They Can Smell Insincerity a Mile Away

by | May 21, 2021 | Executive Coaching

Ellen Patnaude, Patnaude Coaching

I can’t stand insincerity. Give it to me straight, every single time. And the thing about most people? They can smell insincerity a mile away, too.

We are really good at noticing what people are doing. We’re even better at noticing what they are not doing. I’m not exactly sure why that is… social conditioning? Upbringing? Hard-wiring? Personality? All of the above? Something else altogether? Your guess is as good as mine. I just know I’ve observed it a thousand times. And heard it as observation from other people. We see the failings, the things not done, and the mistakes way more often than we see the good stuff.

The Superficial

I’ve brought this up in many workshops. The immediate response is usually something like, “We need to catch people doing things right instead of always catching them doing things wrong”. Yes, and… it’s not enough. I’ve seen this translate into people making a point of saying, “Hey great job on that report!” or “Nice! You met the deadline!” I don’t know about you, but those come off sounding like you think I’m a toddler who needs a reward for using the potty. Sorry (not sorry) to be a little crass, but that’s what it calls to mind for me. I don’t need to be congratulated or thanked for the superficial stuff. Notice more deeply.

Notice More Deeply

Call to mind a colleague. It can be your boss, one of your peers, or a team member. Get a specific person in your mind. If it helps, actually jot down their initials.

Now, thinking about that person as a person, what are they good at? It sometimes helps to start with the superficial things. Make a list on paper or even just in your head. What are the tasks or jobs at which this person really excels?

Dig deeper. What character traits allow them to do those tasks/jobs well? You don’t need to place your own value each of those traits. I just want you to identify them. Challenge yourself to really get at the traits behind the tasks. Things like integrity, honesty, loyalty, and so on. Make another list. Maybe connect each task to the trait that allows or enables them to be good at that task.

When is this kind of “Noticing” appropriate to bring up?

There’s a time and place for this kind of noticing. Just like anything else that happens routinely, the positive effects of noticing someone’s character strengths loses impact when done too often. It starts to feel like something you’re obligated to say. Especially if you’re repeating things you’ve said before. Maybe you invite this person to have a coffee with you, virtually or in person. Maybe you send them a card. You can find the right moment to share your observations and appreciations. I would encourage you to make it a “once in a while” kind of thing. Not a weekly one.

But what about all that work I did?

There’s another type of recognition that is also missing from many workplaces, from what we hear. Or not done enough. We regularly get feedback that it’s something missing from the culture. Recognition of work or projects to a larger team.

This is different than the “catching people doing things right” kind of thing. Stopping someone in the hallway to say, “Hey, great job on delivering to that client on time!” is very different than acknowledging the work someone put in in front of their whole team. Or division. Or company. That kind of recognition of a job well done is nearly always appreciated, even if it is task related.

Bottom line

The bottom line is this. Start with noticing what you notice. Are you more inclined to see the failings and mistakes? Or is it pretty easy for you to see the good stuff? Next, identify opportunities to share the good that you see. Finally, spread it around. You can start with one person and expand it from there. And above all else, do it with sincerity. Don’t blow smoke. All that does is blur people’s vision.



Ellen Patnaude

Ellen Patnaude

Ellen E. Patnaude has been coaching, training, and developing people to achieve higher levels of success in a professional capacity since 1997.

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