The Trusted Advisor

"If trust is so important, how does one go about winning it? How do you get somebody to trust you? It is clear that it is not done by saying ‘Trust me!’  Nothing is more likely to get the listener to put up his or her defences!  The key point is that trust must be earned and deserved."

- The Trusted Advisor, Chapter 3

My sales coach recommended David H. Maister’s The Trusted Advisor to me and when I first glanced through it I thought, “Oh boy, this is going to be dry.” Man, was I wrong! Maister does a great job of taking what may be perceived as a dry topic and breaks it down into a simple to understand, step-by-step system of how to become a trusted advisor.

If your career requires you to be an advisor or consultant, this book is a must read. Citing familiar examples when explaining each step became almost comical as I could completely relate and found myself laughing out loud as I had made many of the mistakes that he refers to in this book.

Maister breaks the book into three parts: i) gets you thinking about the skills that you must possess, the concepts of being an advisor, and some great anecdotes, ii) brings structure to the topic and a more formal approach and the language needed, iii) applies the concepts and techniques.  He is the first to admit that he loves lists, and boy does he. Every few pages he has a list (which I personally found useful) and then he duplicates all of the lists in the Appendix for easy reference.


The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

The Trust Equation - Credibility

"Credibility isn’t just content expertise. It’s content expertise plus ‘perspective’, which refers to how we look, act, react, and talk about our content."
- The Trusted Advisor, Chapter 8

Maister provides an equation to calculate trust:

T= C + R + I

Trust = Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy / Self-orientation

The The Big Idea is one of the elements of the equation; one that I think is misunderstood. Credibility is made up of two components: accuracy and completeness.  Accuracy is mostly rational; we check facts, logic, and the experience of others.  Completeness is typically emotional and this usually takes more time than fact checking. The disconnect is that as advisors, we usually sell using the facts (accuracy), but buyers buy on emotion (completeness). What we tend not to do is to enhance the emotional side of credibility: to convey a sense of honesty, to dispel any suspicions of incompleteness.

Maister gives us some solid tips on creating credibility:

  • Don’t tell lies, or even exaggerate. At all. Ever.
  • Avoid saying things that others may construe as lies. Ex: “Yes, of course we’ll put our best people on this project!” Really? Who are the worst? How come the best don’t seem to be very busy?
  • Speak with expression. Use body language, eye contact, and vocal range.
  • When you don’t know – say so quickly and directly.
  • Relax. You know much more than you think you know. If you don’t really belong there, then don’t put yourself there in the first place.
  • Love your topic. It will show.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

The Art of Listening

"Effective trusted advisors are (without a single exception, in our experience) very good listeners.  Listening is not a sufficient condition by itself, but a necessary one."
- The Trusted Advisor, Chapter 11

Communication is a lot like a story. There is a beginning, middle, and an end.  There is a setup, tension, and resolution.  There is background, setup, and a punch line.  When we talk to someone, we create a story.  If the listener breaks the story by interrupting, or jumping in with their own story we get off track.  We get frustrated because it’s not our story, it’s our story superimposed with the listeners story, but in their frame work.

What good listeners do according to Maister:

  • Probe for clarification
  • Listen for the story
  • Summarize well
  • Listen for what’s different, not for what’s familiar
  • Ask “How do you feel about that?”
  • Look for continuity between what the client says and how he or she gestures or postures
  • Take it all seriously (they don’t say, “You shouldn’t worry about that!”)

What good listeners DON’T do:

  • Respond too soon
  • Editorialize midstream
  • Jump to conclusions
  • Ask closed-ended questions for no reasons
  • Match the client’s points (“Oh, yes, I had something like that. It all started….”)
  • Try to solve the problem too quickly

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Quick-Impact List to Gain Trust

"On giving away ideas: The truth is, expertise is like love; not only is it unlimited, you can destroy it only by not giving it away. Love for a child is not cut in half with the birth of a second child. And expertise is not to be confused with what can be scanned into a database."
- The Trusted Advisor, Chapter 22

This book has a lot of great information in lists and easy to follow systems.  Near the end, Maister gives us eleven techniques that have a big impact in building trust that you can start doing right now.  Here are three:

Note what they are feeling: Purely emotional and it feels risky, but this has an impact. Make a comment on how you think someone is feeling.  “Joe, you look really excited today! What’s the good news?” or “Joe, you seem really distracted today, did something happen?”  I find myself using this more and more and it really starts to help develop and foster emotion and trust in relationships.

Take a point of view: Again, this feels risky but it stimulates reaction and it serves as a way to get the client thinking.  “Now let me float a trial balloon here…” or “Hey, who knows where this might go, but it occurred to me that…”

Return calls unbelievably fast: Like within ten minutes fast.  No one expects this and it demonstrates how much you value the other person.


In my business, I am not in a consultant/trusted advisor role much, but for the times that I am, I found the techniques in this book very useful.  Even the topics that were a bit beyond my scope I found thought provoking.  Maister keeps it simple, which I like, and he throws in some humour every now and then to liven it up.  His next book is on my list for my October summary.

What techniques have you found that help build trust with clients?

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Steve Riley

ABOUT Steve Riley

Steve Riley (in no particular order of course): - the Founder and President of® Ltd. - father of 2 awesome kids - ex-restaurant guy - beer guy (Certified Cicerone & recognized Beer Judge) - cottage guy - Pats fan - proud Canadian - husband to the World's Most Patient Woman - serial entrepreneur
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