The Society of Professional Consultants

Networking, Mentoring, and Education for Consultants and Solo Professionals

How in the World Does a Consultant Build Trust?

Friday, March 25, 2022 10:07 AM | Laura Burford

Because TRUST is the Glue In a Relationship!

We are constantly reminded that people hire consultants, freelancers, and independent workers that they trust. 

But what is trust? Or a trusted relationship?
As I put pen to paper for this blog, I remembered a conversation I had years ago with a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) partner. After meeting with a client, the partner asked for a few minutes of my time. He was concerned that “I was a little too honest.” He felt I needed to be more aware of what it took to maintain a positive relationship with a client.

I apologized to the client, however the client explained to both of us that it was refreshing to work with someone who was “honest and blunt” because blunt worked best in their organization. She had no concerns what-so-ever and it was her trust in me that led to add-on work.
That day I learned several valuable lessons about trusted relationships.

The first being that I wasn’t too honest; however, my style was too rough. I’m softer now when presenting difficult messages, at least I am most of the time, but I’ve never stopped being honest. Trusting relationships require honesty and being able to deliver the bad news in a manner that does not offend. It was that incident and additional conversations with the PwC partner that helped me realize the words I used impacted my credibility and actions my reliability.
Overtime, my professional and personal experiences as well as books such as The Trusted Advisor by David Maister, The Speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey, and Business Relationships that Last by Ed Wallace impacted how I regard building trusted relationships. Each author’s view on how to earn trust varies slightly but there are common themes starting with the observation that trust is multi-faceted and balances several essential qualities.
When someone asks me what I mean by a trust relationship, I fall back on my earlier training and, just like the authors, talk about the multi-faceted aspects, necessary qualities, and the balancing act of a trusting relationship. The balancing act begins with three common everyday behaviors-talking or the use of words and images to convey a thought; actions and how we behavior in a situation; and our feelings or our ability to be true to ourselves and others. I continue by discussing the related essential qualities for each behavior because it is the combination of the all three behaviors and the related qualities that enable a person to build and maintain trust.

Here is a quick comparison.

  • Words and Images — Credibility and Competence
  • Actions — Reliability and Integrity
  • Feelings — Genuine and Authenticity

Words and Images

Published articles, diagrams, speeches, and your point of view highlight your knowledge helping you build credibility and competence. Words and images assist you with being known as the go-to person but that does not mean there is a trusted relationship between you and another person. Have you ever been in a situation where someone has strongly recommended a person but after you met them you were not sure? You were uncomfortable but you couldn’t put your finger on the reason. Maybe it was because you were unsure of their reliability or you didn’t feel they were genuine.


Actions is about doing the right thing. It is about making commitments and not only delivering on them when you say you will but exceeding expectations. You build confidence with the other person by being reliable. Not only do you do what you say you are going to do showing reliability but you do it with integrity consistently displaying your values through your actions.


Feelings are about being honest with yourself as well as others. It requires a consultant to put themselves in the other person’s shoes and thinking about how you would like to be treated before speaking and acting. Feelings require a consultant to empathize, be genuine, and authentic with the other person. It you make a mistake, you admit. If something you did was not quite right, you admit that as well.
Let me provide a personal example.

A few years ago a speech was not one of my best for various reasons, some of which were in my control and others were not. When asked how I did, openly I admitted that there were aspects of the presentation for which I was not pleased even though a fair number of the audience loved it (and others hated it-very interesting results). I apologized to a few people with whom I have trusted relationships. I was honest with myself: it was not the best presentation I had ever given. I considered the feelings of other people, apologizing to a few, because I believed my actions and my speech impacted by credibility.

Building trusted relationships takes time and effort. Successful trusted relationships require a consultant to be aware of their behaviors and related qualities. As Stephen Covey (not Stephen M.R. Covey) said “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

© 2014-2024 All Rights Reserved - The Society of Professional Consultants
PO Box 1156, Westford, MA 01886 | | 978-496-8653
Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software