in: Career & Wealth, Leadership

• Last updated: September 30, 2021

Podcast #348: A Counterintelligence Expert’s Five Rules to Lead and Succeed

Trust. It certainly makes life easier when it exists. Instead of having to craft complicated contracts for a business deal, a simple handshake will do. Instead of surveilling your spouse like the NSA, you take them at their word.

But trust, it seems, is in short supply these days. We’re afraid of trusting people and we have a hard time getting people to trust us. How can you establish trust in even the most toxic environments?

My guest today thinks he has the answer to that question. His name is Robin Dreeke, and he’s spent his career working in a field where trust is hard to get but important to have — doing counterintelligence for the FBI. Robin’s recently published a book sharing how he has been able to gain the trust of people who aren’t very keen on trusting others. It’s called The Code of Trust.

Today on the show, Robin shares the five rules of building trust with anyone — no matter how suspicious they are of you. While these rules may seem like they’re an invitation to become a human doormat, Robin explains why that’s not the case, and how they actually make you more influential.

Whether you’re working with spies, like Robin, or just want to build more trust in your office or relationships, you’re going to find plenty of interesting and actionable advice in this podcast.

Show Highlights

  • Why trust was so important in Robin’s career as a counterintelligence expert
  • The importance of seeking out others’ thoughts, opinions, and dreams
  • Why has establishing trust become so hard?
  • How trust makes life much easier
  • Suspending your ego and vanity in order to establish trust
  • How to validate people
  • How to be non-judgmental, even when you don’t approve of someone’s choice
  • What it means to “honor reason”
  • Being emotionally detached in the heat of the moment
  • The importance of being more generous
  • Why this isn’t a formula for being a human doormat
  • “Never argue context” — what this means, and why Robin thinks it’s so important
  • Why the platinum rule is more helpful than the golden rule
  • Applying these principles to digital communication
  • Is it easy to gain and maintain trust?
  • What to do if you’re in a toxic workplace

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

The code of trust by robin dreeke, book cover.

Connect With Robin

Robin’s website

Robin on Twitter

Robin on Facebook

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast.

Trust. Certainly makes life easier when it exists instead of having to craft complicated contracts for a business deal when a simple handshake will do and instead or surveilling your spouse like the NSA, you just take them at their word. But trust, it seems, is in short supply these days. We’re afraid of trusting people and we have a hard time getting people to trust us. How can you establish trust in even the most toxic environments? Well, my guest today thinks he has the answer to that question. His name is Robin Dreeke and he’s spent his career working in a field where trust is hard to get, but important to have. Doing counter intelligence for the FBI. Robin’s recently published a book sharing how he’s been able to gain the trust of people who aren’t very keen on trusting others. It’s called The Code of Trust, and today on the show, Robin shares the five rules of building trust with anyone, no matter how suspicious they are of you. While these rules may seem like they’re an invitation to become a human doormat, Robin explains why that’s not the case and how they actually make you more influential. Whether you’re working with spies like Robin or just want to build more trust in your office, you’re going to find plenty of interesting and actual advice in this podcast.

After the show’s over, check out the show notes at AOM.IS/trust.

Robin Dreeke, welcome to the show.

Robin Dreeke: Hey, thanks for having me, really appreciate it and taking the time to chat.

Brett McKay: So you just put out a book called The Code of Trust. But I think to appreciate what you’re writing here, with the ideas you’re putting out in the Code of Trust, we need to know about your background, because you work in an industry, or you have worked in an industry, where there’s not a lot of trust. Can you tell folks a little bit about your background?

Robin Dreeke: Sure. The industry where there’s not a lot of trust is an interesting statement, so we’ll talk about that. So yeah, my background, it’s really simple, I’m a Naval Academy graduate. Went in the Marine Corp afterwards, after the Marine Corp I came in the FBI so I’ve been with the FBI over 20 years. And specifically inside the FBI, I’ve worked counter intelligence and ran our Behavioral Analysis Program. And it’s interesting, because it’s … when you work in the world of counter intelligence and spies and counter spies or counter proliferation or whatever it is, you think of it more as a criminal matter, I guess, a lot of times, but in reality it’s not. Because we deal with human beings on a day to day basis and we all do, in every walk of life that we are in and every profession. And in my line of work, there’s very, very little remuneration I can give someone, or cooperation or wanting to put our country’s well being ahead of their own sometimes, accept a relationship. And people aren’t going to generally do that without some semblance of trust, because I generally, 99.9% of the time, I’m not dealing with criminals that have committed crimes and so there’s really no reason why they should want to talk to me, so if you can’t make it about them, and inspire trust, you’re not going to get very far.

