Skip to main content
The Employee Experience Platform | Culture Amp

In this episode, Damon sits down with Rachel Botsman, a leading expert and author on trust in the modern world, to discuss the positive impact of trust in the workplace.

You'll hear Rachel and Damon discuss:

  • How Rachel navigated the changes to her professional life without being on physical stages with audiences.
  • The process Rachel uses before she creates a new keynote speech.
  • The definition Rachel uses for trust: “Trust is a confident relationship with the unknown.”
  • The relationship between trust, humility and ego.
  • The rise of employee activism and why employees want to know just what their organization stands for, but also what a company stands against.
  • Analyzing the role that vulnerability has on trust when building new relationships.
  • Four phrases we need to rethink in the workplace

Rachel Botsman is a trust expert, author, and lecturer at Oxford University. She is passionate about teaching people how to think differently and challenge ideas around trust and humility.

She has been recognized as one of the world’s 30 most influential management thinkers by Thinkers50, one of the Top 10 most influential voices in the UK on LinkedIn and honoured as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.

Episode transcript

DAMON KLOTZ: Hello and welcome back to another episode of the culture first podcast; I’m your host DAMON KLOTZ.

How often have you heard these statements said at work:

  • We need to build more trust
  • I have a good gut feeling about them
  • I’m 100% sure about this
  • We need to be more transparent

I’m sure we’ve all either said these ourselves or heard at least one of these statements. . Some of you might be even thinking that you’ve already heard one of those said today.

On this episode of the culture first podcast, we are going to rethink those statements and much much more.

My guest for this episode is RACHEL BOTSMAN. Rachel is a trust expert, author and lecturer at Oxford University. She is passionate about teaching people how to think differently and challenge ideas around trust, and humility.

She has been recognized as one of the world’s 30 most influential management thinkers by Thinkers50, one of the Top 10 most influential voices in the UK on LinkedIn and honoured as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. Her TED talks have been viewed more than five million times.

You’ll also learn how Rachel handles parenting young children as a trust expert. How the pandemic impacted her life as a public speaker. Rachel is also the first-ever guest on this podcast to use the word corker… but you’ll have to listen to the end for that.

This is a conversation where we talked a lot about vulnerability, ego, and trust. Throughout this conversation, I did my best to be open about my struggles with those subjects. I hope that you can learn and reflect on those subjects through my own stories as well as your own experiences with them.

But don’t worry, this isn’t all serious business. This is an episode full of laughter and warmth, and I can’t wait for you to listen to it. We begin this conversation with Rachel and I metaphorically walking around her garden in Oxford, England where we talk about architecture and how Jamie Oliver taught me how to cook.

DAMON KLOTZ: All right. So, today on the Culture First podcast, I'm joined by RACHEL BOTSMAN. Rachel, thanks so much for having this conversation with me.

RACHEL BOTSMAN: It's good to be here.

DAMON KLOTZ: So, one of the questions I like to start with to learn a little bit more about the guest is a question about if we really knew them. So, obviously, people can watch your TED Talks. People can go online, they can read your newsletter, they can learn a little bit about you. They might find information about where you're physically located or topics of interest. But if I was to really know you, what would I know about you, Rachel?

RACHEL BOTSMAN: It's such a good opening question. I think people would know that I am an extreme introvert and that may surprise them because often people conflate the energy and the confidence around public speaking. But I like to spend an extraordinary amount of time alone. If I don't get that, I actually can't function. It's where I get my energy from. So, that's probably something that doesn't come through. A lot that comes through on social media, and all my scribbles, and everything I present is who I am. But they're areas this very deep introverted self that probably isn't reflected.

DAMON KLOTZ: Have you found the last 12 to 18 months, I guess, easier as an introvert or considering that so much of your world needs to be public speaking on stages. How have you found that transition and has that level of introvert changed at all?

RACHEL BOTSMAN: So, I haven't... I've really enjoyed being home and not traveling. It's made me think very long and hard about a career that was very dependent on travel. I have deeply missed the energy and connection that you get with a live audience. And even though through a lot of practice, I feel like I've got better at virtually connecting with people that has been difficult, but being still and being home has been very good for me. It was challenging when the kids were home all the time because we were all in the same space and look, I'm very fortunate we have a garden, and live in Oxford. So, there's lots of space around us, but I think that blurring of work, home, school, everything going on in the same boundary was incredibly difficult because I've always been someone that puts my head down, gets my work done. And then I come home and I'm mom, and we don't really talk much about it. So, in one way they've become a lot more interested in what I do, which is lovely, and they ask all kinds of questions. So, I don't think they struggle with it. I just struggled with those boundaries disappearing.

DAMON KLOTZ: I feel like we could do a whole episode on what's it to be children of a mother who is a trust expert, and growing up in that household. But we're here to talk about the workplace, but before I switch gears into what we do for work, one final question. Now, did your time at home during the pandemic get you any closer to your dream job of being a landscape architect?

RACHEL BOTSMAN: I am because most of... So, my husband, he needs projects. He needs to be busy all the time. So, he built a shed and he built an entire kitchen garden for me. And I spent an extraordinary amount of time, a lot of my home lessons were around gardening. So, science was in the greenhouse. Art was in the garden. I think I even did mass out there, but we're pretty much self-sufficient. And then I had some big ambitious plans as to what I wanted to do with the garden. So, put money away each week and now I'm making that dream happen. So, it's not doing landscaping and gardening for other people quite yet, but my own garden is becoming what I always wanted it to be.

