in: People, Podcast, Social Skills

• Last updated: September 30, 2021

Podcast #577: An FBI Agent’s 6 Signs for Sizing People Up

Every day, we have to make choices on whether we can trust someone or not. If we make the wrong choice, it could mean a failed relationship or business partnership and all the emotional and financial costs that follow.  

My guest today has spent his career sizing people up in high stakes situations. His name is Robin Dreeke, he spent two decades working as a behavioral analyst for the FBI, and in his new book, Sizing People Up: A Veteran FBI Agent’s User Manual for Behavior Prediction, he shares the tips everyone can use in determining whether or not someone is trustworthy. 

We begin our conversation discussing how Robin’s latest book builds off the work he did in The Code of Trust and the consequences of sizing people up incorrectly. Robin then shares the overarching framework he recommends using when you want to figure out if you can trust someone or not. We spend the rest of our conversation digging into the six specific signs you should look for when you’re figuring out if you want to enter into a personal or professional relationship with someone, and you’re trying to predict their future behavior. 

Show Highlights

  • Why trust is so important in relationships 
  • Why trust and likability aren’t the same 
  • The all-encompassing importance of good relationships
  • The big things that all people are motivated by 
  • What does it mean to “trust, but verify”? 
  • How to know if someone is/isn’t vested in your success/interests 
  • Relationship longevity as a sign of trust 
  • Making decisions of trust about a person in a short timespan 
  • Determining someone’s reliability 
  • How someone’s language can be incongruent with who they really are 
  • Taking the big picture view of someone and recognizing subtle clues 
  • The value of emotional stability 

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast


Sizing People Up by Robin Dreeke book cover.

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Robin on Twitter

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay:  McKay here and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. Every day we have to make choices on whether we can trust someone or not. If we make the wrong choice, it can mean a failed relationship or business partnership and all the emotional financial costs that follow.

My guest day has been his career sizing people up in high stakes situations. His name is Robin Dreeke. He spent two decades working as a behavioral analyst for the FBI and in his new book Sizing People Up: A Veteran FBI Agents User Manual for Behavior Prediction, he shares the tips everyone can use in determining whether or not someone is trustworthy.

We begin our conversation discussing how Robin’s latest book builds off the work he did in The Code of Trust and the consequences of Sizing People Up incorrectly. Robin then shares the overarching framework he recommends using when you want to figure out if you can trust someone or not. And we spend the rest of our conversation digging into the six specific signs you should look for when you’re figuring out if you want to enter into a personal or professional relationship with someone and you’re trying to predict their future behavior.

After the show’s over, check out our show notes at

All right, Robin Dreeke, welcome back to the show.

Robin Dreeke: I’m flabbergasted and extremely excited to be back on your awesome show. So thanks very much.

Brett McKay: So, we had you on last time, it’s been a few years, to talk about your book, The Code of Trust. You’ve got a new book out Sizing People Up: A Veteran FBI Agents User Manual for Behavior Prediction. How does this book build off the first book, The Code of Trust?

Robin Dreeke: It’s a great question. I’ve been asked that a lot lately and it was actually a very natural progression and one that I never anticipated. So, The Code of Trust is all about behavior you can have to inspire trust in others. And what happened was The Code of Trust is about focusing on others and how they want to be interacted with and knowing how to demonstrate affiliation, knowing how to demonstrate value to them.

And it made me focus so much on other people that I really started understanding well “Wow other people, if you really focused on them really hard, they become really easy to predict.” Because what every person basically wants is to be affiliated and valued by individuals, and they’re always going to act in their own best interest. And so, all I’ve got to do is figure out what that is and I can predict their behavior. So, that’s where that all sprang from.

Brett McKay: And in The Code of Trust, I mean, so your background is you worked for the FBI in their behavioral analysis department, and what your job was you were trying to like find spies here in the country and get information from them, and what made you successful at job wasn’t doing like the subterfuge stuff. It was simply just gaining that person’s trust and they would open up to you.

Robin Dreeke: Yeah. I call it the toughest sales job on the face of the planet because my job was to recruit foreign spies. My product was American patriotism, and foreign spies are typically foreign diplomats at diplomatic establishments, and so they’re under diplomatic cover.

