One of the tenets I teach to top EAs in my classes is to trust no one in business. I've literally watched business etiquette erode for the past 26 years as a top Executive Assistant and 32 total years working for the man. Business deals used to be sealed with a handshake and the offering of one's word as collateral. Now, people actually have a strategy of saying one thing to pull you in, then switching it up last minute to shake more coins from your pockets, knowing that you've already dismissed their competitors and are solely beholden to them. That's the new norm. And personally, I find it disgusting and classless.
I counsel many Executive Assistants who were promised the world during their interview cycle...tutelage, joining Leadership Team meetings, access to big projects that actually move the needle for the company, etc. Only to find that none of these perks had ever been vetted as something that their execs actually had the time or desire to do. I'm always wary of companies that pull out the red carpet 3 feet further than their competition, because it's a tell tale sign that they are over promising and likely won't be able to deliver on those promises once the ink is dry. Once you're committed, you're on your own.
I also teach Executive Assistants to maintain a safe distance between themselves and their execs. I've watched countless EAs get a little too close or too familiar with their execs only to be burned when looking for a new job and a reference, when their execs score their own dream job and renege on the promise of taking them with to the new company. Or when execs leave the company for whatever reason and receive these insane golden parachutes(read: millions of dollars to f*ck off) on their way out the door and don't even have the decency to write a $10,000 personal check to the Assistant who's literally run their lives and kept them sane for the past 5 - 10 years. That $10,000 thank you actually serves to offset the fact that the Assistant now has to find a new job which typically takes about 3-5 months for top EAs. Factor in living in expensive markets like the San Francisco Bay Area where rent for a 1BR apartment in San Francisco averages $3,258/month (rentcafe.com; July 2018), transportation to and from numerous interviews, and the priceless emotional toll of essentially being driven to the park to play and watching your parents walk away, never to return.
Trust is to be earned, not given blithely or freely. We now live in a society that's more focused on "what's in it for me" than assuming people are moral, will instinctively do the right thing and perform to their word. I've been bitten many times by the trust bug throughout my career. I mean, c'mon! I'm an ex-farmboy. I grew up sloppin' hogs and tending chickens, cows, horses and crops seasonally. We never locked our doors. All of the neighbors within a mile radius knew each other and would constantly bring food or pop by to say hello or lend a hand during harvest season, or watch each other's children and possessions based solely on trusting one another. Sadly, at least in business, those days are gone. Didn't native tribes used to cut their palms and make blood-exchanging handshakes as a form of brotherhood and a life-long trust bond never to be betrayed? Now we shake hands and immediately reach for the Purell and call a meeting to figure out how to squeeze more blood from the turnip now that the client is on the hook.
That's why I trust no one in business. Until the ink is dry the deal doesn't exist. Everything...and I mean EVERYTHING needs to be in writing. Yes, I'm one of those people who would prefer you email me and not call me on the phone. It's not because I don't enjoy the pleasant sound of your voice, it's because when something inevitably goes pear-shaped, I want to confidently know that I can cover my ass with an email trail of what was discussed or promised to quickly squash any doubt. As Executive Assistants this is critical! I can't tell you how many times someone else has missed a meeting or been late to a call and the instant assumption is that I f*cked up. I'm all to happy to forward the paper trail to my execs summarily exonerating myself with proof...and as a low key F U for assuming I'm to blame.
I'm not advocating trusting no one in your life. That's recipe for becoming suspicious of everyone or assuming that everyone is out to get you in some way. However, in business I operate with the assumption that people really only care about their self interests and will do whatever it takes to achieve the results they're trying to achieve. And that often doesn't include your feelings, your word or anything related to trust. Business is transactional to me. I'm not here to make friends. I'm here to get the job done, but with my integrity intact. I keep distance from most people which often makes me appear to be an outsider or unapproachable at times. But what I've learned in my 26 years in the seat is that when big money is involved social graces, integrity and trust go right out the window. Call me an alarmist or a pessimist...bring it on. But one thing I no longer do is allow myself to be taken for a ride by anyone based on the personal tenets I've described above.
- Get in and get out in business transactions. Linger too long and you'll be subject to strategy and gamesmanship you may not be aware of until it's too late.
- Be wary of the person who's trying a little too hard to build a relationship with you.Especially where there is some sort of exchange of currency at play. You're likely a pawn to help them get whatever it is they're looking for and you'll likely be discarded once the objective is achieved. Thanks for that lesson Los Angeles. #goodtalk
- Trust your instincts. They're right...always. We often ignore red flags or sign on to things that don't feel quite right just to keep the process moving along or to fit within a deadline. Don't. Our greatest superpower is the power of choice. If something or someone doesn't feel right for ANY reason, take a beat, reevaluate and preemptively look elsewhere.
- Get everything in writing. No phone calls. Or if you do have a phone call take notes and follow up with a summary email to the person you were speaking with as a version of agreement.
- Never shake another man's (or woman's) hand while sitting down. Get your ass up as a show of respect and look them dead in the eye while still shaking their hand when you do. This is an old Anthony Robbins trick that I learned during one of his conferences and it was actually used on me when I randomly met TV mega producer Mark Burnett while leading him through a virtual reality demo. I'll never forget when he introduced himself to me he shook my hand firmly, looked me dead in the eye and lingered just a little longer than most. Admittedly, it was a little creepy. But that was in comparison to the million handshakes I'd had prior. When he looked me in the eye it was genuine and I think he was secretly reprogramming my brain to only select the channels where his shows were. Kidding. I thing he was really trying to assess in those few +2 seconds whether I was completely full of shit or if I was worthy of his trust in that moment. Not to be subordinated, I did the exact same thing back. I guess I passed his little test because he loved the demo and invited us back to craft a deal with his network.
- Immediately convert verbal agreements into a written document and send for signature via DocuSign. Until the ink (virtual or otherwise) is dry, it doesn't exist. Period. Anytime I have a verbal agreement with someone I immediately draft what was discussed in a doc with a signature bar for each participant in the agreement and I send it via DocuSign for signature and countersignature. Your word may mean the world to you, but it means diddly squat to me. I want something that I can present as evidence in court should you decide to renege on the deal, change the terms without my knowledge, or play stupid when it comes time to pay up. Leave nothing to chance. Cover your tracks by getting the appropriate sign offs and move on to the next fire knowing that you're protected under the law.
In business I trust one person...ME. And I protect my #1 ASSet with my life. Trust can still be earned with me. But it's far more likely to happen in my personal life than in my professional life. It's been an incredibly successful strategy that I've employed since the 2000s and I've yet to be caught by surprise or screwed over by anyone since.
Keep everything transactional and reserve your trust for the people who deserve it and who are willing to take the time required to earn it. You'll never get hurt or caught by surprise again. And your trust will be treasured because it's rare and unattainable by most.
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