The Essential Guide To Knowing Who You Can Trust.

Your Head Coach has bad news for readers using on-line dating services to find a soul mate.  Scientific American recently reported that a team of psychologists found the approach employed by on-line dating services does not yield ideal matches. Specifically, the algorithm used by most of these services fails to identify the factors predictive of good relationships: (1) interactive style, and, (2) the ability to handle stress.  Bottom line, we bond best with people who communicate well, particularly about things that aren’t going well.

Is this relevant to executives involved in gratifying interpersonal relationships? Absolutely! It points to the fact that computer programs, paper-and-pencil tests, and hired-gun-diagnosticians –the resources Americans most often rely on to make “people predictions”— don’t approach the value provided by interpersonal savvy when it comes to determining if you should put your faith and trust in someone.

My pique over our national aversion to making personal, hands-on judgments of others stems from the fact that I am currently working with three men who got burned by folks they thought they could trust.  Each of these men is successful, intelligent, and well liked, but each claims, “I cannot judge people.” Since each has relied on “services” to make new hires, and demands reams of references prior to doing business with “strangers,” it struck me that their “interpersonal judgmental muscles” may have atrophied owing to a history of using crutches.  Whatever the cause of my clients’ malaise, I cannot overstate how important it is for executives to learn how to differentiate a mensch from a manipulator without resorting to to do so.

To start you on the road to developing people diagnostic skills, the 5 vignettes that follow demonstrate how to use cues culled from everyday social interactions as the basis of determining whether or not an individual is deceptive or dependable. This process is based on a simple principle of social psychology: You learn more about a person when his behavior is at variance with normative expectations than when it conforms to them. In addition, the process of judging people in vivo assumes that most people are cognizant of more than they allow themselves to be aware of at any given moment because, over time, ignorance can be blissful. The vast majority of us would rather assume that John is having a bad day than “understanding” what a duplicitous weasel John is.

One caveat: Even if you master the skills illustrated in the vignettes below, you will not be immune to the wiles of skilled conmen. The only people who never have their trust betrayed are sociopaths. The reason why: They never trust others to begin with. This offers little consolation if you are grieving about giving a boatload of money to someone you recently learned has no intention of repaying you, but look at it this way: They cannot rob you of your integrity, and your good character gives you the capacity for growth, whereas the guy that screwed you is a prisoner of his own psychopathology.

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1. Beware of adults who keep homework-eating dogs as pets. It’s amazing that regardless of how high some people climb up the career ladder they refuse to let go of the mongrel they adopted in grade school to provide an excuse for not doing their homework. You would think that only a kid would weasel out of missing deadlines by blaming his dog’s appetite, but adults do it constantly, if in more creative ways.  From sisters-in-law who steal your computer the night before a presentation, to neighbors whose partying prevents you from sleeping, some people have all the (bad) luck. If these unique dog owners come up short and disappoint you, it is never the result of their own doing; someone/something else is always to blame.

What’s the big deal, you wonder, if a person uses a little white lie (“You know a Ford: Fix Or Repair Daily…”), to avoid embarrassment? Plenty. First and foremost, the person who does not assume responsibility for letting you down in one context will do so in all others. Today it’s “I know I’m responsible for donuts on Tuesday, but my cat had kittens last night, yadda, yadda, yadda.” Tomorrow it’s, “I know I owe you $100,000, but I had to buy a new BMW for my wife. She said she’d divorce me if I didn’t replace her Volvo.”

You know people are trustworthy if, when things go wrong owing to their action or inaction, they address the damage done to you. When Trustworthy Tom drops a ball, he asks, “Did I hurt your toe?” not, “Who put grease on the floor?”

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