And so, the funny thing is I’m selling a product of American patriotism to someone who probably doesn’t want to buy it, and the second challenge is it’s illegal for me to actually make an approach to them because they’re foreign diplomats, as an FBI agent. And so, try doing that in sales. So, you’ve got the product you want to sell that no one wants to buy and it’s illegal for you to talk to your potential clients.

And so, I found over the years, I had these great mentors and guides, I call them Jedi Masters, who knew how to develop these amazing relationships. And ultimately at the end of the day, it wasn’t coming down to subterfuge, or deception, or manipulation. It came down to can they trust you? And from trust you have relationships and from relationships you can get anything.

Brett McKay: Well, the other part of your job is figuring out can you trust someone because someone could come to you and say, “Hey, I’ve got information.” But you’ve got to look. Can I trust this guy? Does he have an angle? Is he going to back stab me? So, this is what the Sizing People Up is about, learning how to predict whether you can trust someone or not.

Robin Dreeke: Yeah. And the first thing I’d love to do is, we as human beings love to use that word trust, but what I first started realizing was, man, trust is a very subjective word. We as human beings really use a lot of our own subjective angles on it, whether it’s on ethics or morals, and we use liking a lot of times. We think we can trust someone just because we liked them.

The analogy I love to use is I got a best friend. I’m a pilot. He’s not a pilot. I can’t really throw him the keys to the plane and say, “Hey, fly the plane. I can trust you.” So, liking someone and just because they share your same morals and ethics doesn’t necessarily mean you can trust them.

So, I quickly shift trust into predictability because it really comes down to what can I reasonably predict this human being or this person’s going to do. And really the whole point of that is so I can manage my expectations and so I can make good cognitive choices so that I can keep that good healthy relationship in all situations.

Brett McKay: So, it sounds like trust is context specific. Like you said, you could trust maybe your best friend to keep a secret about something that’s personal but you wouldn’t trust him to fly a plane.

Robin Dreeke: Yeah. It’s very… I love keeping things in lanes, you know? And because if someone blows trust in one area because they lacked competence maybe in it, doesn’t mean you can’t trust them in other lanes of their life. And the analogy you just did was great. You know what I mean? So, I trust someone because they’re a good friend of mine and they take care of their house really well so I can trust them to watch my house, but you know what? He has no competence in a few of these other areas so I would never ask them to do that. But sometimes people do, then they’re disappointed, then they get angry, and there goes a relationship.

Brett McKay: And what are the consequences of… I guess people know the consequences if you trust someone you shouldn’t have trust. I mean, in your line of work it could have been the difference between whether stopping a terrorist attack or something. In our personal lives, it can be a ruined marriage, a bad business deal, et cetera.

Robin Dreeke: Yeah, the consequences to me… It’s so funny, the book, I did the book for many reasons at multiple levels. If you want to take it at a very surface level you can say, “All right. I’m having a couple of interactions with people in a boardroom. I want to see who I can size up and who I can trust and not trust.” Okay, that’ll work.

But what’s the real purpose behind it? And the real purpose behind it for me was I just wanted to have good, healthy relationships because both the bedrock of The Code of Trust and Sizing People Up is, what I’ve found doing this whole thing is whether it’s recruiting spies, or selling products, or dealing with my kids or my wife, I want healthy relationships in my life because when you have healthy relationships, you can accomplish anything.

And I tell this to my kids all the time, I suffered the proud parents syndrome. My son’s at the Naval Academy, my daughter’s about to graduate as a nurse, and I’ve got great kids, and they got great genetics and biology, from my wife, not me. And I say to them all the time, I said, “You have the greatest biology and genetics on the planet, but without relationships you might as well be a moron on top of a mountain by yourself. Because you can’t achieve anything without relationships.”

So, really the whole bedrock of everything I do is about maintaining, fostering, and growing good, healthy relationships and Sizing People Up helps you do that because it helps you manage your expectations about what you can reasonably expect someone to do. Because if you focus so hard on these six signs, you actually know what you can reasonably expect this person can do in each situation.