Brett McKay: And when you first started in counter intelligence, what was your approach? Like did it take you awhile to figure out that I need to make it about them and to get them to trust me, in order for them to work with you, or did you take a different approach?

Robin Dreeke: That was really the approach. You know, it’s funny, the book, The Code of Trust, it’s about inspiring trust but ultimately it came down to leadership. What I learned in the Marine Crop about leadership … because again, I’m not a natural born leader, I’m really kind of a natural born self centered jerk most of the time. But that approach of the Type A hard charger might work fine for you to a limited degree, if you have a title or a position or rank, or something that someone has to listen to. But, what I found out very rapidly when you come and work in my line of work, it’s a very flat organization, it’s a very flat hierarchy and structure with people you’re talking to. Matter of fact, most of the people that I interacted with are twice as old as I was, four times as smart, at least, and they didn’t care about title and position, they cared about how you treated them. And luckily for me, I did have some people that I met or surrounded with that were the real Jedi masters of human interpersonal skills that actually had the art form down that took me … and awareness, I definitely had self awareness about what I lacked, but a lot of times, maybe a little more challenging to figure out what it is I had to add.

Brett McKay: So to understand how important trust is, let’s look at examples of where trust does not exist. Any examples of organizations or business that you’ve worked with, or even countries where there was hardly any trust. What’s that like?

Robin Dreeke: Well, we see it all over the world right. I’ve written about it a few times since, too, trust in government. Trust in politicians, trust in organizations, trust in our product. There’s lots of examples of mistrust and it’s really because there’s some core elements that are really lacking in a lot of communication that human beings have right now. Human beings, we’re inter tribal, by nature. We’ve lived and survived in tribes of 40, 50, 60, I mean thousands of years ago. And in order to survive in a tribe, you actually had to have trust, otherwise you’d be left for dead. And what human beings are, at the genetic and biological level are seeking is a sense of affiliation. And a sense of being valued. And they’re very clear things that you can actually include in the language that you use when you’re communicating with someone to demonstrate value and demonstrate affiliation, because that tells our brains that it’s good for us. And when you cascade on top our genetics and our biology on top of good societal norms, and humanistic ways of dealing with people, it really becomes very easy.

And those four things are really simple. You have to seek people’s thoughts and opinions. You know, how often do you hear people in politics, or in government, or in a line of work, in an industry, seeking the thoughts and opinions of those people they wish interacted with? Because when you’re seeking thoughts and opinions, you’re saying, “Hey, I value what you say.”

Next, you have to talk in terms of their priorities. Their needs, wants, dreams, aspirations, personal, professional, long term and short term. Because here’s another guarantee, if I’m not talking in terms of what’s important to you and what you deem as prosperous for you, you’re not going to listen, because why would you?

Third, you have to validate them. And validation, it’s not simple flattery, which I don’t really subscribe to. Validation is a seeking to understand the human being you’re interacting with. At the core level of how it is they see the world their personal optic, and you do it non judgmentally.

And fourth, you want to empower them in choice. Again, we don’t give people choices unless we value who they are and can affiliate with them in some way. So very rarely in a lot of things that we’re seeing these days are people doing at least one of those four things in everything that we’re saying and doing.

Brett McKay: And why is that? I mean, why has establishing trust become so hard in our modern world?

Robin Dreeke: You know, it’s fascinating, I think we see this a lot with insecure people at work, or people that become annoying at work. Again, let’s go back to inter tribal man. If we want to feel affiliated and we want to feel part of a collective, because feeling part of a collective means we’ll survive. And when any individual or group singles out another group, either positively or negatively, what happens is is that everyone else feels disconnected and they feel like they have to try to convince someone to accept them for who they are. And so, when people are ostracized and not included, people are going to start battling. And when you start battling, shields are up, no information is flowing, and people start standing their ground and thinking they have to fight for what is right from their perspective, while at the same time, they’re not doing anything. Because the one thing I never even try to do anymore is I never try to convince anyone, because I really can’t. I think in terms of how can I inspire them to want to listen to me? Because that convincing aspect is about me and what I think. If I’m thinking in terms of inspiring, it’s about them.

So why aren’t people doing it more these days? Because people are battling to feel included, more so than I think they’ve done in a long time.

Brett McKay: Which is weird, because you know, supposedly the internet, all this technology that allows to communicate is supposed to connect us more, but it sounds like it’s made it harder to establish trust.