DAMON KLOTZ: Amazing. I couldn't let that question slide because I knew it was something that you've spoken about in the past, and I thought, "If there was ever a time that Rachel was going to get closer to being a landscape architect, it might have been over the last 12 to 18 months." So, I've also got an amazing visual, this outdoor kitchen. I taught myself how to cook by watching Jamie Oliver DVDs back in the day, which is myself, and he was always cooking in his back garden in England. So, I've got a beautiful visual of how that played out.

RACHEL BOTSMAN: Yeah, no, so we've got five massive beds. And as my dad came around, he hadn't really seen the garden, what I'd done to it. And he said, "Rachel, you have enough potatoes for all of Oxford." Because I turned the whole back into this potato farm. I have no idea why. I just love growing potatoes. It's so satisfying. So, if you need potatoes, you can come to the Botsman's.

DAMON KLOTZ: There is a segue into my next question, which is my final in the getting to know our guest section, and it's about a curious 10 year old. So, let's say that this is not a curious 10 year old, it's one of your children. And it might be someone in the town of Oxford who maybe thinks you are actually a potato farmer, but if they walk up to you and they ask you, what do you do for work? How do you answer?

RACHEL BOTSMAN: Oh, so not my children.

DAMON KLOTZ: No.

RACHEL BOTSMAN: I would say for work, I try to make things that help people think differently.

DAMON KLOTZ: And then they might say, so is that a physical object? Is this like a think different object?

RACHEL BOTSMAN: They probably would. I would say, "Well, what I make can really depend what I'm trying to do. So, I do a lot of drawings and I write articles and I design courses. And so, the medium really depends on the type of learning experience."

DAMON KLOTZ: I think you might have captured their attention at the drawings and then the rest might have sounded the homework. So, I think this curious 10-year-old has now walked off into the streets of Oxford.

RACHEL BOTSMAN: I think, yeah, maybe I would've just told them I'm a cartoonist, they might have more interest.

DAMON KLOTZ: So, I can't recall the exact moment that I first came across your work. But the story that I tell myself is that I've recalled seeing you speak at a couple of events. I feel like maybe there was one when I lived in Australia. I definitely remember seeing you at a HR conference in Europe because I remember doing the phone trust exercise with a stranger and very much freaking out because I was single at the time, and I'm like, "If this person goes into my dating apps, this is going to get awkward." And then we also had the chance to have you on the Culture Amp stage at Culture First this year. I bring up this preamble story about how I've been exposed to your work because as I navigated my own way through my career, I've always tried to stay on top of the trends that were impacting business and technology.

DAMON KLOTZ: And I think I always saw you as someone who was up on stage helping to bring clarity and stories to life around some of those ideas around things like digital transformation, and the sharing economy, and the currency of trust. I'm really excited to be speaking to you today, specifically about trust. And as we get started into, I guess, some of the questions, and as we set the foundation for this conversation, I have heard you talk about a process that you go through when you're writing a speech and that you write a feeling that you want the audience to feel during your talk. So, if the audience was to see us writing down a word on top of our run of show document through this podcast episode, what do you think that word would be?

RACHEL BOTSMAN: I'm not sure if it's a feeling, but a curiosity comes to mind. I'd like them to feel like we are curious together, and I'm not just going over all ground and they are curious in what we are saying and talking about.

DAMON KLOTZ: All right. Well, for everyone listening right now, let's get curious, let's rethink some of our assumptions about trust in the workplace. So, I think for us to do that I think it's really important to set a foundation for the conversation. And if I was to look at maybe, I guess, five, a couple of words, and then some ideas that I think it would be important for the audience to know these are the five that come up. So, trust, humility, ego, trust leaps, and climbing the trust deck. So for the audience, would you mind maybe just giving a quick definition of each, and maybe we can start with trust.

RACHEL BOTSMAN: Yeah. And I should say some are easier than others for me. So trust, I do have a very simple definition. Trust is a confident relationship with the unknown. Stop me if you want to go deeper into the definitions. But that definition of trust is quite different from how other people define it. Other definitions of us tend to focus on knowing the outcome or knowing what to expect of people. But trust actually is about being able to navigate uncertainty and not know what someone is up to. So if you know how things are going to turn out or you have 100% certainty, although we never really have that in how someone's going to behave, very little trust is required. So that's why my definition is a confident relationship with the unknown.

RACHEL BOTSMAN: Now, this is where my work is really going. So I'm really passionate about this really relationship, but it's the relationship between trust and humility. One of the things that trust enables is when we have trust in ourselves and when there is trust in our cultures, there is psychological safety. It enables us to be confident in what we don't know. And that is actually my definition of humility. Humility is a confident relationship with what we don't know. Are you there by the way? It's gone all...

DAMON KLOTZ: Yeah, no, I am. I'm just deeply listening because I think that these two things really build upon each other in a nice way, which is why the third one that I was thinking about was ego. So, if I've got this understanding of trust being a confident relationship with the unknown, the unknown requires me to have humility, which is a confident relationship with what I don't know. But for me to have that humility, I feel like that's when ego steps in, and ego's going to be, I guess, maybe the thing that maybe stops me from letting those two things coexist together.