And now here’s the great thing about it. They’re either going to meet that expectation or exceed it, and now if they fall short of it, because you took so much due diligence in figuring them out, if they fall short of it, you know something went sideways in their life and now you can be a resource for them in whatever went sideways. And so, again, it maintains a good, healthy relationship without getting frustrated, angry, resentment, all those negative emotions.

Brett McKay Well, I think I love that’s the big theme throughout both of these books, The Code of Trust and Sizing People Up, is that trust, when trust is there it makes your life so much more efficient because instead of having to like… Let’s take a business deal. Instead of having to go make every little decision a contract, right? Where you get a piece of paper but you can say, “Hey, will you do this?” And they do. It just streamline the whole thing because there’s that trust that exists.

Robin Dreeke: It streamlines everything in life. Before I retired I was still working counter-intelligence and I had, you can’t do anything inside the FBI or any law enforcement without confidential human sources. People being a resource for national security. That was my thing. And I had what I called the Magnificent Seven. These seven human beings were most awesome patriots, great friends, great people I’ve ever been part of. And I always use the analogy, “I’d rather have seven people give me 120% of their effort willingly, than 150 people give me 5% reluctantly.” Because those seven people, if you have a healthy relationship with them, like you said, it’s very calming. Things become very easy because there’s no drama. And the effect on them, they now start seeing in their lives. They stop being tolerant of other unhealthy relationships and so they start getting help.

So, it’s that Six Degrees of Separation of Kevin Bacon thing. These seven people might not have all the answers, but they know someone who has the answers. I’ve never had to go more than two degrees deep in order to find the answers we needed to have in order to protect national security.

Brett McKay: So in your work, and then you lay this out in the book, you found six signs of behavior prediction on whether you can trust someone or not. But before we get into these specific signs, let’s talk about the overarching framework you discussed in the book about Sizing People Up. So, what are the big picture things that people need to keep in the back of their mind when they’re interacting with someone and they’re trying to figure out, “Can I trust this person?”

Robin Dreeke: So, I think the easiest thing to think about is us as human beings, what is every single human being on this planet hardwired to do? We’re all hardwired for safety, security, and prosperity for ourselves. That’s it. We want to be safe, we want to be secure, and we want to be prosperous. So, all I have to do is figure out what the other person from their point of view thinks will grant them safety, security, and prosperity. If they’re a little more altruistic, it’ll go out to their family, a little more to their community, a little more maybe to their nation, but that’s it. We’re genetically hardwired for safety, security, and prosperity.

And so, if you understand that and remember that every time you’re interacting with someone, all you got to figure out is focus on that and figure out what they think is in their own best interest because people will always act in their own best interests.

Brett McKay: And then the other thing you talk about too is you want to keep your feelings out of it. Again, going back to that subjectivity, just because you like someone doesn’t necessarily mean you can trust them.

Robin Dreeke: Yeah. And that can be very difficult because I know we get emotionally attached to things, we get emotionally attached with people, and we get emotionally hijacked. The real reason I love The Code of Trust and I love Sizing People Up is because it keeps that irrational brain where we have these emotional impulses for fight or flight, it helps you remember, keep cognitive. Is what I’m doing actually helping or hindering the health of a relationship? Is what I’m doing actually assessing what they are doing or not doing, or am I just emotionally reacting to what they’re doing?

Brett McKay: And then all throughout the book you talk about this, is that that Russian saying, “Trust but verify.” What does that look like?

Robin Dreeke: It means that I generally will start out trusting you because human beings, no one wants to be mistrusted, or no one’s looking to take advantage from the get go, they’re just always going to act in their own best interests. So, I just start out understanding that you’re going to act in your best interests and I’m going to trust you to act in your best interest. And so I’m going to trust that as long as it’s overlapping with mine and I’m going to look for signs where some of these things might be going sideways and it might not be in my best interest to do that.

Brett McKay: All right, so the first principle, the first thing you look at it, you can use to predict whether someone’s trustworthy is vesting. What do you mean by that?

Robin Dreeke: So, vesting is, it becomes that symbiotic relationship is are they actually doing things proactively that are good for you as well? So, that’s what I’m really looking for in that. It’s not too hard to tell. There’s a lot of… Like, I’m thinking back to the, I actually use the story I used it in the book.