Robin Dreeke: Well, what’s happened is with the anonymity of being behind a screen, or a Twitter, or a Facebook posting, or a LinkedIn posting, with that anonymity comes this unbridled desire to give your thoughts and opinions and judge others. And as soon as you start judging someone, that’s when the shields go up and that’s when divisiveness starts. Instead of rather trying to understand how other people see the world through their optic … I mean, granted, you look at my background, Naval Academy, Marine Corp, FBI, it can sound like, like I said before, a pretty hard charging, judgemental individual. Well, so this for over 20 years, I can’t judge anyone. I’ve had a career and a lifetime of knowing that if I start judging someone as being right or wrong, or less or more, or morally corrupt or not, I guarantee you that people’s shields are going to go up and there’s not going to be any communication flow, because ultimately, all I’m ever trying to do is inspire someone to want to collaborate, want to work on mutual beneficial priorities. And if you start judging in any way, shields are up, no information is flowing and that’s what happening in the digital world.

But I mean, and the good side though is it’s very easy to communicate with much more people in the digital world because you can use these strategies to make it all about them, but people just have this incessant need to want to correct others.

Brett McKay: Right. And the big takeaway I got from the book, the benefit of trust, is that it just makes life easier. Right? Whether it’s business, your personal life … you know, imagine a world where you can just transact on a handshake. That’s much more efficient than drawing up these huge complicated contracts because you don’t trust the guy that you’re in a partnership with.

Robin Dreeke: Absolutely Brett. The thing that’s really pretty amazing to me, and what’s happened since the years I’ve developed this, is that life has become exceedingly calm and exceedingly prosperous. And here’s why. Years ago, I self published a first little book on rapport. And the whole purpose of rapport was to try to illicit some information or something for an interview and then I started realizing well, the next step to rapport is really trust and when you have trust, you have collaboration, you have mutually beneficial priorities that you’re working on together. And what I’ve really realized is the more I focused on trust, I started having relationships. Deep, meaningful relationships. Relationships where people are mutually vested in each other’s prosperity. And vested without expectation of reciprocity. So that is truly the unconditional giving that you can offer. And what happens is, is when you start creating a network of trust through relationships, that’s when the majesty of calmness happens, and prosperity. I mean, it’s truly been pretty amazing.

You know, I said to my son a couple days ago … he recently got in to exactly where he wanted to go to college on a very early decision. And the first thing we did is we sat down and said, hey, you had all these skills that allowed you to do that, but the first thing we’re going to do is let’s talk about the relationships that was able to facilitate exactly what you wanted to accomplish. Because, as I’ve seen throughout my life and he saw throughout his, you can have all the talents in the world, but talent and all these skills with relationships is completely useless.

Brett McKay: All right, so let’s walk through the code a bit here. You’ve already laid out some of the parts, already. But let’s get very explicit here, the first one is suspend your ego. What does that look like when you are trying to establish trust with somebody?

Robin Dreeke: Yeah, suspend your ego, it’s really one of the bedrocks of facilitating the code of trust. All right, I often teach and talk about how the code is flawless. It is completely, unconditionally flawless. The one thing that will cause it to fail is you, your ego and your vanity. And what I mean by that is, any time things become about yourself, you’re own priorities, things that you’re trying to accomplish, through someone else but still become self centered, that’s when your ego gets in the way. Because, if you’re not dealing with someone that’s unconditional and offering you resources, which generally people aren’t, there’s no reason why they would want to cooperate with you. Our ego and our vanity really get in the way of our mouth and the things we say, where we become judgemental. Where we have this need to correct other people, argue how they see the world through their particular experiences, and that’s what really get in the way.

Brett McKay: Right. And but they could be very subtle too, you might not think you’re being egotistical but like, you know, the way you approach the person, you’re coming from your frame point.

Robin Dreeke: Yeah, absolutely. Matter of fact, I used to work with someone … I worked with some amazing people, one of them, in the book I call him Jesse Thorn, in real life his name is John. Protect the names of the innocent. But, he was the master of interpersonal communication. One of the most down to earth, humility driven individuals that was the most successful person I’ve ever saw in my line of work. And also on my same squad, I had someone with the same amount of time, that was also a very, very good investigator, fantastic, but he didn’t have the ability to develop the same sorts of relationships. And the reason was, he had some very stringent ethics, morals, and religious beliefs that he didn’t necessarily state but non verbally, he was very judgemental of people that didn’t believe what he believed. And so that started creeping in there. I call it incongruence. And we’ve all experienced the same congruence between that which we say. A lot of times, you get these sales people, they can say all the right things, but you still get that creepy salesman affect. Well, that’s because emotionally, they’re not actually thinking to benefit, they’re thinking to benefit themselves. And so, that’s what happens in a lot of things, that comes across non verbally. So having congruence between that which you are saying and that which you’re feeling about the other individual, and specifically being non judgemental is really key.

