Updated: Oct 23, 2018
We all know Robert Di Niro’s comical routine with Ben Stiller and the Circle of Trust. Without going to the extremes of Di Niro, we can build a culture of trust starting with first impressions. As leaders, we need to be the ones to set the example of the behaviour we want to cultivate. A vibrant supportive workplace is where we want to stay. It’s where we feel trusted.
Working with others long-term, we cannot help but leave an impression. It comes from what we wear and what we say. There’s the guy who never irons his shirt. I still don’t think brown shoes should be worn with a black suit – what are those fellows doing? Either way, we are judged by how we look, and we are judged by what we say, and both things we can control.
Once I taught a senior English class in an all-boys college. One day, a colourful character in the class decided to wear red stilettos. He was trying them out for the School Ball. He sure got a hard time form some of the more testosterone prone lads. I knew the young man well enough that whatever I said to him would not faze him at all. He knew I cared. All the boys were waiting with baited breath for my reaction when he entered the room in all his regal glory. They know I shoot from the hip. I didn’t bat an eyelid. With a sincere look of concern, I said, “Steven, you think you could have shaved your legs as well? You don’t look the whole package.” He was more than happy to reply, “yeah, they don’t do these shoes justice.”
Even though this young man was an outsider to the rest of the class, I had built a relationship with him. We always exchanged pleasantries. He trusted me. Despite the hilarity of the situation, and as an older male in his life, he trusted me enough to ask hard life questions. Often senior boys in their last year, as this class was, are nervous about the future. They crave guidance when perhaps they do not have male role-models in their life. Yip, some of them even called me dad. And it all started with sincere salutations.
Maybe I am an old fuddy duddy now, but I am sure that nowadays less people say hello. If you go for a walk in New Zealand, you often have plenty of time to check out those coming toward you. You can see someone a hundred meters out and pretty much know for sure if they are the hello-type. Old folks are great. They love it. Go on, make their day. A group of teens, don’t bother. An alone twenty-something woman, most likely she will be glued to her phone. Just aim straight. An obvious foreigner, say hello and make them feel welcome – even if they ignore you and you know that they know what you said.
I always say hello to my colleagues. No matter what. One time I said a warm morning greeting and had the other person burst into tears. I’m not that bad of a guy. I am just the guy that they were able to open up to because they trusted me. What a way to strengthen a working relationship when someone feels able to share such an intimate moment. This does not happen when we ignore people.
We all know a smile and hello costs nothing. Sure, sometimes it costs effort. Sometimes we need to pull away from our own self-centeredness. Make it real. A warm greeting opens doors and opens hearts. If it’s your company and your staff, you are in it together. Lead by example and create a place where people want to be. Own your Circle of Trust.