My very first confidential human source that I had in the FBI. This was a guy that had had, you know, 25 years working with the FBI, had 14 or 15 handlers before me, and some went sideways, some went well. And I remember when I first started interacting with him, he really cared about my future, my success, because he knew he loved being a source, he loved being a patriot, and he knew that if he could help me be successful he would be a better patriot because he’d be able to do more as well. So, he was really vested in my success.

Brett McKay: So what are some signs? I mean I think people know when someone’s vested in your success, they’ll go out of the way to do things for you. But what are some signs that someone’s not vested in you? Proactively you can tell, “Okay, that person is definitely not vested in me.”

Robin Dreeke: So, it’s the reverse of these. I have the 10 for and the four and the 10 against. I like to focus on the positive. So, just like the top three.

I like when people are talking in terms of my interests. Contrary to that, talking in terms of their own interests.

I love when people have their own favors that they call in from other people for your behalf. In other words, they’re calling in favors that they have people they know the relationships they have to benefit you. Converse of that is that you know they have these connections and yet they’re keeping them screened from you.

And another really big one I really love is when they start overlapping their lives with you. So, you have a professional relationship with someone and all of a sudden they’re inviting you to social engagements as well. And the converse of that is when they’re excluding you from these things.

So, basically anytime where you see someone taking actions where they’re being selfless in the things they’re doing, where they have no personal gain but the gain is all for you, and they have no expectation of reciprocity for it. That is someone who’s totally vested in you.

Brett McKay: Well that second one’s important because I think everyone’s encountered that thing where people look like their vested like, “Hey, I’m doing this thing for you.” But you’re like, “This feels weird. There’s an angle here and I don’t like it.”

Robin Dreeke: Right. And that’s the thing. And that’s why my third anchor… So, I have these three anchors for everything I do. My number one anchor for everything I do is, number one, healthy professional relationship. Number two is open honest communication and transparency, because I can’t have a healthy relationship without that. My third is, be a resource for the success and prosperity of others without expectation of reciprocity. Because when you make yourself available for others as a resource without that expectation, that’s when it becomes a good, healthy relationship. So, that’s what I’m looking for as well. So people that are vested do that.

Brett McKay: So, a second principle, second thing you look at it is longevity. How is that a sign of trust?

Robin Dreeke: So longevity is, it’s really simple. It’s believing that the relationship they have with you is going to last a long time, or at least beyond a quid pro quo of a quick sale.

I’ve had some people I’ve worked with that were quick two, three, four meetings and out. And then I’ve got a few people that, I mean I’m still friends with them now. I retired over a year ago and I have people I was in contact with over 20 years ago in New York and I am still in contact with them today. We exchange gift baskets every year. So, that is someone that you know is a long thing.

So, you can do it. You have it in your personal life as well where there’s someone that you marry. It’s those lifelong friends that you grew up with, and even in neighborhoods, say you moved from place to place, but you don’t carry everyone forward with you. But a few of them you wind up carrying forward with you.

Brett McKay: You talked about in your job and sometimes you only had one meeting to figure out “Is this guy in for the long run?” So, what did you do as an FBI agent when you’re talking to a diplomat? It’s “Can I trust this guy?” And this is the only meeting you maybe would have gotten maybe for a year. What were you looking at?

Robin Dreeke: Right. So if we’re going to look in the terms of longevity, I’m looking for the things he’s looking to do. If he starts having language about where he’s going to live, where he’s going to place his kids in school, and how I’m going to be part of that. And he is asking me questions about my career and would I still be in contact with him in five years from now. So, I’m looking for that kind of language.

I’m also looking for things like rituals. Lots of cultures have different rituals and when I first met this one guy from the Middle-East, I remember he had this favorite chai tea that him and his brother would have. And I remember I learned that in the first meeting, at the second meeting I actually brought that chai tea with me and we shared that together. So, we established the ritual that became every time we got together we had that.

And then he initiated a ritual where he sent me a gift basket at Thanksgiving every year full of cookies. It was the most innocuous, smallest thing, but I then reciprocate dated at the New Year, sent him one in kind, and we’ve been doing that since 2001. So, anything where you establish rituals is part of it as well.

