Your Relationship and Reputation Credit Score: How You Earned It and How It Affects Your Relationship Karma

Mar 14, 2012

I recently watched a DVD from a conference for entrepreneurs. One of the speakers, Stephen Snyder, gave a presentation on how a business person’s credit rating affected them in far more ways than most people realize. As you know, lending institutions offer more favorable rates to people with high credit scores. When we engage in behaviors that lower our score, lending institutions lose interest in doing business with us. We pay a price for this disinterest either by having our loan request denied or having to pay a higher interest rate. Thus, our “bad behavior” makes us less desirable, and we pay a price for that.

What was most fascinating — and concerning — was what he had to say about how even very smart and successful people unwittingly do things that damage their credit score. Even really smart people have credit-related blind spots that cost them, and because they’re blind spots, they don’t even realize which behaviors penalize them.

The Relationship and Reputation Credit Score We Don’t Even Realize We’re Accumulating

I found myself thinking about credit scores as a metaphor for how we treat others, and how the cumulative effect of our actions creates a metaphorical Relationship and Reputation Credit Score. This credit score influences whether others want to do business with us, and how favorably they think of us and treat us. They influence the quality of our relationships and our reputation.

The Cumulative Effect of Your Treatment of Others Creates Your Relationship and Reputation Credit Score

This metaphorical score profoundly affects how people feel about us, how much they respect us, and whether they want to work with us. I use “work” both in the literal sense and the figurative sense. Our Relationship and Reputation Credit Score affects whether people want to do business with us, hire us, or be on their project team.

Your Relationship and Reputation Credit Score Affects Your Relationship Karma

Our Relationship and Reputation Credit Score also influences whether people want to work with us collaboratively or whether they strive to squeeze the most they can out of us. It affects whether they are willing to give us the benefit of the doubt when we unwittingly do something insensitive or unkind.

It affects whether they see us as someone who can be trusted, who can be counted on to keep their agreements and commitments, and whose word is their bond.

All these perceptions—based on what we put out—come back to us in “relationship karma.”

Thus, it’s wise to examine our Relationship and Reputation Credit Score. But first, we need to become aware of what we do that affects our score—for better or for worse.

The Price We Pay for Not Knowing

Examining our behaviors and how they affect our score brings us to the more concerning relationship analogy embedded in Snyder’s presentation: we pay a huge price for ignorance and lack of self-awareness.

Just as our lack of awareness about the effects of our decisions on our credit score can cost us dearly, so can our lack of awareness of the reputation and relationship-damaging behaviors we engage in. This is why cultivating self-awareness and mindfulness in our relationships is so important.

How Do These Actions Affect Their Score?

Let me give you several examples to make this concept concrete and to illustrate the impact of our Relationship and Reputation Credit Score. My goal is to help you become more mindful of what you do that increases the respect and trust people have in you, and what you might be doing that diminishes it.

