*Maister, D., Green, C. H. & Galford, R. M., 2000, The Trusted
Advisor, New York: Free Press
The importance of credibility is relatively easy to understand. In this equation, credibility is clarified as not just specialist expertise; it’s also about how that expertise is shared and applied. Is the business partner using their expertise for the benefit of the subject at hand, communicating it so others understand its value to the situation and feel engaged in what is being said? Being honest, whether the answer is known or not, is also a key element of achieving credibility. An effective business partner uses a blend of technical knowledge and behavioural skill to get others to trust what they say. Executed poorly, trying to prove credibility can come across as being able to regurgitate knowledge of a specialist subject without considering the situation it needs to apply to or the other people working on it. The aim is of course to add value to the bottom line rather than prove the hard work that has been put into gaining qualifications.
“Intimacy is about gradually establishing a relationship where emotionally charged subjects can be discussed in the interest of business outcomes.”
The final two elements of the equation are intimacy and self-orientation. These are considered by Maister as “the most effective, as well as the most common, sources of differentiation in trustworthiness. Both are relatively scarce compared to credibility and reliability”. People in business as well as everyday life trust others with whom they are willing to have difficult and tough conversations and who clearly demonstrate that they care.
Intimacy is about making a genuine connection with the client by establishing an emotional closeness. This element is the most often misunderstood as the need to share elements of an individual’s private life. It is about gradually establishing a relationship where emotionally charged subjects can be discussed in the interest of business outcomes. It can be achieved through each party offering something about themselves, with the other responding accordingly. At some stage one will stop responding when the maximum level of intimacy has been reached for them. The type of information that can offered can be as simple as an honest opinion about a decision that has been made, or being open about past experience that underpins a recommendation.
Being able to focus on the right agenda is the key to achieving the right level of self-orientation, the final component of the trust equation. This is the context that all of the other components of trust must sit within and is the only one that it is necessary to keep relatively low, rather than increasing.
Self-orientation is about being able to pay attention to and, most importantly, genuinely caring about the outcome of the situation on the table. Listening intently to others, never simply waiting to speak, skilfully questioning to deepen our understanding just enough to be able to add value and be able to tell the clients story before writing our own, are skills that will increase the ability to lower self-orientation.
Being able to do this and demonstrate it to others is a powerful tool in establishing productive and successful client relationships as a business partner, which along with credibility, reliability and intimacy lead to being valued as a trusted advisor.
“Listening intently to others and skilful questioning to deeper understanding are critical for effective business partnering.”
Becoming a fully-integrated business partner can transform the relationships you have within your organisation and the value of the contribution you and your team make.
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