Deserve trust

This is a page from my book, “A Survival Guide for New Consultants”

“If you cannot find the truth right where you are,
where do you expect to find it?”


Dogen

I’ve been a successful computer consultant for almost twenty years now, and when people ask me for my secret to success, they’re always surprised by what I call “Rule Number One” of consulting:

Deserve trust.

I know that may sound trivial, but it really is the first rule. Let me give you an example, and then you can decide whether you think “deserving trust” should be Rule #1.

A simple example

You've been working for Customer A for a long time now, and every time they asked you a question you've been able to answer it, so you've got a great track record. But today they call you into a meeting, and when you walk into the conference room there are several people you don't know, so the pressure is on.

You answer several questions easily, when suddenly you’re hit with a question you don't know the answer to. What do you do? Do you feel the pressure to come up with an answer — any answer — because all these people are looking at you as the high-paid consultant? I’ve seen many other consultants do exactly that, and I’m here to tell you, that's absolutely the wrong approach.

As a consultant — shoot, just as a regular, everyday human being — if you lie to someone, and they catch you in that lie, you've lost their trust. As you probably know from your own life experiences, it takes a long time to gain someone’s trust, and just a moment to lose it.

The correct response

When people ask a question you don't know the answer to, there’s a very simple way to reply that builds confidence and trust. All you have to say is something like this:

“Off the top of my head I don't know, but I'll be glad to research this and get back with you.”

This reply shows several important character traits, including honesty, an interest in the problem, and initiative. You're being truthful, and you're also doing what you're supposed to do, being a first class problem-solver.

I could go on for a while with many more stories just like this one, but my guess is that you already knew Consulting Rule Number One. But you may have thought consultants always had to have all the answers at their fingertips, and I can tell you that based on my experience — and millions of dollars in successful projects — that isn’t the case.

The trick to gaining trust

At the end of this book I’ll share the names of a few of my favorite books related to the field of consulting, and just last night I saw the following quote about trust in one of those books that summarizes what I just stated:

The trick to gaining trust is to have no tricks.

Tell the truth, deserve trust, and you’ll gain trust.

Trust gets tested

If all of this sounds trivial to you, here’s the abridged version of a story you’ll find later in this book: One day I accidentally let a computer virus/worm loose on one of my customer’s networks, and it affected hundreds of their computers, and probably cost them many thousands of dollars. However, because I had always been honest with them, this didn’t ruin our relationship, and in fact, it led to a more open relationship.

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