In business, you need to learn how to leverage the power of trust to form strong,lasting relationships. A number of years back, we were asked to run a workshop based around the principles of the bestselling book The Trusted Advisor, by David Maister. The book explains how consultants can become trusted advisors to CEOs and execs. As you can imagine, these workshops have been a flying success.

What I have always loved about Maister’s idea is the way it places maximum importance on trust. If you think about anything in the world at the moment – banks, governments, politicians, social networks, the media – trust, or more pointedly the lack of it, is at the heart of concerns that relate to them. Learning how to build bonds of trust that work effectively in these environments is therefore a major asset to anybody who wishes to succeed in them.

Trust you can measure

Whether it’s in our business life or our personal life, trust-based relationships make the world go around. In The Trusted Advisor, Maister provides us with a model that breaks down trust’s constituent parts. For something so intangible, he’s come up with a rather convincing mathematical equation to help us calculate its make-up.

Trust = credibility + reliability + intimacy/ self-orientation

  • Credible – Are your words realistic and authentic?
  • Reliability – Do you deliver on your promises?
  • Intimacy – Do you share your personal thoughts and emotions?
  • Self-orientation – Do you balance giving and receiving in relationships?

No matter how you add up the equation, trust will only ever be as effective as your management of it. Trust will not get you anywhere on its own. Once the door is wedged open, the deal still needs to be brokered. In a sales department, this means negotiating a bigger share of the pie. In a client environment, it’s about forming stronger and more honest relationships. In both cases, if we build up a bank of trust our clients and sales prospects are far more likely to see things our way instead of a competitor’s.

Trust that keeps on giving

It’s important not to lose sight of the value of a long-term relationship. In a competitive market, you make unnecessary hard work for yourself, and create opportunities for others, by allowing client relationships to founder. The strongest two indicators of trust over the long term are intimacy and self-orientation – closeness and paying it forward. Fortunately, social media and virtual working practices have made communication easier, but it can also be impersonal. It can be simple, but takes time to sustain one-on-one time with your clients.

It’s human nature but we need to avoid taking our relationships for granted. In all relationships, we stop listening and start assuming based on past experience that we are doing well. Athletes trust their technique based on the disciplines and routines practiced endlessly in training. How rigorous and disciplined are we in our listening?

For many great sales people, this has been an intuitive approach for a long while. And it’s one that has paid off in spades. Perhaps that’s why delegates on our programmes have found it easy to engage with Maister’s equation. It clearly and logically communicates what’s behind building trust and maintaining a relationship.

Because in the end, it’s all about relationships. The real skill is finding a way for people to gain as much from the relationship as you do, while fostering a balanced environment of support and authenticity. As Maister says himself “a good friend is one who supports you and listens to you. A great friend is one who argues with you.”