RACHEL BOTSMAN: Exactly. So, ego is what I describe as a pool. So, in order to have humility, you have to be able to be comfortable in the unknown. You have to be able to make room for doubt, and we are not good at that. And the reason why we're not good at that is because of these pulls, and one of the most powerful pulls that pulls us back to the known are people, ideas, beliefs that feel safe and familiar to us is ego because ego is really worrying about what other people think of you. And ego brings out the need to compete, and the need to prove ourselves, and the need to be right, and the need to win, and the need to dominate. And all those things are not great for humility. They're not great for sitting in this space of the unknown and discovering and exploring what you might find there. So, ego is completely... I call it a pull. Some people call it a gremlin or a blocker, but the reason why it's a pull is because you really have to become aware of how powerful this force is that takes you away from that place of being not just comfortable, but excited by not knowing.

DAMON KLOTZ: Yeah. There's I think some of these things when you just say trust, humility, ego, people are like, "Oh yeah, I understand those concepts, or I know they're important," but when you really get down to the heart of relationships at work and what makes up a company culture? One of the things I say a lot of is that we have spent years focusing on the what of the work. We now need to focus on the how of the work and the how is all about humility and ego and trust and how these things play out. And admitting to someone that you're like, "Not only do I not know, but maybe I was wrong." Maybe I trusted myself with something and I was wrong, and that unknown is something that I'm willing to talk about. I think depending on the level of psychological safety in the team, depending on people's own experience with trust, ego can play a huge part. I think sort of, I guess, deafen our own ability to trust others because maybe we don't even have the own trust in ourself to admit some of those things.

RACHEL BOTSMAN: Yeah, no, it's I often say that if you understand and can visualize this relationship between trust, humility, and ego. So, trust enables you to practice and be in a space of humility, and ego is the thing that gets in the way. You will observe team meetings, conversations, the way individuals behave, the way leaders behave. You suddenly see it through a whole new lens. You can just, even if someone's very self aware, these things come up all the time.

DAMON KLOTZ: Which I guess maybe the next thing to... If we've got those definitions of trust, humility, and ego, the next piece is, I guess, actually these trust leaps and climbing the trust stack. I think these are really great visuals that you've kind of be able to put out there so that people can understand why this is hard for people at times. So, how do you speak about those two terms?

RACHEL BOTSMAN: Yeah. I'm glad you can visualize it because I always... I think in words and images, and if I can't see the visual around it, I know the words aren't quite there. So, a trust leap is whenever you're asking someone to take a risk to do something new or to behave in a different way. So, trust leaps can be in products and things. So, asking someone to take the COVID-19 is a trust leap for many people. They can be in systems and ideas, they in new technologies, but they can also be in people changes as well. And trust leaps really depend on people's comfort in going from something that is known to them, and being able to move someone into the unknown. And many new ideas fail from brilliant product inventions to cultural change programs because people underestimate how high and fast they're asking people to leap. And so, the people who are being asked to make that leap, they often get stuck in what I call this sea of uncertainty. And that's where many ideas fell, where organizations don't move forward.

DAMON KLOTZ: And I think that uncertainty can be hard for a lot of people because another guest we've had on the Culture First podcast is Professor Susan David. And she's mentioned that uncertainty is the cost of entry to a meaningful life and that we need to be okay with some of these things and take those trust leaps because I know I've had a confident relationship with trying to make sure everything's certain in my life and it's something that I have had to unlearn, and it's certainly taken time based on who I am and how I'm wired. So, a lot of the work that you've done in providing language I think is really important as well as visuals to help learn about this. So, hopefully that gives everyone a foundation to build upon it, and some visuals. And now I wanted to, I guess, showcase some of the ways that trust plays out at both at an organizational level and an individual level.

DAMON KLOTZ: So, I might start at the organizational level. And so, I guess, from afar award and recognition can make organizations appear to be more trustworthy. So, for example, Culture Amp is a certified B corporation. So, that might make us a more trustworthy tech company than others. But then on the other hand, organizations can also submit themselves in for awards. They can pay for awards. They can create eight new sets of language to talk about how they're positioned, even though nothing might have changed inside of the company. So, given all of that complexity that impacts how we perceive an organization, how do you think we should measure our own level of trust for an institution?

RACHEL BOTSMAN: God, it's such a big question. And awards and labels and certification, they are what we call trust signals. So, they're clues that people would use to decide whether you're trustworthy or not, and I'm not dismissing the importance of these, but these really for what I call into institutional signals that we see in the research are losing relevance with many people. In fact, in some environments and contexts, these signals and associations can actually undermine trust or perceive trustworthiness. I don't know if the question you're trying to get at is internally. So, internally if you work in that organization or you're a leader in that organization, how do you really know whether you're trustworthy and have trustworthy culture or is the question about whether customers trust you?

DAMON KLOTZ: Yeah. Well, I think as individuals, we can be both a potential employee of a company that we're trying to work out, should we trust them as well as a potential customer as well. I think it was really fascinating that you said that some of these trust signals at institutional level are maybe losing relevance and that these things are I think maybe whether it's a more informed potential hire or a more informed customer. So, do you think something else is maybe replacing those more institutional trust signals?