Brett McKay: Well that leads us to the next step, it’s be non judgemental and then the third one is validate, which are very similar. Okay, what do you mean by … because I don’t think we all understand be non judgemental and validate, what do you mean by validate?

Robin Dreeke: Validate is seeking to understand the human being that’s in front of you. Again, you have to combine it with non judgemental, because you can seek to understand someone but if you’re doing so scorning them, or not believing in what they’re saying, or standing in judgment of it, there’s not going to be any kind of trust or shields down where information is exchanging and flowing. So validation is merely seeking to understand. So that really the key and the reason to do this is, sometimes you’re going to deal with people that you feel intolerant of, that you are … don’t like being around, that annoy you. Whether it’s personal or professional. And those are the people that you actually have to validate the most. Meaning that you have to seek to understand them. Because what happens is when you seek to understand and you validate, then tolerance ensues. And when you have tolerance then you start having that congruence again between that which you’re saying and that which you’re feeling towards the individual.

There’s people in life that can bug the living heck out of us. Whether it’s at work or home and the first thing I do is I seek to understand, well, why is it their behavior is bothering me? And a lot of times it’s because of experiences they had growing up, experiences they’ve had in the workplace. And so they’re feeling insecure about something. And so the first thing I try to discover is, or validate, is what are they insecure about and so I can make them feel more secure about it when dealing with me.

Brett McKay: Well, and how do you do that without approving of their behavior? Because I’m sure this happened to you in counter intelligence, you probably were working with people who were possibly thinking about doing some sort of treasonous act. So you want to be non judgemental and validate, but at the same time like say, that’s actually not a good thing that you’re thinking about doing. So how do you deal with that?

Robin Dreeke: Yeah. I’ve got a deep dark story on an espionage site I like to use sometimes, but a little too deep and dark for this. But it really comes down to the fact that I’ve got to focus on my end goal. If my end goal is to protect national security, and my end goal is to … then if you’re in the business world, sell a service or a product, and you’re the person that I need to interact with, then I need to communicate with you in a way that’s going to inspire you to want to. And if I start judging you, then you’re not going to want to. So you’re automatically undermining what it is that you set out to want to do. And that’s what makes us leadership. Leaders are the ones that are setting the goals and objectives about interacting with other human beings. And now, strong inspirational leadership makes it about the other person. Leaders set the goal, and then they take action that’s going to inspire someone to want to come along on the ride with them, and make it beneficial for them ahead of you. And if you start judging others, and not validating them, then I guarantee you they’re not going to do it.

The great thing I love about this too is, human behavior becomes extremely predictable. If I take the time to understand what your priorities are, like I said before, your needs, wants, dreams and aspirations, personal, professional, long term and short term, if I understand how you define prosperity and what’s in your best interest, and I not offer resources for you to achieve all those things, I know you’re going to do it. I guarantee you’re going to do it. Why wouldn’t you? So that’s what this is all about, is understanding those things about other people, non judgmentally, and then offering resources for them achieve it.

And now, if for some reason you feel so strongly that you’re going to stand in judgment of them, I’m not saying that’s right or wrong either, I can just guarantee you, you’re not going to have a productive interaction, so you should just break contact before you even start.

Brett McKay: Gotcha. So, the fourth part of the code is honor reason. What do you mean by that?

Robin Dreeke: Honor reason is kind of what we’ve already been talking about. These things all kind of swirl together congruently. Honor reason is making sure, especially as a leader, whether it’s leadership where you’re trying to sell, whether you’re trying to lead on a battlefield, counter intelligence, in your household with your teenagers. What leaders are very, very good at, at least the inspirational leaders, are they’re very good at maintaining cognitive thought processes during the interaction. And so, the thing I love about the code, the code is very empathetic. In other words, I care very deeply about what other people are doing. Because if you’re finding out their context of the world, you’re validating them, you’re seeking to understand those priorities, you’re going to start to understand them and empathy is created.

Now, what honor reason is doing is ensuring that that feeling I have towards your success, that I don’t get emotionally attached to your decisions. Because ultimately they are your decisions on how you want to interact, my job is to help you understand your cause and effect of where it is you are, and where it is you’re going. And so for me, honoring reason is maintaining an objective, third party analysis for you, so I can be a resource for you moving forward.

I have these three anchors that I do that maintain by cognitive reason. One, I make sure that I have happy, healthy relationships, so everything that I say or I’m doing is going to make sure that I have happy, healthy, or professional relationships. That I have open, honest communication with transparency. Because you cannot have healthy relationships without that. And third, is I’m an available resource for the prosperity of others, without expectation of reciprocity. Because making yourself that available resource, with no expectation of reciprocity is what leaders do. Leaders don’t keep a scorecard. When I honor those three things, that keeps very rational and honoring reason.

