Identifying the trustworthy

By Dr. Henry Wong Meng Yeong | Monday, March 10 2014

We continue our discussion on unmasking personalities to reveal their true character. It is important to put aside our preconceived ideas of color and education and instead focus on finding employees and friends with character, integrity and virtues.

One can take comfort to know that even Confucius had encountered people who were untrustworthy. Recorded in the analects is an account of Confucius saying that whilst he would in the past take one at his word, after encountering Zai Yu, he would match their actions with their words before believing or trusting anyone.

Confucius proposed a three point check-list to identify the trustworthy.

1. See and observe a person’s conduct and actions.

Seeing and observing does not come naturally to the sighted. The common refrain from anyone who has been cheated or swindled is “I wish I had seen that coming”. The Orwellian prediction that “in a time of universal deceit- telling the truth is a revolutionary art” has come to pass. It is perhaps noteworthy that the man who does not see has no advantage over the man who cannot see.

An example is the Monika Lewinsky inquiry, at which Bill Clinton vehemently declared “I did not have sex with that woman” pointing in one direction and looking in another. He pointed with his right hand when he was clearly left handed. It was quite evident he was uncomfortable when interrogated and had many other body language signs which caught him in a lie. His actions and words just did not match. Actions often speak louder than words. Keen observation of actions matched with words will confirm if one is trustworthy.

The power of observation was best demonstrated in the well-known televised debates between a young unknown senator Kennedy and vice president Nixon on September 26, 1960. Those who heard the debate on radio were convinced the well informed methodical lawyer Nixon had won. To those who saw the suave, handsome Kennedy in the debate on television, they in turn were convinced he was the victor. It is now common knowledge that had the debates not been televised, Kennedy would not have been president.That debate was a watershed for future televised debates as presidential hopefuls are now aware that how one appeared mattered. It is natural that looks matter as one is more likely pick an unkempt and scruffy person instead of one who is neat and well dressed from a police lineup.

At a board meeting to select an executive director, after the candidate had left the room, a board member remarked that she wore nice shoes. The chairman quipped “If shoes are the criteria, then our job is easy. Let us send the candidates to the shoe shop and see who returns with the best looking shoes”. This example illustrates the power of observation but it depends on what one is looking for.

What is it that impresses interviewers when selecting people? If we put our trust in people without character and virtues but who are intelligent, charming and well dressed, we will end up with the Bernie Madoffs of this world. Should we therefore be looking for charisma instead of character, intelligence instead of integrity, vanity instead of virtues.

The discussion continues…