When I am dealing with someone who is important to my business but who I don't know very well, I listen for two things: I want to hear "I don't know." and I want to hear "I screwed up." Why is this? It's a quick and dirty screen that helps me to decide whether I can trust an individual. There are always things we don't know and there are always things that we screw up. People who can't admit that they don't know something and people who attempt to cover up their mistakes are people that I can't trust. In business, the importance of trust cannot be overemphasized. In the long run, someone who will lie to you is someone who will cost you time, money, or the worst: reputation. My two little test phrases are not, of course, a perfect screen but I am on high alert before I hear them, relaxing to cautious optimism after I do hear them. I need and want truth-tellers and I avoid liars and obfuscators like the plague. Trust is, for me, very nearly a one-strike-and-you're-out kind of thing. Where there is a clear case, I'll fire a vendor, a customer, or an employee without hesitation or regret. Life is rarely crystal clear, however, so I may also watch and wait for further evidence or, hopefully, counter-evidence. After all, firing someone is no fun. Be careful out there.
What I Listen For by George Anderson
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