8 Ways to Spot Untrustworthy People


Another one on trust!!! As I said in a previous post, I’m a stickler for trust. Without that, I don’t think we can clearly distinguish ourselves from a carnivore that eats whatever it can when hungry. But still, we find untrustworthy people, who, in their late 20’s, think the best way to survive in “today’s world” is being manipulative.  I really feel the urge to ask them how many other worlds they know. I don’t, and before I digress, these are some traits I’ve noticed pretty consistently in untrustworthy people.

  • Not Sticking to Commitments – They don’t stick to their own commitments and find ways to the blame the meekest person, or the weather for that matter for not meeting them. Seriously, I had a team member who blamed sudden rains for not meeting deliverables, and he was in office that day.
  • Back Talking – They talk to you nicely, but talk about others in a, hmm, not so nice way. But if you catch them talking nicely to the same people whom they bitched about to you, don’t be surprised.
  • Seeing everyone as competition – They really can’t differentiate between a peer and a competitor. In their world, there is only one survivor at the end of each and every day, and as a result, it is imperative they should be the one. Many people can argue that is the case in reality, but it need not be – and I can write a 1500 words post on that alone.
  • Being politically right – Being nice is more important for them than being right. Such people just can’t talk anything on your face, nice or otherwise. There is always a hidden personal agenda. Sometimes, it can also be a result of the organization culture. I worked in a company that had an online training program titled Being Politically Savvy. I was not sure if it was a joke, but it reflected in the way most of the employees dealt with each other in that company.
  • Blab information – They pride in knowing information others don’t. Most times, the information might not even pertain to the conversation. It just does not matter. They know something, and even if they were not supposed to say it, they will, because they need to prove they know more than you.
  • Also, conceal information – This is also a typical trait. They believe in playing their cards close to their chest – which is not wrong – but many times, they conceal information to such extent that it even leads to failure of larger goals, if they don’t have major stakes on those results. If they do, they display traits of point 1. Sometimes, you can spot the same person showing this and the previous trait. They blab totally unrelated information, but conceal important information that leads to success of a common goal.
  • Flaunt a false sense of power – If such people are somewhere in the junior/middle management, they just don’t know what power is. Their only notion of power is – getting their subordinates to listen to them and not think. Well, do I really have to expand this further – I’m sure all of have had such bosses or even been one. Just a confession – I’ve had such bosses and also been one. But then, there are people who don’t have to be bosses to exhibit such traits.
  • Flaunt contacts they don’t have – If you know people who always know someone in anyplace, then you know what I’m talking about. The moment you utter some kind of problem or help you need, they fire all guns to tell you they know someone who can help you, but invariably that person would not be available just when you need them, though they had a conversation only the previous week. This might sound an innocuous trait, but please don’t depend on such people to get something done. And hey, I have done that many times over – to feel a false sense of pride.

These are some traits I have observed from my own experiences. I’m sure there are more, so how do you spot untrustworthy people?


What can you do about a culture of Mistrust…


Trust is a very personal thing. Many people can believe trust should between two people and should not be confused as a culture to be followed or propagated. But in many organizations, dysfunctions and interpersonal issues are mostly (from my personal experiences) offshoot’s of an underlying thread of mistrust. Most people are not willing to see anything beyond the layer of behavior and talk at lengths about what’s wrong and more importantly, with whom. Of course an organization is only a place we spend time in to fulfill a lot of our personal aspirations, but we spend considerable amount of time there. And if it bleeds of mistrust, we just can’t get up in the morning looking forward for a day’s work, even if it means just a check list item.

Some common symptoms of organizations bleeding in a culture of mistrust could include:

  • No meaningful confrontation happens, every dialogue happens through the immediate supervisor.
  • Only tasks are delegated, not responsibilities.
  • Issues are never isolated from people. Resolving issues always means pulling up people connected to it.
  • Data is not an important aspect in operations.
  • Data provided for anything is not validated, but contended.
  • Being politically right is more important than being right.
  • Personal interests always score over team/organizational goals, at any point of time.
  • People are more interested in saving the ass, rather than resolving issues.

The list can go on, but these are some of the major symptoms I have noticed from my experience. Requesting you to add your thoughts too in case I missed any.

And sometimes, we just accept this as reality and wait for the first opportunity to move on. Though that’s not wrong, I would say we can first try a few things to see if there is something we can do to make things better for us, and honestly for people around us before taking that step. And if we work in the capacity of managers, I guess it is our responsibility to try our best to make things better for our team and other teams as well.

Resort to meaningful dialogue – Talk directly to people to whom we have question. Rather than going to the manager, its better we talk to the people directly. It might work, or might not work, but it’s worth the try. This involves a lot of courage, but we should not forget it involves some consideration as well. Being honest is not an excuse for not treating people with respect.

Make Data the primary performance parameter N. R. Narayana Murthy once famously said, “In god we believe, everyone else brings data to the table”. This should not mean we must remove the human aspect out of the equation. Alarming data points can be used as a basis to understand issues, derive action items and then arrive at people responsible for them. In many cases, issues/deviation is more a factor of the process.