Brett McKay: Right? Well then a third principle you look at is reliability, and this goes to that point we were talking about earlier. Now you might trust your friend for keeping a secret for whatever reason, but you might not trust him to fly a plane because he’s not reliable to fly a plane. So, what are you looking at to figure out if someone’s reliable or not?

Robin Dreeke: So, reliability. We break it into two things. Both diligence and competence.

Diligence is, to make it really easy, we’ve got lots of these signs for it, but diligence is do they have the energy and drive to accomplish the things that they have laid out verbally. So, that’s just diligence. Really simple.

And competence is really even easier. Do they actually have the skills to do what they say they’re going to do? You know, we’ve all seen this in our lives. The example I use in the book is I was working with this guy that was placed in charge of this task force and he talked a great game. He had a great background, great resume for what we were doing. And then as the days kept ticking on and we kept waiting for milestones to be met and deadlines be met, nothing. Nothing. Nothing. He just kept talking circles and he became more and more vague because he really lacked the competence in order to achieve the technical aspects of what we’re trying to do, and basically the people aspects of who we were trying to bring in. So, his reliability then went way down.

At the same time, somebody can be really competent in a certain area, but they don’t have the energy to follow through on it. So, reliability is a big one.

Brett McKay: When you’re looking at reliability, do you lean towards giving more weight to diligence or competence?

Robin Dreeke: I’m looking at that diligence because I figure I can teach anyone to flip a switch, what I can’t do is teach you humility to open your mind to the fact that there might be another way to do it. And so, I’m looking for diligence with an open mind.

Brett McKay: Right. So you can teach a person to be competent in their job, usually, because you can teach them the skill part of the job, but it’s harder to teach motivation, both of the job itself, as well as the motivation to examine where you’re falling short and where you need to improve. People need to have that energy and diligence to want to get better.

So, another thing you’re looking at when you’re sussing up whether someone’s trustworthy are their actions. What specific actions are you looking at to see if someone’s trustworthy?

Robin Dreeke: So, this to me became one of the first ones I identified, and I love the phrase, “The definition of crazy is doing the same thing again and expecting a different result.” So, that to me is where actions came from. In other words, if I can see and observe what you do two or three times, I can almost guarantee what you’re going to do the fourth.

And so, I am always looking, I frame it in the book for signs of positive actions, but I’m actually just looking for what you do. I don’t care if it’s positive or negative. If I see how you interact… Say you’re a boss and I see you consistently micromanaging people, I can almost guarantee if I see you micromanaging Jane, Mary, and Tom, I can almost guarantee you’re going to micromanage Jack as well. And so, if you don’t wind up micromanaging Jack, well, there’s something different about Jack. You’ve got to figure out what Jack’s doing in order to not have you micromanage.

So, I like seeing past patterns of key behaviors because if I can observe you doing something a couple of times, I don’t live with that thing called hope. I don’t hope you’re going to do different next time. No, I know exactly what you’re going to do next time

Brett McKay: And again, this is all context specific?

Robin Dreeke: Yes, absolutely.

Brett McKay: Another thing you’re looking at is language, but language is tricky because that’s how people deceive, right? Is with words. So what are you looking for in the way someone talks to figure out if they’re trustworthy or not?

Robin Dreeke: The language. This is the one I absolutely love the most because this is where… The Code of Trust was how do I demonstrate value and affiliation to others? I’m going to do one of four things, if not multiples in everything I say and do. I’m going to be seeking your thoughts and opinions. I’m going to be talking in terms of your priorities. I’m going to be validating you and your thoughts and ideas without judging you. And I’m going to be adding choices. So, those four things tell the other person that it’s all about you, and when I’m demonstrating those things I’m demonstrating that I want to affiliate with you and I’m demonstrating that I value you and your dopamine in your brain is flowing.

So, now reverse it. What I’m looking for in language from someone else, I’m looking for the same things. Are they seeking my thoughts and opinions? Are they talking in terms of my priorities? Are they validating me without judging me? And are they giving me choices? So, that’s what I’m looking for in language, and it’s a very easy thing to see. Whether you’re live in a conversation or you’re in an email, you can go line by line and ask yourself, “Is that sentence about me or is it about them?” And I’m hoping, what I’m looking for is a preponderance of the conversation is centered on me if I’m assessing someone for trustworthiness.