RACHEL BOTSMAN: Totally, totally, and I think they are losing relevance for the employee relationship, and I asked the question because I think for a long time companies have fixated over the customer organization, customer-company relationship because they know that costs them money and not focused enough or whether their own employees perceive them to be trustworthy. So, what we see, and this is really tied to this whole emerging area of employee activism, which I think we're just beginning to understand what that means where a company's employees don't just want to know what their company stands for, so their company's purpose, but they want to know what their company stands against. And when they don't understand that, or where they don't... They have higher standards than maybe their company's own standards, they will rise up and make their voices heard.

RACHEL BOTSMAN: And so, I think an employee's trust of an organization has become incredibly complicated because it's not top down and hierarchical and linear. It's not even something that is really controlled or shaped just by leadership anymore. It really is embedded a lot more in social proof. So, what other people and peers and teams also think of that organization, and that can be a force that works for the organization or as we've seen Amazon and Google and many other companies recently how much that can work against an organization as well.

DAMON KLOTZ: I love that you brought up employee activism. It's something I've had Dray McKesson on this podcast before, and speaking about activism both as members of society, but also the role of an activist company, an activist CEO, and activist employees. And I guess the complexity around I think in the past companies, maybe would've written down what they stood for. I think we're getting to a stage where maybe companies are more willing to put out publicly what they also stand against. But the words and the language maybe used to hold a bit more credence, but now people are really looking for the actions. What do you actually are doing about these topic? Not just what is the lip service that you are paying to them. And employees, I think, have a lot more power inside of organizations through things like employee resource groups and actually creating containers for these conversations where they're holding companies to a higher account. So, I feel like, yeah, certainly the trust signals are changing, but I think they're changing in a good way into something that's a lot more representative of the experience that we're having inside of these organizations or with them as potential consumers.

RACHEL BOTSMAN: Yeah, I totally agree. And I think the other thing that is shifting is that when employees may have seen untrustworthy behavior, they may have raised it internally, and then maybe there was some leadership communications addressing that, but that's just not enough. It's actually using that voice and that activism to hold their organizations to account. And that may make many leaders extremely uncomfortable, but I think that's only going to get more and more amplified. And then also not feeling like the conversation has to stay inside, but realizing. And so, it's a very interesting dynamic when an employee makes public the wrongdoing inside of a company. When you actually stop to think about that, that is a huge shift in trust in power dynamics that we really haven't seen before.

DAMON KLOTZ: Even just when you hear of a term like an employee whistleblower. It used to be something that was more union focused or it was to do with a maybe a certain type of industry where someone was trying to expose unsafe practices or something to do with that. But I think with the rise of employee activism, it's not just about you are trying to voice something to a union to get better rights or a safer working condition. It's really about the human experience we're having inside of the workplace and voicing some of those things. And I think we're seeing a huge rise in companies who are feeling their trust has been breached willing to voice that. And I think with that obviously comes maybe to segue into this is to actually get to that level of wanting to voice your opinion and actually having a deeper conversation about trust.

DAMON KLOTZ: The word that comes up a lot is vulnerability, and whether we're willing to be vulnerable. I touch on this because I want to get into the specifics about it and actually showcase how that looks. But before we do, one of the things that I've mentioned to you in your team in the past is around culture and its values because it touches on both of these words. We have one of our values and it's our first value, which is have the courage to be vulnerable, and it's first for a reason. And then our third value is trust others to own decisions. So, based on some of the work that you've done and the writing that you've done, you've said that vulnerability precedes trust. So, it sounds we've got our values in the right order, but why is getting it in the right order so important?

RACHEL BOTSMAN: Yeah, I should say it doesn't always proceed trust. It can follow, particularly if people don't feel safe or they're in what we call a low trust state. So, you have to have... You can't have zero trust or even what we call low trust, which is complete apathy or no information to ask people to be vulnerable in those situations is an extreme stretch. So, you've got some baseline level of trust. And then I think Dan Cole's work on this is brilliant. So, he describes this idea that is really visual called a vulnerability loop. And so, the way it works, and the way it's rocket fuel for trust is say, Damon, you send me a vulnerability signal. So, you actually did this at the start of the podcast telling me something personal.

RACHEL BOTSMAN: Now, if I don't catch it and respect the signal, and then in some way signal back, that leaves you really exposed, and that will damage trust. But if I send a signal back, we go in this loop and it really accelerates trust particularly early on in relationships. So I always think it's interesting, people you work with when you... And for some people, it can take a few weeks or even a few months when you see that first vulnerability loop. And as a leader of a team, sometimes you could keep putting vulnerable signals out there, and the other team person doesn't pick that up. But the first time you see that loop really in action and you see other people starting to pick up on that loop, it's really powerful.

RACHEL BOTSMAN: As I said, in other situations, you need a lot of trust for vulnerability to happen. And that can be where people have had a very bad experience in the past from their childhood. There's something that has happened in their family, but also in the workplace where someone has breached their trust in a big way. Now, asking that person to be vulnerable before trust is there, it's more than a stretch. It's actually not respecting where that person is and what that person needs.

