Oswald Letter

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

What people do matters a whole lot more than what they say they’ll do. This statement should not surprise anyone. Actions speak louder than words. Then why is it that “smooth talkers” and “big talkers” often bluff and bluster their way though life despite their actions being very different than their rhetoric?

People get caught up in what people say — especially if they say it well. Consider that some of this country’s most successful politicians, including  a number who sat in the Oval Office, were first-class orators. John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan were excellent communicators, as is our current President Barack Obama.

But isn’t it what they do, not what they say, that really matters?

Throughout my career I’ve had colleagues who will say about a vendor who has disappointed, “But, he promised he’d be able to deliver exactly what we needed.” Just because you encountered a likable, well-spoken salesperson doesn’t mean the company will be able to do what you need them to do.

Or what about the conversation you have with a hiring manager, after they had to fire an employee after three months on the job saying, “But she said she was really experienced in the field.” Some people will say anything to get a job, especially in this economy.

Here’s some advice, trust but verify. This old Ronald Reagan adage is something every manager should live by — especially when it comes to people who make big promises. In our politically correct world, people often hesitate to question others’ motives or challenge what other people say. They’re afraid they are going to offend someone so they say nothing. The customer doesn’t probe the vendor, asking for examples of other jobs they’ve completed successfully. The hiring manager doesn’t thoroughly check the references of a job candidate and instead relies on the resume and what the candidate says in the interview.

Trust but verify.

There’s another type of talker that can also lead to trouble. That’s the person who only tells you half of the story — often the half they want you to hear. Recently I was engaged in a negotiation in which our side and our counterpart in the other organization spent weeks hammering out a deal that everyone felt they could live with. The other party generated a term sheet that we reviewed and accepted. However, when the agreement arrived we were surprised to find that there were a number of items in it that had never been discussed or agreed upon.

Why they chose the legal document to present new items that had not previously been discussed I’ll never know. Were they reluctant to raise these issues because they felt we’d spent so much time on other items? Did they really believe these items weren’t important? Or were they trying to slip a few things into the agreement to see what they could get away with? I’ll never know the true answer, but I’ve lost a degree of trust in them and am glad we verified the document.

Again, a little probing, a few more questions will often help you get the whole story. You can’t be afraid to ask for the details. Be specific in your questions. Be skeptical, especially with those who are unproven to you. Remember, trust must be earned. Don’t give yours away so freely that you suffer the consequences. A little skepticism is healthy.

And what if you’re “suspecting” nature offends someone? Let me say that anyone who is genuine and honest appreciates someone being thorough. Think about it. It helps them out. The truly honest and reputable prefer the other side to be cautious because their honesty and reputation will set them apart. The job candidate who readily provides quality references hopes that you call them all and hear all the great things that will be said about her. The vendor who has a long list of satisfied customers wants you to talk to them to hear how great the vendor has performed time after time. That’s how they’ll win the job or the contract. The person who is offended that you’d question the integrity of their resume or what they’ve told you is exactly the person you don’t want to hire!

If you watch what people do more than you listen to what they say you’ll be better off every time. You want to be associated with people who “walk the walk,” not just “talk the talk.” And you want to be that person too.