Trust for better business relationships

I recently presented a masterclass for some lawyers on the topic of trust for better business relationships. Here are the highlights:

What is trust?

Trust is a belief. It refers to ideas concerning risk, power and dependency. It is a means of reducing uncertainty so that an effective relationship may develop and we feel able to relinquish some control. The components of trust are:

  • Reputation
  • Familiarity and closeness
  • Performance
  • Accountability

Trust is influenced by the duration of the relationship, the relative power of the individuals involved, co-operation and environmental factors.

Trust is contextual – Engel’s study of the Dictator game found that people are more trustworthy when: they are elderly, if they or you are female, if you are face-to-face, if they believe you are deserving and if it is a Win:Win scenario.

Trust can relate to an organisation (inter-firm trust) which is supported by reputation and brand. Interpersonal trust is based on individuals. In professional services, there is both rational trust (i.e. experts demonstrating their knowledge, doing what they say they’ll do and knowing their stuff) and sensitive and emotional trust relating to empathy and social intelligence (see

Some differentiate between Calculus Based Trust (CBT) where they estimate your trustworthiness in advance of knowing you and Identification Based Trust (IBT) which is based on the experiences within a relationship.

Trust is built one day, one interaction at a time, and yet it can be lost in a moment. Trust is fragile. If you lose it, it’s very difficult — if not impossible — to restore it.

Why is trust important?

We need trust before we can forge and develop sales, client or referrer relationships.Trust is fundamental to relationships – especially business relationships and those between a professional adviser and his or her clients.

There are three outcomes from trust: satisfaction, perceived risk and continuity. Trust and commitment have a significant impact on the creation of value. Commitment and trust lead to co-operative behaviour and this, in turn, is conducive to successful relationship marketing.

Research into purchasers of professional services found that buyers expected the following qualities: technical ability (27%), responsiveness (25%), interest and attention (23%) and trust and confidence (25%).

In the KPMG Nunwood 2017 research into Customer Experience, it was argued that one of the six pillars of customer experience is integrity (which is about being trustworthy).

Trust generates commitment; commitment fosters teamwork; and teamwork delivers results. When people trust their team members they not only work harder, but they work harder for the good of the team.

How do we create trust?

There are several relationship competencies (i.e. inspire, influence, develop, initiate change, manage conflict and collaboration) that contribute towards building rapport and trust.

Empathy is required so that can imagine what the other person is feeling and thinking. Be genuinely interested in them and their issues. You need to adapt and align to their style and views. This is part of your emotional intelligence (EQ) skill set (see

How you say things with non-verbal communication (NVC is as important as what you say. Your NVC conveys confidence, authenticity, sincerity and congruence.

Consistency is required for trust to be established. It is hard to trust someone when they are unpredictable. It is reassuring when someone behaves the way that you expect.

Some top tips for creating trust:

  • Communicate
    • Regular and open conversations
    • Listen and reflect back – Check understanding
    • Tackle difficulties early and assertively
  •  Connect
    • Express emotion
    • Show your vulnerabilities
    • Find things in common and mirror behaviour and feelings
  • Be honest
    • Tell the truth
    • Be sincere and your authentic self
    • Admit errors and mistakes quickly
  • Curiosity
    • Show interest
    • Ask questions
    • Request feedback
  • Be respectful
    • Be polite
    • Respect their views if they are different
    • Value and thank them for their time
  • Be reliable
    • Set realistic deadlines (under promise and over deliver)
    • Say what you are going to do and do what you say
    • Take responsibility and never let them down
  • Have integrity
    • Have strong morals and principles and stick to them
    • Always do the right thing
    • Decline to do something if it’s not within your expertise
  • Care
    • Understand how they feel
    • Show appreciation and that you care
    • Focus on their needs rather than your own
  • Be consistent
    • Remain the same each time you meet
    • Manage expectations
    • Avoid erratic behaviour that is unpredictable
  • Trust others
    • Demonstrate that you trust other people
    • Be positive and encourage people to trust
    • Be flexible, patient, generous and forgiving
  • Focus on the long term success rather than short term gains
    • Initiate and reciprocate favours
    • Give without expecting anything in return
    • Forego a short term win if it jeopardises the long term relationship

These actions build trust through communication, commitment and competence. They are neatly summed up in a formula developed by Charles H Green and David Maister;

Trust = (Credibility+Reliability+Intimacy)/Self-interest

There is a free online assessment where you can calculate your Trust Quotient and identfy ways to improve

How do I become a trusted adviser?

In professional services, there is much talk about trusted advisers. The attributes of the trusted adviser are as follows:

  1. Focus on the long term relationship
  2. Put clients’ interests before your own
  3. Genuinely interested in clients and clients’ business
  4. Understand clients’ underlying wants (not just surface needs)
  5. Reliable
  6. Credible
  7. Close and personal
  8. Connect emotionally
  9. Passionate and enthusiastic
  10. Authentic

A trusted adviser will always be focused on the client’s best interests rather than their own. A trusted adviser ultimately becomes part of a mutually-beneficial partnership.

Loyalty is faithfulness or fidelity to someone or something. Trust is the reliance on the integrity, strength and other aspects of a person or thing. Sometimes, trust may be the basis of loyalty.

Trust and other essential business relationship behaviours are covered in my new book “Better Business Relationships” which will be published by Bloomsbury in September 2018 – pre-orders (with a discount) here: It’s also available to pre-order on Amazon.