Brett McKay: But how do you maintain that rationale, sort of cool detachment in the heat of the moment? Because it’s easy to get caught up with your emotions.

Robin Dreeke: Yeah, so you’ve got to build some muscle memory. As I call it. You have to first recognize in yourself what you do when you get emotionally hijacked, when you start having brain creep of either stress, anxiety, resentment, anger, frustration, all these though processes that enter the brain, they start the emotional hijacking process where cognitive thought starts going out the door.

So first, recognizing when you’re hitting that emotional state, and then immediately going to the code of trust. In other words … I hit it all the time, I mean I’m a type A. Type A’s love to fix a problem with a baseball bat half the time. And what happens is as soon as I get that emotional, that hits in there, I recognize it rapidly and I then immediately go to what’s my goal? And is what I’m about to say or doing, going to help or hinder what I’m actually trying to accomplish. So in other words, I recognize the emotional hijacking rapidly and then I then shift in to cognitive mode. And it takes practice, there’s no doubt. When I first started realizing this, I’d slip in to this emotional hijacking, kind of gradually not realizing it, but as soon as you start realizing it, go right to the code of trust, because it maintains that great cognitive thought process.

Brett McKay: So the final step of the code of trust is be generous. What does that look like as far as gaining trust?

Robin Dreeke: Pretty much combined with what I said before, my three anchors, and the third anchor being make yourself an available resource for the prosperity of others without that expectation of reciprocity. In other words, be generous. Be generous with your time, be generous with resources if you have them to offer. And when you’re generous with both time and resources without that expectation, in other words, if you have an expectation, it makes it about you. It’s the only reason you’re doing it. But if you can actually let go of it, with no expectation of return on it, that’s when people actually become inspired to want to reciprocate. But you can’t hold on to that, because then it all becomes about you and the whole thing gets undermined by your own ego and vanity.

Brett McKay: So, I mean, I like the way this sounds in theory, but I think a lot of people are probably listening to this and thinking well, this is like a formula for getting … becoming a doormat. Right, because you’re just making it about the other person, you’re being generous, giving them … your trust to them, without them earning their … I mean, so, are you going to get walked over following the code of trust, or does it play out in the long run in your favor?

Robin Dreeke: It has never happened yet where I’ve been a doormat, and here’s why. Yes, absolutely, this can be a very humanistic, altruistic way about dealing with people. But never once did I say be kind, be nice, be soft. No, it’s about rational thought. And the first step in the rational thought we’re talking about, I said it earlier, is what’s your goal? In other words, people that are doormats, either they don’t set a goal at the beginning of an interaction, or relationship. And, or they set it and they come wishy washy on maintaining it. There hasn’t been any instance yet where I’ve actually had to compromise my original goal, or whether I had to let go of it, or even not have one to begin with. I’m always … I have a lot of clarity on what it is, why I do what I do. And it focuses on the end goals for me. As I said, I have you my three ends goals already. The happy, healthy, professional relationships, open and honest communication, available resource for prosperity of others without an expectation of reciprocity. Under there, I have a few others.

Maintain security for myself, my community and my country. That’s another end goal. And so if I have these milestones along the way, I become very flexible in how to execute those milestones so that I can maintain the mission statement. In a lot of companies, we have mission statements. And I also have mission statements with my own family. Again, healthy, happy relationships with my own kids, and open and honest communication and available resource for healthy relationships in their lives. The only way to do that is to make sure that I’m talking in terms of their priorities, empowering them, doing all these things. So, in other words, I’m always extremely clear on the direction that I’m moving with the mission that I’m trying to achieve. So I’ve never had to be a doormat.

Now, the thing that makes us non manipulative is one, manipulation is nothing but control, with an attempt of subterfuge and deception. Well, how does this code deal with that? Well, there’s no deception whatsoever. It’s because that third anchor, again, is open, honest communication with transparency. I never try to deceive, I don’t use pretext calls, I don’t … I am straightforward, 100% honest because I’d rather have one or two people give me 120% of their effort and time together than 10 or 20 people who give me 5% and they don’t want to talk to you tomorrow. It comes to branding.

Brett McKay: Right. So an important part of this is knowing your goals. And then a part of that is aligning your goals with the other person.

Robin Dreeke: Absolutely.

Brett McKay: So the trick is how do you figure out what the other person’s goal is? Because sometimes they might say it’s one thing, but it might actually be another thing.

