbing kiss-ups” often think they’re doing something wrong
when, in fact, they’re living with ghosts of previous leaders. They
do their best to be open and supportive and to involve people,
YEAH, BUT 1 99
but despite their genuine efforts, people still keep their distance.
Often, people treat their leaders like celebrities or dictators,
regardless of the fact that they’ve done nothing to deserve it.
Before you do anything, you need to find out if you’re the
cause, if you’re living with ghosts of bosses past, or both.
Command it away. Many leaders seek the simple path. They
tell people to stop deferring.
“It seems to me that you’re agreeing with me because I’m
the boss and not because what I’m saying makes sense.”
“I’d prefer that you stop deferring to me and simply listen
to the idea.”
“Okay. whatever you say, Boss ! ”
With ingrained deference you face a catch-22. If you don’t say
something, it’ll probably continue. If you do say something, you
may be inadvertently encouraging it to continue.
Work on me first. Discover your part in the problem. Don’t ask
your direct reports. If they’re already deferring to you, they’ll
whitewash the problem. Consult with a peer who watches you in
action. Ask for honest feedback. Are you doing things that cause
people to defer to you? If so, what? Explore your peer’s path by
having him or her point out your specific behaviors. Jointly devel
op a plan of attack, work on it, and seek continued feedback.
If the problem stems from ghosts (the actions of previous
leaders), go public. Describe the problem in a group or team
meeting and then ask for advice. Don’t try to command it away.
You can’t. Reward risk takers. Encourage testing. When people
do express an opinion contrary to yours, thank them for their
honesty. Play devi l ‘s advocate. If you can’t get others to disagree,
200 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
then disagree with yourself. Let people know that all ideas are
open to question. If you need to, leave the room. Give people
some breathing space.
n YEA H, BUT. ..
I DON’T KNOW WHAT to do. I’m not sure I can trust this
person. He missed an important deadline. Now I wonder
if I should trust him again. ”
The Danger Point
People often assume that trust is something you have or don’t
have. Either you trust someone or you don’t. That puts too much
pressure on trust. “What do you mean I can’t stay out past mid
night? Don’t you trust me?” your teenage son inquires.
Trust doesn’t have to be universally offered. In truth, it’s usu
ally offered in degrees and is very topic specific. It also comes in
two flavors-motive and ability. For example, you can trust me
to administer CPR if needed; I’m motivated. But you can’t trust
me to do a good job; I know nothing about it.
Deal with trust around the issue, not around the person.
When it comes to regaining trust in others, don’t set the bar
too high. Just try to trust them in the moment, not across all
issues. You don’t have to trust them in everything. To make it
safe for yourself in the moment, bring up your concerns.
Tentatively STATE what you see happening. “I get the sense that
you’re only sharing the good side of your plan. I need to hear the
possible risks before I’m comfortable. Is that okay?” If they play
games, call them on it.
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Also, don’t use your mistrust as a club to punish people. If
they’ve earned your mistrust in one area, don’t let it bleed over
into your overall perception of their character. If you tell yourself
a Villain Story that exaggerates others’ untrustworthiness, you’ll
act in ways that help them justify themselves in being even less
worthy of your trust. You’ll start up a self-defeating cycle and get
more of what you don ‘t want.
WON’T TALK ABOUT ANYTHING SERIOUS