Unintentional Deception

Trust is perhaps the most important quality for any enduring relationship. Whether that relationship is marriage, business or just social. If we can’t trust someone, what good is it?

Everyone says they want to create and foster trust. But sometimes we may do things, unknowingly, that could come across as ambiguous or even deceptive. This is about perception. Not your perception, that of your audience. I’m talking not about putting your foot in your mouth; this is about doing something that causes the other person to question your integrity – which puts the entire relationship at risk.

A Conference Experience

I recently attended a large financial services conference in Las Vegas where I both presented and attended a few breakout sessions. I walked out early into one of the breakout sessions. I was quite upset. I felt deceived. About half of the attendees walked out as well.

The session was packed. Standing room only. Many of us were interested in the topic. When I got in the room, I saw the title slide of the presentation projected on the screen and thought I was in the wrong room. I went out to double check. The pasteboard and ushers confirmed that I was in the right place for the presentation. At that point I just figured that the firm giving the presentation was using their first slide to share their motto or some other message. I thought that was odd, but otherwise dismissed it.

We got started late due to people filling in and trying to find seats. After a brief introduction by the speaker, he dropped the hammer. The presentation we all came for is not what he is going to present. Bait and switch? He explained that the person who gives that presentation was sick and therefore they had to make a change a few days ago. I wasted no time getting up and walking out. After me, about half the room cleared out over the next few minutes.

Honest, Yet Deceptive

The issue I had, and everyone else that left, wasn’t that someone got sick and they needed to change the presentation. Things happen. It was the way it was communicated. This guy waited until everyone was in the room to make just one announcement. Was he just trying to be efficient, or was he being deceptive by getting us all in there and hoping most would choose to stay?

It really didn’t matter what his intentions were. It was the perception of the audience and how that impacts him and his firm. Personally, I saw it as bait and switch. I found it to be very deceptive. Even if it was an honest mistake, the damage was done. Because we got started late, by the time he dropped the hammer, advisors didn’t have time to find out what other session to go to. For many, it was a lost hour. He probably didn’t think about that, but that was the reality.

Proactive & Consistent Communication

The speaker had many opportunities to let people know the topic had changed. He could have posted it outside the door. He could have told the two ushers scanning people in to inform them of the change. Why didn’t his intro slide that was projected 15 minutes before the session began mention the change? Why didn’t he make announcements every few minutes as advisors filed in that the topic had changed? Any and all of that would have been completely acceptable to me. “Too bad” I would have said, and went to find another session to attend.

But he didn’t. All I can say is that he upset over 50 financial advisors – the very people his firm wants to do business with. The first impression for me was that the firm is either deceptive, ignorant or insensitive to my time and choices. I don’t have a favorable impression of the firm and would hesitate to do business with it. It may take time and several positive experiences to change this perception because initial impressions are so strong.

It’s All About The Other Person

This was an unfortunate event. It was even more unfortunate how it was handled. The speaker seemed nice and I doubt he wanted to deceive the audience. He’s probably just a lousy communicator. But as we know, feelings loom larger than rational thought in the decisions we make.

Whenever we communicate anything, especially information that may be undesirable, the way we communicate it can greatly influence others’ perceptions of us as individuals and the companies we may represent. A little practice in putting yourself in another’s shoe, the one about to receive the bad news, can provide significant insight into how you may want to communicate bad news.

We can’t control outcomes. Unfortunate and undesirable things happen. But how we handle those situations, how we show concern for those that may be impacted by them, has significant influence over whether we are viewed as trustworthy or not.