Robin Dreeke: That’s a great question. And you’re absolutely right in this. And this is what goes back then to the fail … again, the code, to me, is majestic and fail safe, because the fail safe for that is, if you’ve told me what your priorities are and your goals are, and I’ve offered you resources for achieving them, and for some reason, you’re not doing that, and you’re not executing, again, it’s on your tempo and time, because again, if you’re trying to manipulate, you’re on your own timeline, if you’re trying to inspire, it’s about their timeline. But if they’re not taking action, they’re not executing and things start becoming incongruent, well, what are they not doing? They’re not being open and honest with you, and that means if they’re not being open and honest with you, it’s not a healthy relationship. So now you have to make a choice.

So again, the fail safe here is, is if it’s not being effective because they’re not taking advantage of what you’re offering, in terms of their prosperity, then there’s something else going on and it’s not you, it’s them.

Brett McKay: So another phrase you repeated throughout the book, and you even said it a few times already, is you never argue context with somebody. What do you mean by that?

Robin Dreeke: People have a different point of view of everything. Just one of the things we were talking about at the beginning here today was trust. One reason why people don’t trust is because people are arguing context. Whether it’s the right side, or left side of politics, whether it’s a performance of a certain product, or a certain service. Whether someone views their own children in a certain, or a different way. Context is how … each of us has developed our own sense of self, and our own sense of how we see the world around us. So our prefrontal lobe’s not fully formed until around roughly 24, 25ish and so the things we experience between the first formative years of our lives, a lot of times between the ages of eight and 19, forms how we see the world for the rest of our life. Then you put on top of that our individual demographic, our gender, our ethnicity, our … all these different things that make up who we are, gives us our vision of how we see the world. I mean, I could hold up a product or a situation in a room with five people and I’m going to have five different things that people see when they see that. And that’s context. If you want to inspire trust, do not argue context.

Again, if it doesn’t cost you anything legally, because all you’re doing when you … is challenge someone on how they see the world, is I guarantee you, their shields are going up and no information that you want to talk about is going in.

Brett McKay: All right, so you never say … if someone says, “I feel this way,” you say, “Well, you’re wrong”?

Robin Dreeke: Absolutely. Again, you can say what you want. Because I believe there’s no right or wrong, just cause and effect. So say someone says something that you don’t particularly agree with, a natural response is exactly what you said, saying something like, “Well I don’t agree with that, here’s what I think.” Well, what’s your actually end goal here? Well, if your end goal is to have them actually listen to what you think, you can’t convince them because now you’ve just tried and failed, how can you inspire them to want to listen to you? So the first thing I do is I seek to understand, so I validate, say, “Wow. I never heard it put quite that way before, help me understand, how did you come up with that?” So I’m seeking thoughts and opinions, their brain is rewarding them and they’re sharing their thoughts and opinions and I’m gaining their context. Now, if I want them to listen to what I think, the next thing I say is, “Wow, that was really interesting. Again, thank you for sharing, I haven’t heard it that way before. I’m curious, what do you think about this?” Again, I’m not seeking their thoughts and opinions about what it is I want them to listen to to begin with. I guarantee you, they’re going to contemplate it, they’re going to ruminate on it, and they’re going to give you thoughts and opinions. If you had just said what you think and told them that you didn’t believe in what they said, they’re not going to listen to a word you said. Again, that power of asking those thoughts and opinions, where you’re demonstrating affiliation, you’re demonstrating value, they’re going to listen to it.

It’s the same thing as … people say one of the the things you want to do with people is plant the seed for them to think about. Well, if you want to plant seeds with people, you don’t tell them what you think, ask them what they think.

Brett McKay: Right. And another … one of my favorite maxims repeated throughout the book on gaining trust was don’t follow the Golden Rule, follow the Platinum Rule.

Robin Dreeke: Right, yeah. I wish I could claim total credit for that one. The great book called The Platinum Rule by Tony Alessandra. A number of years ago when I first started getting in to all the behavioral stuff, it’s really pretty simple. The Golden Rule, it’s a beautiful intention, and I’m not arguing it at all, the Golden Rule says treat people how you want to be treated. What the Platinum Rule is saying is what I’m talking about in The Code of Trust, is treat people how they want to be treated. In other words, a lot of times I’m going to treat you … as a matter of fact, that’s probably a big reason why I had some fantastic, humbling moments in my life, I treated you exactly how the type A wants to be treated. But that’s not how they wanted to be so shields up and no interaction. Meanwhile, if I took time to understand how you want to be treated, how you prefer to be communicated with, what your priorities are, and I talk in terms of them, that’s the Platinum Rule.

Brett McKay: Gotcha. And so, this means … okay, even if you’re a type A person and you’re dealing someone a little more laid back, you want to take a more laid back approach, but if you’re a more laid back person interacting with a type A, hard charging guy, you probably want to take that approach as well.

