Vulnerability, Trust and Penguins

Penguins test the waters for safety.

Penguins test the waters for safety.

If you have ever seen a waddle of penguins (and yes, that is the technical term for a group of penguins on land) on an ice flow, right before they jump in the water, you might have noticed something interesting. The penguins will all line up on the edge of the ice flow, bumping into each other, shouldering and pushing against their neighbors… until one falls in. Then they all jump in the water and do whatever the heck penguins do in the water. Why, you might ask? Well, apparently penguins are a favorite snack for killer whales and the penguins, not knowing if an orca is waiting patiently under the ice flow, don’t want to be the first one in the water. So they each try to push their neighbor into the water to see if she makes it sans an orca bite. If the coast is clear, in they all go.

Well, I think humans do the same thing.

Except we don’t worry about orcas under the ice… we worry about being devoured by each other. And not literally, but emotionally.

We worry about being ridiculed, noticed for being different, for sounding like a freak.

And most people never really take chances with sharing of themselves until someone else does it first. So, we all end up bumping into each other waiting for someone brave enough (or clumsy enough) to take the plunge.

So as a recruiter and a business development professional (yes, that is me trying to avoid the label salesman) I find that my ability to be successful is dependent on whether or not my prospective clients trust me. So how do you get someone to trust you when you have so little time? They either do or they don’t, right? In my experience, trust is built on shared experience. The thing is, I rarely have the luxury of time to build a relationship. So when my client needs a subject matter expert in trade reference data with a strong background in currency-based derivative trades and I am talking to someone who is an exact match, how do I get her to trust me? After all, I am speaking to her about the possibility of leaving her job and taking a new opportunity (risk!) — if she doesn’t trust me, I am not going to get the time of day. And chances are, I just met her. So by the time we get around to building a history and foundation of shared experiences to which we can build our temple of trust, my client has moved on.

So what to do? Be vulnerable.

And no, I don’t mean introduce yourself by saying “Hi, I am Peter and I suffer from abandonment issues. And you are?” No, but when you look for the opportunities you will be surprised to see how many openings there are that allow for you to share deeply of yourself. When you do, people generally respond in kind. And once you have shared vulnerabilities with another human being, trust is bound to follow. I generally find that people will allude to something personal in an introduction – an ailing relative or a mention of a child and therein lies the opportunity to share something personal. “I am sorry you have a sick relative, my mom just died after a long illness. I know how hard it is.” I remember a consultant we worked with mentioning wanting to spend more time with his young son. In turn, I relayed the story of how, after emergency brain surgery, I reassessed my life. I realized how little time I was spending with my (then) 4 year old daughter and how I resolved to have breakfast with her and take her to school every day. It opened something in our relationship – because I could relate and shared his desire we were able to quickly establish a bond. The opportunities are always there – we just need to recognize them.

So be brave, and jump in. Most of the time it will work out great. Occasionally you will get bitten by a shark. But hey, wouldn’t you rather know upfront that you don’t want to spend anymore time with that jerk? Besides, the connections you make from all the other instances will more than make up for it.