DAMON KLOTZ: I'm so glad you brought that up because I'm thinking of I've spent my career in and around the HR space and in a lot of learning and development roles and thinking about gathering people together in conversation, and I'm picturing back training sessions that I've been in where people have been asked to all be vulnerable at the same time and share something, and where there wasn't that loop. They weren't receiving anything back. They would just being asked to step in into that. I think I am seeing topics like PTSD of previous workplaces now being spoken about a lot, mental health in the workplace. And that when we're asking people to start with vulnerability, there has to be, I guess that base of psychological safety and whether it's something that was breached from a previous workplace, whether it was something that in their personal life. So, yeah, I just wanted to call that out because I think it's so important.

DAMON KLOTZ: And then the other thing is, and the vulnerability loop is a really powerful, I think term, and again, I'm always thinking about the power of language and branding and how to turn these things into actions inside of the workplace. So, for people listening, when someone is vulnerable with you, how you receive it and what you do is so critical. Like you said, I shared something personal about how trust was breached for me, from a stranger when I was young and how that's played out in decades later. And it's something that I still work with. And if you receive that in a different way, maybe I would've felt uncomfortable in this whole conversation. So, I appreciate you calling that out, and that catching that vulnerability is so critical. Otherwise, that person might not feel safe enough to be able to do so again.

RACHEL BOTSMAN: Even worse that person will retreat. Imagine head down cowering and backing away. I'm a huge fan of Brene Brown's work, but I think, I do worry about vulnerability and also empathy being overexposed or being misunderstood or mistreated because it is incredibly fragile, and it is asking people in some way to emotionally expose themselves.

DAMON KLOTZ: Yeah, exactly, and that's why I think it's healthy to be having these conversations about some of the stuff that just gets thrown around at conferences or in team meetings. And when we're just asking people to sit in this space without really thinking about some of the ramifications of it, or what needs to be true in this environment, whether people can feel like that they're willing to go there. So, I feel like the audience right now is sitting here and rethinking a lot of things. Maybe rethinking how they're running team meetings in order to increase trust, rethinking how they're responding to some of the... When someone's vulnerable with them.

DAMON KLOTZ: So, I'd like to go a little bit deeper on four things you think in the workplace that you've shared with the culture first audience, and go a little bit deeper on them, and explain them to the audience here listening on the podcast. So, the four that you shared with our audience was we need to build more trust. We need to be more transparent. I have a good gut feeling about them, and I'm 100% sure of about this. Now, I feel like I've said all these things probably 100 times this year, let alone in my entire career. So, why do we need to rethink these ones? Should we start with, we need to build more trust?

RACHEL BOTSMAN: Yeah. I mean, it's I still use the build word. It still crops up. But as we talked about language is very revealing. And when people talk about building more trust, there's a few issues with it that we need to challenge. The first thing is the idea of building means you think you are in control of this mysterious trust process. And in any situation, there is a trust giver and there is a trust receiver, and it's the trust giver that decides whether to give you their trust and your role is to earn it. So, when we talk about building trust, we are assuming that we are in control of that dynamic, but the giver is actually the one with the power.

RACHEL BOTSMAN: The second thing around the building word is because I find that it encourages a type of thinking where people see trust like other... I hate this word, but strategic assets. So, things like loyalty and brand awareness, which are easier to measure, but trust is not like a bank or a reservoir. I think of it more like energy. So, it's continually flowing and changing form. And then the last thing why building more needs rethinking is more trust isn't always the goal. Onora O'Neill talks brilliantly about this. You don't want more trust in untrustworthy people. What you want to help people do is to really place their trust in their leaders, and the organizations, and the products and the services that really deserve it. So, there's so much wrapped up in those two words of build more that I think we need to change and rethink.

DAMON KLOTZ: Yeah. And I love that reframe that trust is earned not built because language is a signal. And I think that's why I've spent most of my career in between marketing and HR and bringing those two worlds together because I actually feel like a lot of the practices and the policies and the behaviors that we try to get across from a people profession needs to be really tight on the branding, and the language, and how we want that to actually play out. Because when we ask of these things, if you work at a 30,000 person organization, getting that language is critical because that then flows out into hundreds of thousands of micro behaviors. So, yeah, trust is earned not built.

DAMON KLOTZ: For anyone who is a Culture Amp customer, I think it'd be really interesting to go back after listening to this episode and look at the questions you're asking about trust, but also search and the comments and tag the ones around trust and whether it's talking about building trust or earning trust. So that's a little side note for anyone there. But so the second one is we need to be more transparent. I tweeted about this recently, and I got a few people messaged me back saying, "Oh my God, thank God we're talking about this. Transparency does not always equal more trust." So why is this something that we always keep talking about that need to be more transparent and why do we need to reframe it?

RACHEL BOTSMAN: I don't know, and I feel like I've been on my own on this one for quite a few years. So, it's something I got wrong, which is maybe why I felt so passionate about helping people understand why we've drunk the Kool-Aid on this one because I spent a lot of time with entrepreneurs and regulators and compliance teams in HR that were all talking about transparency as the way to increase trust. I mean, I even about it in my book. And then I just was studying examples of transparency in the workplace. So things like open calendars, teams that really had to disclose information were forced to disclose information. Not out of choice, but out of compliance. Micromanagement where people had lots of meetings, lots of CCd on emails, high visibility in what they were doing all the time. I'd say to leaders, "Right, these are transparency efforts. How are they making people feel? Because I don't see a whole lot of trust."

