Test how much your clients or internal stakeholders trust you with the following trust equation, from Maister, Galford and Green’s excellent book ‘The Trusted Advisor’1:

Trust Equation

Whether you are in sales, dealing with clients or L&D developing relationships with internal ‘clients’, the trust equation indicates that trusted advisors have three main characteristics:

  1. Credibility is the customer’s perception of your expertise, clarity and honesty.
    Tips: Know your subject. Give advice when you’re asked for it. Don’t exaggerate. Be passionate.
  2. Reliability is how much customers think you are dependable and consistent.
    Tips: A reputation for reliability is slow to create and quick to destroy, but you can make a strong start by under-promising and over-delivering. Always do what you say you’ll do, in the time you say you’ll do it.
  3.  Intimacy is how strongly the customer feels you’re emotionally engaged with the issues they face instead of just seeing them as a source of revenue or work.
    Tips: Be curious and an active listener. Uncover what people are measured on, and what they see as their challenges and their wider goals. Remember these and link your recommendations back to them.

The equation also shows that trust is dramatically reduced by self-orientation.

4. Self-orientation is the extent to which the customer perceives that you’re focused on your own targets, fears and desires rather than theirs.
Tips: This can result from small behaviors such as interrupting and finishing the customer’s sentences. It can also result from bigger issues such as recommending something without linking it to organizational needs, or worse, talking about why you need it to happen.

Use the tool below to assess how your main internal/external client sees you. Click to set a score for credibility, reliability, and intimacy metrics and self-orientation.




If you scored anything above 5, then you are well on your way to being a Trusted Advisor.

The equation suggests that suspending your own agenda is the best way to build trust. This means being concerned by your stakeholders and your buyers’ issues and challenges ahead of your own. This does not mean not having your own agenda, but understanding that only by truly understanding and meeting your stakeholders needs will you have any chance of achieving your own.


[1] Source: The Trusted Advisor by David Maister, Charles Green, and Robert Galford. Published by The Free Press, and a highly recommended read.