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Leadership Mistakes

Don't Ruin your Reputation With a Small Mistake

Axel Meierhoefer asked:

Copyright (c) 2008 Axel Meierhoefer

This article focuses on the importance of trust in business. I did some research and found the following: In the social sciences, the subtleties of trust are a subject of ongoing research. In sociology the degree to which one party trusts another is a measure of belief in the honesty, benevolence and competence of the other party. Based on the most recent research, a failure in trust may be forgiven more easily if it is interpreted as a failure of competence rather than a lack of benevolence or honesty. You can exchange competence for skill or knowledge in most cases. Only if it can be shown that you knew about something and still didn’t use your knowledge, would trust be at least as much violated, if not more, because it goes to honesty in such a case. Many of today’s businesses, especially when they are relatively new struggle to gain reputation, new customers, revenues and ultimately profits. In this environment and with more and more competition in global markets, we need to do everything we can to hold on to those customers we have and who trust us. The size of the business doe snot really matter. The way we handle mistakes is what decides if we keep customers and clients, even grow our base, or if we loose them. The definition gave us an idea about what trust really means, let’s look at some stories sent to me in an email regarding the impact of trust on developing and keeping your business:

He writes: “Over the past few days, I’ve had a chance to see just how skeptical people can be and how seemingly little things will cause people–especially new people –to question doing business with us.

It was quite eye-opening and bears some contemplation–for us. The first experience was a phone conversation with a subscriber. He was inquiring about one of our programs and it gave us a chance to get to know each other a little.

He mentioned that he was feeling better about our company after speaking with me. When I asked why he hadn’t before, he mentioned a Tele-seminar we had done last year. He had heard about it too late to attend live, but when he emailed me about a recording, I told him to stand by as it was going to be available soon.

Apparently, when we announced the availability of the audio file to our readers, he missed it. And in the process he felt that we had not followed through. It was perceived as a small breech of trust–but enough to cause a seed of doubt. I was glad for the opportunity to clear it up.

There was another event that occurred this week that further showed me just how careful you have to be when you do not yet have a relationship of trust.

One of our new members related to me that she was disappointed in a couple of things. It seems that during our Open House Conference call, I had stated there would be time for some questions and answers. And there were via the webcast. Participants could– and did–send in questions which we answered. But I forgot to leave a Q&A time for those on the telephone. Once again, my error caused doubt in her mind.

And this same person was troubled that a link sent to her was not hot-linked and seemingly invalid. We now had two strikes against us.

These are two of my friend’s experiences about trust and building your business. We have experienced similar things in our business. The connection to my class about diversity and pluralism comes in when we look at what the value of relationships is in different countries. The term created by Trompenaars & Hamptden-Turner talks about specific versus diffuse cultures. They say:

In specific cultures a manager segregates out the tasks relationship he or she has with subordinates and insulates this from other dealings. In diffuse cultures the life space and everything that happens in it permeates everything. If you would draw this difference in a graphic, a specific representative of a culture would have a relatively small core in the center of a circle that represents his or her private life. That’s the area they would keep away form others and don’t talk much about, other then with very close friends, spouses and family members. All the rest of the circle would be considered the public life, which is divided into a number of parts. Each part has relationships but they don’t really impact the inner core and relationships can exist in each part of the public life without touching or influencing each other.

If you drew the same circle (same size) for a member of a diffuse culture, the vast majority of the inner area of the circle would be considered the private life. Just a very small ring on the outside is public life. That causes almost every aspect of life to influence both public and private life.

As you might imagine, if a person form a specific culture meets or interacts with a person of a diffuse culture, the private life of the diffuse culture person is almost always touched. That makes the relationship much different. If one doesn’t know about these differences, mistakes are easily made and people can get hurt, not only physically, but also emotionally. Trust can get broken. The stories Michael Angier was referring to are more for people of the specific type, where the facts determine the relationship that forms. With people form diffuse cultures, you need to form the relationship first and then these small hick-ups don’t play a huge role in maintaining trust.

In the book an interesting experiment is described. Workers in different countries are asked if they would help to paint their bosses house. People form the USA, UK, Switzerland, and most northern European countries said “No”. These regions are known for their differences in culture. People form diffuse cultures, like China, Nepal, and several African countries (to name a few) would actually paint their bosses house. They see this as part of the relationship and commitment to their work, the company and the boss as a person. It touches their personal life and standing. They also trust that their help will be seen as a positive thing when their work at their employer is evaluated.

The Japanese respondents didn’t want to paint their bosses house, not because that wouldn’t be typical in their culture, but because nobody in Japan paints houses. The researchers went back to the Japanese participants in the survey and asked them why they answered the way they did. The surprising (and funny) reply was: “Houses in Japan are never painted” – just showing that you need to be careful what you are asking to gain empirical data. In reality they would probably do it if it would be something that could realistically happen. Japanese workers are famous for their loyalty to country, company, and authorities. That makes developing relationships so much more important, especially in diffuse cultures.

Trust is of fundamental importance in all cultures. If we have a good level of awareness regarding our environment, we will no what to do and not to do. This will also allow us to predict the consequences. Michael Angier wouldn’t loose or almost loose a client because he didn’t announce a posting or article, or didn’t allow for some Q&A sessions in a diffuse culture. Those that tune in and listen to him would have developed a trusting relationship to him before they would every spend considerable time in a tele-seminar. What his American clients, coming from a specific culture deemed a failure of trust or a strike against him would be forgiven because he probably had done many many more important things to gain the trust of his listeners and participants.

Small mistakes can drive people away and we all want to avoid them. When dealing with different cultures, being aware of how trust is build and how it can be lost is equally important if we want to be successful, especially in a more and more global marketplace.

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