Brett McKay: I love the story because with each of these principles you use a story from your own career to highlight.

Robin Dreeke: Yeah.

Brett McKay: The story in this one was a lot of fun because it’s like right after you retired from the FBI and you started working as a consultant for companies, and you had this guy who came in and is like a smooth talker, but then you just sort of keen in like “I don’t know if I can trust this guy.”

Robin Dreeke: Yeah it was. It was a really fascinating experience. So it was a big corporation kind of thing, and they do a lot of intel research, and he did a great job. He reached out for me via email and he did, he had all those key things in his first email to me. He says, “Robin, I did a lot of research on you and I read your books, I saw your blogs, I listen to great podcasts on Art of Manliness, and you have exactly what we’re looking for because you have all these great skills, and my company is all about building trust really quickly, and we do a lot of cold calls, but it’s all about building trust and building healthy relationships. We’d love for you to come out. We would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on what we could do. How does that sound to you?”

Again, they had all those elements. He was seeking my thoughts and opinions, he was talking in terms of my priorities, validating me, and empowering me with choices. And so, I was all in thinking this was going to be awesome. But when I showed up on site, what happened was first of all he shifted. You know, he sold a great bill of goods and he shifted it to, basically he overworked me hard. It was hilarious. I land in a plane, coming off the plane, I think it’s like six o’clock at night my flight landed. I mean, I should say it’s in California. I always hide where the people actually are to protect the innocent. But it was, it was about a four or five hour flight.

And I thought I was going to take an Uber to the airport. He picks me up in his big, he had a Range Rover, picks me up in his Range Rover and I was like, “Oh, that’s really nice.” I figure he’s going to bring me to the hotel, six o’clock at night, and he freaking brings you back to the office, and his entire office is still there, and he starts throwing files at me to go through and start changing language and scripts. And I was like, “Huh. Isn’t that interesting.”

And first thing he did was, “Hey, we use scripts.” I was like “Scripts?” I said, “Good rapport, and relationship, and trust developers they listen to the other person, so they’re not scripting so they can listen and pay attention.” He goes, “Yeah, but these people don’t have your skills. We need a script. Go through our scripts.”

So, that became the first sign of a “Huh.” Came to be, he was actually trying to get me to help them to manipulate people. And I came, I actually told them that, by the end of it, I said, “I’d love to do this for you but my brand isn’t manipulation and at the end of the day you’re trying to manipulate people because you’re using a lot of subterfuge. You’re trying to control time without transparency. And I also think you’re targeting the wrong person to talk to because you’re trying to convince a low level guy to give you information and he won’t.” I’m always thinking that you can’t convince that low level guy. How can I inspire him to want to? The only way we can inspire that low level guy is to have his boss above him allow him to. I said, “So I would go after the guy above him and actually share with him what you’re trying to achieve and empower him with a choice whether he wants to do it or not.”

Anyway, I walked away from that one, so yeah, it was a good lesson on language.

Brett McKay: Right. So yeah, he was using the right words, but then you had to do the verify. You have to look at the other principals, or the other behaviors. You looked at his actions and you’re like, “Well, this guy, can’t trust him.”

Robin Dreeke: Yeah. His actions were incongruent with the words he was using, and then he started shifting the words and the language up too. So, he had me bite the hook because he was using the right things, but yeah, his actions were not following up on it without a doubt.

Brett McKay: Well then you also talked about, as you looked in retrospect, there was some, even in his language there were some red flags. For example, he started to like bragging kind of subtly about his business. You know, his company made-

Robin Dreeke: Yeah. He was throwing down his resume, he’s throwing down the people he knew.

Brett McKay: He was knocking some people. He was knocking some former colleagues of yours that are now in the consulting game.

Robin Dreeke: Yeah, and actually some of them… What was really funny was he didn’t know my relationships with these people, which was I thought was a dangerous thing that he did, for someone who is so skilled. Like I mentioned in the book, two of the guys, and I mention one of them is a good friend of mine, Joe Navarro. He mentioned Joe Navarro and he started knocking him with something and I’m like “Dude you are talking trash about the wrong dude to me because I know him really well and he’s a good friend and he’s got mad skills, and the fact that you’re kind of knocking him shows me where actually your narcissism is.”