RACHEL BOTSMAN: And even at a more macro level, regulators imposing on particularly tech companies, but also pharma, financial services, these transparency policies that really didn't seem to be doing anything for trust. And then I started to go back and go, "Right. Well, if you think about the definition of trust, my definition being a confident relationship with the unknown, well then you see why transparency doesn't lead to more trust." I talk about this idea that if you need things to be transparent you're actually in a very low trust state.

RACHEL BOTSMAN: I think this idea of, I don't want to say dangerous because there are applications of transparency that are incredibly beneficial, but I think we need to be thinking about transparency as a tool. It's definitely not a cultural value in my opinion, and I don't think we want to live in organizations and workplaces that are transparent, and it makes people uncomfortable. But you ask people the line between transparency and surveillance and they'll say, "No, no, no, those things are different." And you're like, "Well, where is the line?" And so then you say, "Well, let's think of something the government is government is doing. It's asking you to be transparent about something." So like when test and trace was actually going to track people's movements. Our organization would never do anything like that. Well, Amazon time off task is not so far... The app that has, that tracks where everyone is and what they're doing. And so, I think this is a really big issue that companies think transparency will either fix trust issues or that it will create trustworthy cultures because it's just not true.

DAMON KLOTZ: I have a feeling there's going to be potentially some heads of people on this, listening to this podcast right now who are looking at their values and seeing the word transparency there in big, bold letters and going, "What are we doing?" And seeing it more as something that you can use when the moment is right where it calls for transparency with a very clear intent on why you were sharing the information and what we're supposed to be doing with it as opposed to just transparency everywhere, which noise and signal and [crosstalk 00:39:46]. What should employees be focusing on right now considering how stretched thin we all are. So I think this is a big one.

DAMON KLOTZ: So, for everyone listening out there and who's got transparency in their values, send me a message afterwards, we can have a conversation about this. All right. So, we'll keep powering through them. So, the third one is I have a good gut feeling about them. So for this one, for anyone who's ever been a recruiter or on the hiring team, I have a feeling we'll ever felt this ourself or said it out loud. So, why do we need to reframe this one?

RACHEL BOTSMAN: Do you know, I have to say Damon, as you went onto this one, my little ego pool came up where I was like, "Your listeners are not going to like me because-

DAMON KLOTZ: That's okay. We're going to sit in that uncertainty for a bit.

RACHEL BOTSMAN: Right. This is not taking them back to where they know, but I'll keep going. It's another really tricky one, and I want to say up front, I believe in intuition. I believe gut feelings are often there to protect you and they can be a really powerful signal. But I worry, particularly when you are making a decision about a person say in a hiring context or in a performance review or a promotion. When I hear leaders say, "Oh, have a good gut feeling about them." Well, I think you need to change your recruiting process because gut feeling is pattern recognition, but you're recognizing things that are familiar to you, and it's sending you a signal. And there are areas where we can really rely on our intuition where we've seen the pattern thousands of times.

RACHEL BOTSMAN: And there's probably only one or two areas of in your life where you've got that kind of expertise. And you've had the kind of feedback to know that you were right, but what your intuition is often doing in situations like hiring is it's looking for signals that it's familiar with. It's looking for things that you want to believe are true. So, you start to see how dangerous this is in terms of overcoming biases that we know are important to address in terms of diversity and inclusion. So, I think this link between... And Danny Conoman, of course, is the guru on this, but this link between gut feeling, making a decision, how that decision might be biased, and the problems that creates in terms of diversity and inclusion. I don't think we've looked or talked enough about that within organizational cultures.

DAMON KLOTZ: I couldn't agree more. I think, especially when the other thing that people might be being pushed on is speed and time to hire. And I know depending on the type of company you might get a chance to open up a new role and you need to fill it quickly. Otherwise, the budget decision might go somewhere else, and then we start going back to some of these shortcuts that we have, which is, "Oh, I have a good feeling about them. Or I trust my gut. Or I just feel like they're going to culturally fit as opposed to culturally add." But I guess you speak about trust signals that people should be looking for as opposed to the gut feelings that we're getting and about capability and character and why I love you calling out those two things is it goes back to what I said earlier around focusing on the how of the work, not what they've done.

RACHEL BOTSMAN: Totally. I think about bad trust decisions I've made, and it's because I just haven't got enough information about that person or that situation. And the information that we often don't ask enough questions around or to your point slow down and really think about is, are these questions around intentions and motives? So, most people listening would have had this experience where they hire someone and they turn out to be a bad hire. Not because they're not capable, but because their motives, what they want from the job, and what they want from the organization are completely different from what the organization wants and what the role requires. And when you have that kind of alignment and friction there, it's really hard to make that culturally work.

DAMON KLOTZ: So yeah, for everyone listening, think about, if you're reducing your time to hire down to something that feels a little bit like, "Wow, that's maybe too quick." Then think about maybe some of the ways that gut feeling is maybe impacting some of the decisions around hiring. Now the last one, this is definitely something I've said before. I'm 100% sure about this. You could not change my mind, even though I would say I'm a deeply curious person. So, why do we need to reframe this, and think, again, back to that word of humility being a strength?

RACHEL BOTSMAN: This is a biggie. And I think it's one of... How would I describe it? One of the shifts we're actually seeing people realize the importance of coming... I don't even know if we're through the pandemic, whatever place we're in. So, there is a myth out there around capability and confidence. So, the idea that for people to trust a leader, they must demonstrate full confidence in their capabilities and in their knowledge and in their skills. And the admission that they don't know something, or they don't have the answer yet is perceived as a weakness. And you see this everywhere.

