I Smell A Rat

It’s happened to you.

You’re in the midst of a phone call or a meeting and suddenly your ears perk up. Something feels off.

Do you act on it, note it for later or let it slide?

Depends on what’s amiss.

Bodies are speaking. Nervousness, distraction, discomfort don’t always signify trouble ahead, but they should get your nose twitching. Try observing and mentally cataloging your experiences to see what happens over time. Or, simply ask a direct question: “You seem distracted today. Is this still a good time to talk about ________?”

You can hear the tap shoes. We’ve all met “dancers”—folks who never met a situation they wouldn’t try to dance through. The client who changes her mind daily because it’s easier than committing to an action plan. The boss who is purposely vague and speaks in circles so he can always be right in the end. Running for the nearest exit is appealing. But if that’s not an option, documenting and reviewing progress will help.

Dilbert lives there. These are folks who don’t want to truly own their project (or their job), usually because they fear failure. Rather than confront risk, they hide behind corporate-speak, techno-jargon or non-words. Your job is to smoke them out and either get them on board or neutralize them.

If you smell a rat, it pays to track him down.


  • Great blog. I remember a good friend of mine put ‘rapport’ in this way. It is like a double bass drum.

    When you are in rapport with someone you reverberate like a double base drum. When that reverberation stops the sound the drum makes, is odd. Your gut will know, your ears will hear…you conscious brain trys to block it out…trsut your gut. Call them on it….

    Bring yourself back in rapport.

  • In the old days in my business, no one signed contracts. All deals were handshake deals. However, I was once sure I had a bad guy as a client and made him sign his contract. When he balked at payment saying, “I would never have signed that,” I was able to pull out his own signature.

    The only other time I was sure something was amiss, I passed on the work and learned later that year that the man had raised money for a false operation and absconded with mega millions. I just checked on line and it seem like he is still missing.

  • A rat caught me off guard last week (so it pays to be paying attention).

    Without getting into the details, let’s just say that an entire team missed that an important note was excluded from an important document. The fix was a simple sentence or two, but fear took over in the document owner and the whole thing was escalated to a game-changer and throwing the one person who caught the mistake (in enough time to be fixed) under the bus.

    A few words or even a lack of words might have produced a better outcome.

    Thanks for reminding us all to watch for the “rat.” The key take-away here is to mind your reaction–easier said than done, I know.

  • Great examples Adam, K.C. and Katie–thank you! There is just something about a rat that always gets our nose twitching….

  • I am not partial to Rats. If it looks like a duck, well….During my life I have been well served by listening to that inner voice that alerts me that something doesn’t feel right. When I have bypassed this early warning system and moved forward anyway the end result has rarely been favorable. With that being said my early warning system has often been overridden by that other raging voice called my EGO.

    Trust your gut.

  • Hi John–love your intro of EGO. Funny how that gets in all of our way. I’ve let it override my gut more than once and boy, did I regret it! Thanks for joining the conversation…

  • Loved this posting and how true is it!. Sometimes I think you need eyes and ears in the back of your head. Just have to say love your “shoe” mentions.

  • Thanks for stopping by Andrea–appreciate your comments. As to the shoes, well we all have our addictions 🙂

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