Brett McKay: Right. Well, the other thing to keep in mind is, well, if you’re talking about this guy like that, are you going to talk about me like that when I’m not here?

Robin Dreeke: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s the big thing with language. If people are talking trash about other people to you, they’re trying to engender trust through negative talking. That’s a really bad sign of trust.

Brett McKay: So it’s a great example of a story that sometimes the cues are the signs in language are a little more subtle. You have to pay attention to it. And this is a good example in your story that even if someone shows signs of trustworthy behavior on one of these principles, you have to look at the bigger picture or else you might be led astray.

Robin Dreeke: Yeah. Just constantly assess. I was looking at it like this, every moment is very different and we can start out very good like this guy did, and all of a sudden if something makes you feel a little different, or a little awkward, or something just doesn’t feel right, that means something shifted on their behalf, and now you just examine it, you know? And don’t wait for it to get better. I don’t like waiting for things to get better. It’s like, “Oh you just blow it off.” Here’s what I guarantee. If you just blow it off and don’t pay attention to it, you’re probably going to get burned by it.

So, I’m not saying at the first sign of something going sideways, I bail, but if I see it two or three more times, because now I’m paying attention to it, that’s when I either have a good honest discussion, or I just back away because that is someone who’s not trying to do healthy things.

Brett McKay: So, the final thing you’re looking at is stability. What do you mean by stability?

Robin Dreeke: The best one of them all. I’m looking for emotional stability. Does this person freak out? Are they emotionally hijacked? And how frequently do… I mean everyone has their moments, right? Everyone has moments where they just have, they get frustrated, they get angry at something, but how frequently is it, and how rational is it? And most importantly, do they have tools to deal with it and do they move on quickly from it?

Ideally you want no emotional hijacking. You want someone that’s completely stable, that never freaks out at any situation. I mean, this is what happens throughout my career. My wife is still amazed sometimes whether we’re dealing with neighbors, friends, or work, something will happen or someone will drop some sort of social bomb on my lap, and I’m like, “Huh, that’s interesting. All right, what do we do now?” You know? Meanwhile other people freaked out, they just blow up. But that doesn’t help anyone. So I’m always looking for good emotional stability cause those are the types of people that are maintaining good cognitive thought.

Brett McKay: So yeah, some signs, some of those negative signs that you talk about that I think we’ve talked about on the podcast a couple of times before with other guests, like catastrophizing, right? If someone’s constantly saying like, if a problem comes up, “This is the worst thing to ever happen.” That’s not good. Not stable.

Robin Dreeke: Right. They’re always feeling like they’re victims of everything. A big one that you can really tell really easy with a lot of people, they have a sense of entitlement with people. They think that they’re waiting to be rescued by their lotto, or a rich relative on things. They love blaming other people. And the big thing is they’re just really volatile. They overreact to every single situation, whether it’s in news, or whether it’s a relative, or a coworker. And in the end you can really tell because they’re ultimately the biggest manipulators in your office or attempting to be so.

Brett McKay: Right. And then those positive signs, to me when I was going through this in the book, I was like, “Well, if they’re a cool person, you can probably trust them.” In these things like they’re flexible. Like, if something comes up, they’re able to roll with the punches. They follow The Code of Trust. They’re humble, they’re nonjudgmental, they’re understanding.

Robin Dreeke: They’re appreciative.

Brett McKay: Yeah, appreciative. They’re not hungry for power.

Robin Dreeke: Yeah, and they remain calm, cool, and collected in every situation, and have no problem sharing glory with others.

Brett McKay: I like the story you told in the book about the Russian general who had a strong position of authority who could have used his power to dress you down, but he didn’t over react to your request and instead gave a denial that was simply straight forward, which was actually a good sign and made you respect him more.

Robin Dreeke: Yeah. So, that was a really interesting situation. So, here is this Russian general, and the story I gave in the book wasn’t the only time we tried to get in front of him and offer him an opportunity for him and his family to have a different life, is the way I like to put it.