Robin Dreeke: Absolutely. A lot of times, we see this in e-mails a lot of times, too. Or even in a quick text or something where you have someone that’s extremely people oriented. And people oriented people are … they do make up the majority of people on the planet. And these are the individuals that like anecdotes, they like stories, they like doing things with a lot of pronouns and usage, and generally goes in the world of a lot of words. And so, one of the challenges here, if you’re dealing with someone task oriented like that, they just want ‘just the facts, ma’am’. Cut to the chase, tell me what you want and I’m in and I’m out. And so when you have a severe divergence there, it can be a real off putting to each side. But just remember, no one’s … people, very rarely, are trying to do something to you, they’re just being who they are.

Brett McKay: Right. Oftentimes it’s not about you. It’s usually about them.

Robin Dreeke: It’s never about you. Very rarely is it about you.

Brett McKay: It’s never you.

Robin Dreeke: You just happened to get in the way that day.

Brett McKay: And how do you apply this stuff to digital communication? Much … a lot of our communication is going online now and as you said, one of the challenges there, there’s anonymity, you’re not in person, so you can’t have like the facial cues and body language interaction and the … how do you establish trust online?

Robin Dreeke: I actually enjoy doing that a little bit more, believe it or not. Even though I’m an Xer. I’m just about 49, so I’m not born of the digital age like a lot of the millennials are, but I actually enjoy it a lot easier, only because you can really strategize how to say things a little easier. Because when you’re having a live interaction with someone, you can’t memorize what you’re saying because if you’re memorizing things, you’re not focusing on them which is the most important thing, you’re thinking about yourself. I do think about my first line when I’m going live, so I can make it about them, but after that I have to really focus on them and make sure I’m using language that is about them.

Well, when in the digital age, if I’m e-mailing or texting or Twittering or whatever we want to do, it’s very easy to go line by line with everything you’re doing, to making sure you’re including one of those four things. Seeking those thoughts and opinions, taking in terms of priorities of others, validating them and empower them to choices. It’s so easy to build one of those four things in.

A simple way to just do it is, “Here’s what I want to do, folks, blah, blah blah … if that’s okay with you.” In other words, just by adding ‘if that’s okay with you’, if that’s something that you’re comfortable with, I just made it about them. Validating their time, that makes it about them. Seeking assistance, that’s making it about them. There’s lots of little things you can do to make sure that every statement is about someone else. And writing is very easy because you can write … I mean, we do this all the time anyway, think about it. A lot of us before we send an … well, hopefully we’re doing it anyway, before we send an e-mail or a text, we think about who’s it going to and then we think about it, then we craft it a little bit, and then we send it. And so, that’s all we’re doing in this situation, we’re taking it to the next level by making sure that we’re doing one of those four things in everything we’re doing.

Brett McKay: So, this is question that just came to mind. So, as you’re doing this code of trust, and you’re interacting with lot … you’re probably interacting with dozens, maybe even hundreds of people. How do you keep track of everything? Right, like context for different people … like, what did you do as a counter intelligence guy, do you have like a dossier, do you have like a document you’d go to or database. What do you do there?

Robin Dreeke: Again, great question I get asked quite a few times. It doesn’t get this complicated, believe it or not. The amount of people in any individuals lives that have complete overlapping of priorities, it fluctuates from time to time but there’s really a handful. Maybe 10, 15, most. And some will fade in, some will fade out as these priorities no longer overlap. But if you’re honoring the code of trust, it’s always a strong relationship, so they can come in and out as need be over time. And so, that being said, they also have all these 10 or 15 people, they have their contacts. They have their relationships, they have their trusted networks. And so, yours become bigger and more vast, the better affect you have on those around you. It becomes what I call the hub and spoke. Where you’re the hub, and everyone else is their own hub and it keeps expanding. And what I’ve seen is, is the more calm and healthy you can make your relationships, the people you are interacting with are starting to do the same things, they’re starting to mirror those behaviors of success.

The other thing I will add though, I learned this early in the Marine Corp was I had what was called a platoon commander’s notebook. And what that was was, it was some notes you’d take on every … you know, I had a good number of Marines that worked for me, and yeah, remembering finer details about everyone’s lives that they’re willing to share, it could become challenging. So I’d just jot a few notes down on anniversaries, birthdays, significant events in their lives, so I could refer back to it from to time. I mean, people do this all the time, you get a business card from someone, take a few notes on the back. But what you’ll find is, at least what I’ve found, is that that core network of highly trusted individuals … I’ve never had it really exceed anything that was unmanageable, that I couldn’t remember.

