Trust is the foundation of almost every good relationship. Whether business or personal, a solid, reliable relationship is built on trust. When we say, ‘Would you buy a used car from this person?’, what we mean is, ‘Can you trust them in business?’.

Andrea Howe describes herself as ‘a recovering IT consultant’,[1] and is also the co-author of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.[2] She has spent the last 16 years teaching consultants how to get better results by getting client relationships right. Her work focuses totally on trust, and moving away from conventional business wisdom to transform how people work together. Here are some things that we’ve learned from looking at her work and social media activity.

Building trust means being able to say difficult things sometimes

It’s always interesting when people say that they want ‘absolute honesty’ during a workshop. They usually don’t really mean it. They actually mean that they want constructive criticism, and not just ‘you were great’. However, you’ll seldom find people want to dig into how to completely rebuild themselves or their skills—or anyone else’s. And for a workshop, where you haven’t met people before, that’s probably as far as you want to go. However, in a longer term relationship, sometimes you need to go into those deeper, darker, murkier waters for the good of the relationship or those involved. Trust allows you to create a ‘safe space’ where you can do this, even on really difficult subjects like death or race or privilege.

Manage difficult conversations

Andrea’s social media posts aren’t sugar-coated. She doesn’t shy away from talking about difficult things, or explaining how to do it. However, she’s not doing this from a theoretical perspective. Instead, she is drawing on her own and others’ experiences to provide practical and useful information. For example, a recent post advised about what to say to a grieving client, drawing on Sheryl Sandberg’s experience after her husband’s death.[3] In other posts, Andrea talks about White privilege, and her own insights into how she can work better with colleagues from different racial backgrounds.[4]

Building trust means being honest about yourself

To build a trusting relationship, you have to open yourself up a bit. You cannot expect others to trust you if you don’t trust them with at least some part of you. Trust is not solely built on logic—the relationship also has to feel right. Andrea demonstrates this by sharing information about herself along with other content. For example, a recent post[5] shared a TEDx talk by Dorie Clark about the three reasons why you might be busy, and offered Andrea’s insights into her own situation. The phrase ‘work is better than crack’—as in, if you are going to use something to avoid your feelings, then it’s better to use work than crack—clearly resonated with both her and Dorie’s audience.

It is possible to measure trustworthiness

You might think that trust and trustworthiness are fairly nebulous quantities. However, it turns out that it is possible to measure trust. Trusted Advisor Associates, a management consultancy focused on building trust, has developed a Trust Quotient Assessment.[6] This measures four elements: credibility, reliability, intimacy and self-orientation. This suggests that we can best build trust when others perceive us as knowledgeable and skilled, dependable, discreet and safe, and with a focus on others.[7] Interestingly, people tend to rate their credibility and reliability—but trust is actually more strongly based on the other two elements.

It is also possible to teach trustworthiness

Both Andrea’s own work, and the work of her partner organisation Trusted Advisor Associates, focus on teaching people how to build better client relationships through trust. Trusted Advisor Associates offers courses such as trust-based selling, being a trusted advisor, and trust-building essentials.[8] All these courses are available on demand, and you can also buy books to guide you through the process of building better client relationships.[9]Andrea’s own work at the Get Real Project is described as providing the ‘deep dive’ for Trusted Advisor Associates.[10] The organisation’s own website states that it provides learning programs that change mindsets.[11] Andrea’s blog also provides tips and hints to help people to build trust in particular situations, such as going through difficult times.[12]