RACHEL BOTSMAN: So, you see the pressure on economists to give forecasts when financial markets are uncertain. You see the pressure on politicians to give clear and firm answers about when the pandemic will end when it's impossible to know that yet. I even see it in, to be honest, my own children who are seven and nine who are being encouraged to have very strong opinions on things like privacy rights and transgender that are really too complex still to understand. And the ability in society and culture that is so wired to value confidence and conviction and certainty means that humility's taken a beating.

RACHEL BOTSMAN: It's very easy to say, but how we create cultures where people say, not even I don't know, but I'm not sure would be a good first step. I don't know, or you know what I've got that completely wrong, and what do I learn from that? You think of what that will change in terms of the curiosity, the openness, the courage, vulnerability, everything that can inject into organizations. And so, I think it's one of the most important shifts that we need to make happen.

RACHEL BOTSMAN: Just to share actually something I have learned over the last few weeks that has made me rethink capability, and I thought this is really interesting. I haven't actually shared this with anyone yet, but I always thought of capability as a hard trait. Skills, knowledge, things that we build up. But if you go to the root meaning of the word capability, it comes from [capect 00:47:59], which in Latin means space or to hold much. So, capability isn't actually about the skills that we fill our resumes with. It's the ability to be able to hold a space, to be able to sit in that unknown. I had never thought of capability in that way. So, yeah, this is, I think, a really interesting area that is emerging in terms of how does it become okay for anyone in an organization to say, they're not sure, they don't know, or they don't know yet. And for that to be perceived as a strength, not a weakness.

DAMON KLOTZ: I speak so often about holding space and about that I'm trying to create containers for conversations. And so, that little insight on capability is something that I will definitely spend some more time thinking about. But I think when you were sharing some of that, I know for me personally, I guess when I struggled as say, I don't know, I was wrong, I'm not sure. For me it's like, my career is operated in lots of strange spaces where I was even the first to do a certain role or there was an emerging technology that I tried to teach people about, or even in my role as a work culture evangelist, it's a very made up title and I do very a broad range of work and it's not easy to hire for someone like me. I don't fit into a box.

DAMON KLOTZ: So when I don't fit into a box where my capabilities, I guess, are uniformly recognized for me to say, I guess sometimes my ego plays in people don't know enough about how I work or what makes my role tick. For me to say that I don't know what I'm doing is just massive imposter syndrome coming back of you already play on the edge in this field talking about workplace culture and marketing and stuff. So, I think that's what's always stopped me is my imposter syndrome just flies out the door when I have to say some of those things.

RACHEL BOTSMAN: Yeah. But I think there's actually a distinction between I don't know what I'm doing, which is tied to action. When you say that to me, you are already in action, you're taking action around something. Whereas, I don't know the answer to something is actually about not doing something. It's actually saying, "If I take action on this, I'm not sure it's the right kind of action." So, I think there's a difference there. I know it sounds subtle, but I think there is a difference between, I don't know what I'm doing, which means you're already in it, versus do you know what, I just need a bit more time and space to actually reflect so I can come back to you with a better answer or with a better solution. So, I think what some people they think, oh, this makes them feel really uncomfortable is I'm not saying you stay in this state of indecision and reflection and doubt forever. It's about holding that space for long enough so that when you do make a decision or where you do give an answer, you actually have more conviction and belief in your decision making.

DAMON KLOTZ: We've just witnessed a reframe on my reframe, which is very meta, very powerful. So, next time, yes, I will stop linking imposter syndrome and my capability to saying things like, "I don't know, or I was wrong. I'm not sure." So that is yes a reframe on a reframe is very powerful. All right. So, I feel like everyone's been learning a lot so far about trust, humility, ego. We've framed a bunch of terms and pieces of language that we're speaking about a lot in the workplace. So I wanted to now maybe change things up just with a few rapid fire questions as we pull this conversation towards the end. And so, hopefully people can learn a little bit more about you. And I guess, how you think about some of these things and the questions that you get. So are you down for seven quick rapid fire questions?

RACHEL BOTSMAN: Sure.

DAMON KLOTZ: So when you feel most alive, what are you doing?

RACHEL BOTSMAN: I'm not rapid. I am either in the garden with my hands in the mud digging or in the hot sun swimming.

DAMON KLOTZ: Lovely. What do you care about more than most people? What's something that's really... Every time you hear that subject it's just something that you're like, "Ah, that's just something I care about so much."

RACHEL BOTSMAN: I don't know if it's a subject, but I think I care a lot about language, the way people use phrases. Well, totem phrases, and I also have a very weird obsession over fonts.

DAMON KLOTZ: Good to know. Good to know. The language one, yes, I will join you on that train. All right. So what do senior leaders struggle the most to rethink?

RACHEL BOTSMAN: The transparency is a big one, but I think it's deeper than that. I think it is tied to the ego where it helps and where it gets in the way.

DAMON KLOTZ: Yeah. I can certainly see that playing out. So, this one is what advice seems obviously right, is relatively easy to follow, and is usually ignored?