Brett McKay: Gotcha. That’s good to know. So trust is hard to gain. Or is it hard to gain? Is it actually … is it easy to gain or is that-

Robin Dreeke: I think it’s very easy to gain. I think it’s easy to gain when you know how to communicate. And if you communicate in terms of the other people and not yourself, it’s very easy to gain. Now, the thing that you can’t force though is whether the other person is ready for you in their life or not. If you don’t have things that are interesting to them, in worries of their prosperity, or you have a personality trait that’s very off putting, then don’t force it. Because then you’re making it about you. But in general, it’s pretty easy to gain.

Now, the big thing here is though, everyone has a different tempo. Some people are easy to let trust go, so they’ll trust you within the first couple minutes of you just having great communication about them. Some people, they’ve had some life experiences that make them very skeptical, or they’re in a business that makes it … that they generally deal with untrustworthy people, so it might take three, six, 12 months. So, you’ve just got to be flexible, can’t make it all about you, and … but, I’ve found it to be pretty easy.

Brett McKay: And is maintaining that trust after you’ve spent … after you’ve gained it, is it just a matter of just following the code regularly?

Robin Dreeke: Following the code regularly is definitely critical. But people always ask me, “So, Robin, how exhausted do you get doing the code 24 hours a day with everyone you interact,” and I say, well, I don’t. When it’s a new relationship that’s just starting, when it’s a relationship that you have to have a more challenging conversation, or something deviates from kind of normal interaction, then that’s when I make sure I’m really exercising it well. Otherwise, I’m just me. What happens is, is you get better and better behaviors anyway. But … when I get my shields down, I get a little snarky with people because I’ve kind of got a quick wit and too fast one liners now and then. Especially … outside the home, I’m probably 95% on most of the time. Inside the home, maybe 60%.

Brett McKay: And what do you do … say their … there’s probably people listening to this show right now, they’re in an office, workplace, where there’s just no trust, it’s toxic. How do you go about turning the culture around where people start trusting each other?

Robin Dreeke: That’s not uncommon. So first of all, for anyone listening that’s in that environment, don’t think you’re alone. It’s very common, unfortunately. It really depends on how the trust was lost to begin with and that unhealthy culture began. A lot of times it’s from management on high. And so, a lot of times … I mean, I’ve worked for bosses that constantly shift up goals and priorities to keep you off balance so they could feed off of your stress and anxiety. That’s unhealthy. So sometimes you’re not going to be able to affect the individual cause in the environment, but if you can start mitigating the people around him … in other words, people like that don’t bother me anymore because I know it’s their issue and not mine. And so, if I can start calming the reaction of the people around me so that there’s nothing for these people to feed off of, that’s one way to mitigate it.

Another way to mitigate it is just possibly asking yourself, is this the kind of environment that’s healthy for me and my way of life? Because ultimately, what we … most human beings, we’re not seeking … studies came out about this a couple years ago. I think the average income of the happiest people in the world was not in the millions, or hundreds of thousands, it’s about $75,000 a year, I think it was. And what it is is see, people are looking for very simple things for their own prosperity. Healthy relationships, health, diversity of activity and food, shelter and healthcare. That’s about it. After that people are seeking to be valued, and if you’re in a place that you’re not feeling valued … and sometimes we don’t … you’ll never feel valued by your bosses. And that’s okay. If you’re feeling valued by the people around you, that might be enough to hold you. Just do an assessment. Ask yourself, is this healthy for me to stay in this environment? If not, what can I do about it? And if I can’t do anything about it, ask yourself, why am I still here?

Brett McKay: Gotcha. Well Robin, this has been a great conversation, where can people learn more about the book?

Robin Dreeke: That’s easy. So, the book The Code of Trust, you can get it anywhere, it’s available everywhere. I do have a website, it’s called All one word, peopleformula. You can follow me on Twitter, at R-D-R-E-E-K-E. I’ve been posting a bit lately, LinkedIn as well, and I’ve got a Facebook author page, so I’m pretty much all over the place. Look forward to chatting with folks.

Brett McKay: Awesome. Robin Dreeke, thank you so much for your time, it’s been a pleasure.

Robin Dreeke: Hey, thank you, I really appreciate it too.

Brett McKay: My guest today was Robin Dreeke, he’s the author of the book The Code of Trust, it’s available on and bookstores everywhere. You can find out more information about his work at Also check out our show notes at AOM.IS/trust where you can find links to resources where you can delve deeper in to this topic.

Well that wraps up another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out The Art of Manliness website at If you enjoyed the podcast and got something out of it, I’d really appreciate it you’d give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher, it helps out a lot. And also, share the podcast with some friends. That’s how most people find the podcast, is just direct recommendation from a friend. As always, thank you for your continued support and until next time, this is Brett McKay, telling you to stay manly.

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