Identify process issues before people issues – Again this does not mean we should neglect people issues – which is very common – but does the process itself allow for eccentricities? You cannot expect a project to be profitable if it goes through 10 review cycles by different people, and expect the primary contributor to have a keen eye for detail too. You will end up overshooting the budget, and at the end of the day, the primary contributor will not be interested in doing things the first time right, given people are anyway going to have “new ideas” over every coffee they have.

Confront mistrust with honesty – M.K. Gandhi said the worst punishment you can hand over to an untrustworthy person is treating him/her with honestly. Nothing can be farther from truth. Always be honest and forthright with people, but don’t expect that favor to be returned.

Isolate issues from people – Whenever we need to resolve issues, its better we talk about the issue rather than the person responsible for it. Again, this is not to say people don’t screw up, but at least will help in building a culture of trust. Start with the issue, and then move to the people responsible for it.

Place facts over feelings – Feelings are generally an offshoot of behaviors. People “feel” something about others based on what he/she has “done” in the past. Though this is not something we should just disregard, it will help if we ask for facts. Feelings can be subjective, facts just cannot.

Trust people conditionally, and treat them respectfully – This is from one of my favorite authors – Stephen Covey. Trusting should not mean we blindly trust whatever people say. It’s better to also place accountability to what is said. We should specifically ask for instances/data when people generally provide malicious information about others. And this does not mean we should undervalue the importance of respect just because we have evidence of deviations. By treating people with respect and trusting them conditionally, we send out a very important message – I’m prepared to deal with issues and people who deviate from specified norms that you bring up, but that does not mean I will blindly trust you into pulling people up for “allegations”.

All the above points are a reflection of what can be done for a team/organization that is at the lowest level of trust quotient. Once the trust factor is established, we can move to more mature management/leadership principles like collaboration etc. What do you think?

What not to expect in an interview…


I recently had an opportunity to part of an interview, which led me to reflect on the interviews I have given, and taken.

These are some high level transcripts of the interview (words and order not accurate):

  • Do you have experience in working on “X” projects?
  • Do you have experience in working on “X” feature of “X” software?
  • Have you worked with “X” type of clients?

All “X” are specific references to specific software’s, projects and customers. As you might have guessed, the answer to all the above questions was “NO”, and the interviewer said he thinks there is a misfit in the profile, Sorry!!!

What do you think? You think the interviewer is going to find a perfect fit for the job anytime soon? In my opinion, he is not going to, not just anytime soon, but never. Guessing the motive of the interviewer, I guess its best to call the person whose exit created the vacancy, and hire him/her for a higher pay. Otherwise, his needs are not going to be fulfilled for a long time (maybe never).

An interview, in my opinion, needs to be a conversation to figure out if the prospective candidate has the potential to perform the role, and also a potential to take the role itself to the next level. What might also help is trying to find the potential of the person for larger roles than what is being interviewed for. If a person can only execute at a specific role or level, then it’s probably not a good investment considering the person might not be able to take initiatives and solve larger problems that might be encountered. He/she will only escalate, and not introspect.

For people giving interviews, I think its best we analyze the JD and present our ability to perform not just the role being interviewed for, but also larger roles, and a motivation to take the role itself to the next level. It might not work in many cases, but in the long run, I’m pretty sure it will. Its better we don’t approach an interview thinking it’s our dream job or company, there is no such thing. A job at best can be an enabler to achieve our larger dreams. That’s it!!!

A better set of questions to complement the above could be (but not limited to):

  • What are your key strengths that you think will help you perform this role?
  • What do you find as the biggest advantages of software “X”?
  • What do you think are the most important dynamics to be considered while working with “X” type of clients?

And I’m sure many of us have such interview experiences, and all I can say (to myself too) is, don’t be disappointed if such an interviewer does not hire you. He/she does not have any vision for that role beyond execution of the role itself. Neither a good place to be in, nor a good leader to work for.

So, what do you think? How can interview sessions be structured for better results?

What is your default mode?


There is always a gray area between the black and white right? Most of us would like to remain in the gray area for some reason. Sometimes it could be our own indecisiveness and in some other times, it could also be insecurity. But irrespective of the fact that all humans thrive on the gray area, most of us are “branded” by the mode we display predominantly.

This mode counts dearly when we are in a corporate set up all the more. By and large, we are identified as being in one of the two modes – Open & Closed – and this is justified to an extent too.

When we are in the “open” mode, we are generally keen buyers of new ideas and willing to change our working style more often. We also readily take on that challenge, which differentiates a go-getter and a naysayer. It’s not to say we don’t say “no” to anything, but we give it our best shot before the “no”. And when we say “yes”, we give it our everything.

I know you got the point by now, but when we are in the “closed” mode, we generally prefer to stick to routine and detest change. We refer to the same formula for success in all situations despite the nature of challenges. We also only try to tweak the parameters, but not the formula, when trust upon a new situation.

There could be many other things around this, but when it comes to “branding” the attitude of a person at work, these two modes would probably be the first identifiers  for us.

So, what do you think? And what is your default mode?

Hmm… A friend just told me that there are some scientific explanations for being either, which only reinforces our “default mode” by the way.

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