  1. Recently, a woman in human resources contacted me, saying that she and her team wanted to upgrade their onboarding process. Because I have worked and written extensively in this area, she wanted to get my recommendations on several aspects of the process. I said I’d be glad to. While this is something I get paid to consult in, I appreciate when others generously share their time and expertise, so I like to act the same way. We talked, and I shared what I knew on the specific areas she was interested in. I followed up with an email and resource suggestion. I heard nothing back from her.
  2. Recently, while giving a seminar, I was impressed by what several managers from the same company were saying about their manager. I wanted to hear more about what he did to have such a devoted, committed, engaged group of people. So I contacted Jerry Merrill, director of merchandising from Sure Winner Foods to ask if he would be willing to do an interview. He said he was glad to do so. After returning from the interview, before I could send him a thank you email, he had already sent me one, thanking me for my time.
  3. Recently, someone I have done business with and with whom I’ve had some fun conversations with over the years, asked me to send her an email with some times when we could talk. I did so, and received no response. Since one never knows whether email arrives or not, I called and left a message. Still no response.  Two weeks later, she emailed me, with the subject line indicating it was a reply to the original email I sent, but about another topic. There was no response to my email about times to talk, nor an apology for not returning my phone call or responding to my email.
  4. Back to Jerry Merrill. One of the major themes I heard from interviews with his team is that they have such huge respect for him because he holds himself accountable. Because of his role modeling, they take holding themselves accountable very seriously. A simple example offers a contrast to Scenario #3. He recently put on an event for his salesforce and made a mistake with the food options. Trying to save money, he chose a very Spartan set of meal and snack options. At the event, it was clear they were inadequate.  He could have adopted the Rules of Engagement some people with power adopt — “Being the boss means never having to say you’re sorry” — but instead, he sent out a voice mail apology to everyone for that mistake and his commitment to providing better food options in the future.
    Think of the effect that had on his people. It fostered respect because they saw someone strong and confident enough to admit their mistake. It also fostered respect because — even though he could have gotten away with not apologizing because of his position of power –he did apologize because it was the right thing to do. Thus, acting honorably and not abusing his position of power added to his Relationship and Reputation Credit Score. His apology also communicated “I care about you and how I treat you.” Since we tend to care more about people who show they care about us, it’s not surprising that Jerry Merrill’s people passionately care about doing a great job and not letting him down.
  5. A couple of months ago, a woman in human resources emailed me about my Constructive Conversations programs. This is someone whose name I recognized, as she’s been to a number of my public seminars and association presentations. I emailed her back that I would give her a call, and then did so. I never heard back. Wanting to give her the benefit of the doubt, rather than simply write her off as someone lacking professionalism and basic courtesy, I left another voice mail message. Still no reply. Remember, she contacted me! About a month went by, and even though my general rule is if someone shows a lack of professionalism and basic courtesy, I have no interest in working with them, I was curious about what had happened. So, I sent her another email asking what had changed that has led her to go from contacting me to not returning my calls or emails. Still, no reply.

Your Relationship and Reputation Credit Score and Relationship Karma

As you reflect on the various scenarios depicted above, I want you to think about the Relationship Karma the people in scenarios one, three, and five create for themselves. Think about the cumulative effect of years treating people this way, and its effect on their Relationship and Reputation Credit Scores. Consider when someone didn’t show even the basics of Common Courtesy 101, such as apologizing when they didn’t return your voice mail or emails, or didn’t keep their agreement on a deadline. Reflect on how highly you regard them and how willing you are to go out of your way to help them.

Then reflect on people who show you respect and courtesy, who keep their commitments, who do what they say they’ll do. Reflect on the respect you have for them and how much you care about doing right by them. Because these people have done the things that earned them a high Relationship and Reputation Credit Score, you are much more interested in “loaning” them your time and effort. You are much more willing to forgive and forget when they do make a mistake. You are much more interested in being on the lookout for opportunities that might benefit them.

How to Put This Into Action

As you reflect on the people who have low Relationship and Reputation Credit Scores and those who have high scores, ask yourself what your score might be in the eyes of others. Think about the Relationship and Reputation Credit Score you have with your fellow team members, with your manager, and with peers in your industry. If you are a manager, add to this list your direct reports. If you are a senior leader, add to this list your workforce.

Then, start practicing greater mindfulness about how you demonstrate:

  1. Courtesy
  2. Respect
  3. Honor
  4. Concern

I recommend doing the following brainstorm with a group. For each quality, such as courtesy, give examples of when you saw that quality embodied, that quality in action. Then give examples of when you saw the absence of that quality in action. Because different people have different criteria, doing this as a group will give you even better information than you would get on your own. You will undoubtedly hear examples from others that you hadn’t even thought about. Also, because we all have blind spots, you will probably hear examples of behaviors that represent the absence of a particular quality that have been engaging in without even realizing.

Once you have this list, use it to increase your level of mindfulness. Start paying greater attention to what you do and its effect on your Relationship and Reputation Credit Score. As you more consciously engage in the actions that model courtesy, respect, honor, and concern, your presence alone will uplift and encourage others.

Also, doing the things that boost your Relationship and Reputation Score will also automatically lift your own spirits. Research on “helper’s high” as well as our own experience shows us that doing good makes us feel good. So, even if other people don’t notice — which of course they do –our actions in and of themselves make us feel better.

All This Self-Awareness Stuff Sounds Like Work. Is It Worth It?

If doing this seems like too much work, consider the difference in how you feel and think about those with low scores and those with high scores, and ask which Relationship Karma you want to bring into your life.

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