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Trust Based Engagements

By: Joe Combs

Trust Based Engagements

I’ve learned a lot in my professional career. While much of it has been hands on skills, the greatest lessons and the greatest growth have come as I’ve mastered the intangibles of being a solid professional. At a recent staff meeting, consultants from our Cincinnati office spent some time after we had covered the usual business at hand to do a deep dive on what makes a good consultant, one who provides true value to the client. With a little help from some reading material (refer to footnote) that some of us had recently reviewed, we arrived at several key ingredients for a trust based relationship:


Do you have expertise in the matter at hand? Experience trumps in this area so you’ve got to have relevant experience that gives you a believable voice in the solution. Some can fake this with varying degrees of success but eventually, the harsh light of reality exposes credibility gaps.


Do you have a demonstrable track record that bears out your credibility? From past experience, does the client feel that you deliver what you promise and more? Everyone has had misfires in their past but we’re not talking about a single data point here. We’re talking about trends. Your successes are banked for a later time when they can speak to your reliability.


Can you comfortably talk about difficult challenges? A consultant’s ability to show genuine empathy goes a long way towards building trust. As trust grows, people feel comfortable sharing bigger challenges with you, assured that you have their best interests at heart.


This is the most interesting aspect of trust-based relationships. While the other elements work to build up trust, self-orientation can tear that all down in the blink of an eye. We often reveal our true colors by the questions we ask. If a client comes away with a feeling of being “sold”, there is no trust. What’s in it for me as the consultant or what can my company gain from this new opportunity are sure fire signs of high self-orientation.

Relationships change over time. They grow and hopefully get deeper as the parties learn more about one another and build trust. Being mindful of the factors that influence trust is a hallmark of the SEI way of consulting and a big part of why I feel so comfortable as a consultant. It’s a great framework for a solid career, if you can solve the trust equation.

For further reading on these topics, refer to “The Trusted Advisor,” by David Maister, Charles Green, and Robert Galford.

Joe Combs


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