But instead of getting emotionally hijacked and running off to the State Department, or protesting with the Ambassador, this guy was just calm, cool, and collected it, and I loved his response. After we had a contact of ours let him know, “Hey, I got a guy from Special Services,” referring to me, “that would love to have a conversation with you about X, Y, and Z.” His response was, “Well, if you’d like to have a professional conversation with me he should go through my secretary and contact me at the mission.”

That was beautiful. That was the most poetic no I’ve ever gotten. It was professional. It was calm. It didn’t overreact and that was a message. “No, I do not want to have a conversation with this guy.”

Brett McKay: Right. Because what he could’ve done is he could have protested somehow.

Robin Dreeke: He could have flipped the… I mean, I’ve seen these guys run down the street. I’ve seen them run away. I’ve seen them people freak out. It’s really pretty funny what they’ll do when confronted with something. I mean, hell, all I was doing was selling a product. All he had to do is say no, but some people really freak out.

Brett McKay: So, these are the six things. I mean, does someone need to have all of these signs for you to trust them or do you got to just show positives in a few?

Robin Dreeke: Yeah, no. I mean, I know very few… I mean, I’d have to really recollect hard to think of anyone that has all of them. Maybe my wife does, but no because what we’re looking for is if someone has one or two and are really strong in them, oh, that’s when you lean in because basically you’re just looking for someone not taking advantage of you, and you want someone who’s self-aware, and doesn’t get emotionally hijacked, you know?

And if you have those kind of core things going there, these other ones give you a better clue and idea about where I can trust them, what areas they might need a little training in. Those kinds of things. But if you have a couple, that’s good enough. But again, it just gives you something to look for, because assessing someone for trustworthiness is very, very subjective.

And I outlined six signs, which are also kind of subjective, but when you have 10 tells for, and 10 behavioral tells against for each of six signs, what you have is a lot of data in a lot of ways to focus on the other person. And so what happens is when you have that much observation, the subjective starts becoming objective. And so at least you’re making some good, healthy choices about how to engage and what you can usually expect someone else to do.

Brett McKay: So, when you’re sizing someone up is stability the first thing you’re looking at? Like, “Is this person emotionally stable?”

Robin Dreeke: Yeah, I’m looking for stability first. The second one is past patterns of behavior. I’m looking for actions, I’m looking for stability. Probably next after that I’m looking for competence and diligence as a subset of that. So those are the first ones.

But overarching with that emotional stability, I love people that are self-aware. I love, my favorite question ever when doing any kind of interview of bringing someone on a team, or someone I’m working with, or even just a friend, when I ask you what your challenges are in life I love the response where they’re very open about, “All right, I kind of suck at X, Y and, Z.” And then the next thing out of their mouth is, “And here’s what I put in place to overcome X, Y, and Z.”

Because people are never looking for you to be perfect. All they love to see is an effort and an awareness and no insecurity is about sharing it because the people that are not insecure are the people you can’t really trust.

Brett McKay: Well Robin, where can people go to learn more about the book and your work?

Robin Dreeke: Sure. All one word, Tons of podcasts like yours on there, and I’ve got lots of videos. I got a free online training video right now on the 10 techniques to quick rapport, more coming out. And I’m on Twitter, on LinkedIn. I’m kind of all over the place and definitely reach out. I’m very communicative and love chatting and sharing.

Brett McKay: Well Robin Dreeke, thanks for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Robin Dreeke: Hey, thanks for having me on again and allowing me to share this fun content we can all benefit from.

Brett McKay: My guest today was Robin Dreeke. He’s the author of the book Sizing People Up. It’s available on and bookstores everywhere. You can find out more information about his work at his website, Also check out our show notes at Where you can find links to resources where we delve deeper into this topic.

Well, that wraps up another edition of the AOM podcast. Check out our website at where you find our podcast archives as well as over 3,500 articles we’ve written over the years about pretty much anything you can think of. And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate it if you’d take one minute to give us a review on Apple Podcast or Stitcher. It helps out a lot. And if you’d done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member who you think would get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support. Until next time, this is Brett McKay reminding all who listen to the AOM podcast to put what you’ve heard into action.


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