RACHEL BOTSMAN: What advice is right, easy to follow, but is-

DAMON KLOTZ: Usually ignored.

RACHEL BOTSMAN: You really stuck me on that one. I think it's something to do with habits. I think there's really easy advice to follow on a habits and in terms of how you break bad habits that we all just ignore. Whether it's around food, diet, exercise, working too hard, checking the phone. Base, if you don't want to do something, then don't have it in your environment or around you, but yet we still have the biscuits in the cupboard and the phone by our side. So, yeah, that's an obvious one, but a hard one to follow through on.

DAMON KLOTZ: I completely agree. I think everyone's like, "Oh, I know how to use my phone less and whatnot." And then they still put it right next to them. And I know when I sat down with Esther Perel and she talks about what's the first thing you grab in the morning. Is it your partner or your phone? And that shares a lot about how hard some of these habits are to break. Now, the final two, I know you're an avid reader. I know you have a lot of books and you you're sharing them a lot with your community. So, I've got two questions about books. If you had to recommend one book for the national curriculum, what would it be?

RACHEL BOTSMAN: What? Come on, I can't recommend one book for the curriculum.

DAMON KLOTZ: Well, it's one that everyone's going to have to read. So, it's not the only book they're going to have to read, but you get to choose one book for the national curriculum.

RACHEL BOTSMAN: Okay. I'd pick a book that would resonate across age groups and subjects. So, I think I'd pick... I actually shared it today. I think I'd picked Factfulness by Hans Rosling.

DAMON KLOTZ: Very interesting. And then what was your favorite book from the past 12 months? It doesn't have to be professional related. Just what was... We've all spent a bit more time sitting around reading hopefully and not just binging Netflix, but what was your favorite book from the past 12 months?

RACHEL BOTSMAN: I have had read some [inaudible 00:56:04], brilliant books. Again, I loved Between Two Kingdoms: The Memoir and Educated: The Memoir. I know this isn't one and I also loved, loved American Dirt as a fiction book.

DAMON KLOTZ: Educated was wow, what a journey that book was. I'm someone who loves buying books, struggles to read them, but that one I really didn't put down. So, that one I definitely agree with. So, all right. This has been a fascinating conversation. I think it's also the first Culture First podcast where we've had the word [inaudible 00:56:45] used, which I think is amazing. So, it's set a new bar for other people who join the podcast, but like I shared at the start I've been following your work and I've seen you speak over the years. And I think it's always been fascinating to see what you are researching and how you're thinking about things and the impact it has on us both as a society, as an organization. So, what is the next big subject for you? What's the thing that's taking your interest that you think you might be spending the next few years thinking about or writing or researching about?

RACHEL BOTSMAN: Well, I'm working on it now. I'm writing a book on how we can become more confident with uncertainty and the unknown. So, I am still working on the core ideas, but trying to help people to understand this intersection between trust and humility and how for some people is very innate and they do have a natural gift for it. And you see it in creative people and performers and comedians and entrepreneurs, and even incredible chefs. But for most of us, we have to learn it and it's turned much more... I don't want to say memoir than anything I've written before, but it is because what I've realized writing out my journey with this is that I was a need to know person to the absolute extreme. I couldn't understand friends who enjoyed falling in love because I hated not knowing if someone was going to call me back and I drop elaborate plans. And so, I feel like I can write for the reader that this doesn't come easy for. So, it's a huge shift for me to actually write from that place and to take these concepts that I've spent over 12 years trying to understand in and out, and really give them a different purpose and role in people's lives.

DAMON KLOTZ: I have a feeling that is certainly a book that needs to be read both out of personal and professional level because it's I think for anyone who's listened to this episode, they're probably sitting there saying, "Okay, now I know I need to rethink some of these things." The practice is how do we actually make it real? I think we have these wirings in our brain or these behaviors that we need to unlearn where we default to some of these, I guess, easier ways of operating. But I think sitting in this uncertainty, not letting the ego drive and not letting gut decisions, these have massive impacts on people's lives, who we hire, how we work. And that's why I think workplace culture is such a fascinating topic because the how of the work impact us at a deep level. So, I'm sure that that book's going to be widely read, and I just want to thank you so much for sharing all of these insights with everyone on the Culture First podcast.

RACHEL BOTSMAN: It's a pleasure. As my husband said, the control freak is going to write about letting go. There is an irony there.

DAMON KLOTZ: I feel like that should be the byline [crosstalk 01:00:03]. Or maybe one of the recommendations on the back would be like, famous authors, and then your husband writing that.

RACHEL BOTSMAN: Totally, totally.

DAMON KLOTZ: Awesome. All right.

RACHEL BOTSMAN: It's been a pleasure. Yeah.

DAMON KLOTZ: Thanks so much, Rachel.

RACHEL BOTSMAN: Take care. Bye-bye.

What’s next

View all podcasts

Podcast

How Carman's Kitchen focus on employee experience led to a 96% employee engagement rate

Listen to podcast

Podcast

Scaling the employee experience at Asana, with Anna Binder

Listen to podcast

Podcast

How to learn, unlearn & stay curious at work, with Chip Conley

Listen to podcast

Build a world-class employee experience today

Your browser is out of date. Our website is built to provide a faster, more engaging experience. Your browser may not support all of our features. Please update to the latest version of Microsoft Edge or contact your network administrator.

Close browser update banner