Building Trust In Professional Relationships

By John Allison

Mutual trust provides the foundation for a solid professional relationship.  When trust is present, the relationship can survive difficult times and still remain intact.  In the absence of mutual trust, the parties are guarded and the relationship will soon become purely transactional, having value for the parties only so long as it continues to serve their perceived short-term interests. 

Certain personal qualities and behaviors are necessary to build trust in a professional relationship.  These qualities and behaviors will inspire other people to want to trust you.  They are honesty, integrity, and what I call “the ART.”    

Honesty can be summed up in two words:  never lie.  You can decline to answer a question or try to sidestep a question, and you can be selective in what you communicate.  However, the words you do say or write must be true.      

Integrity has two aspects:  a strong moral compass, and internal consistency.  A person with integrity will not take action or engage in behavior contrary to the person’s moral and ethical values.  His or her words, actions and moral values will all be in alignment.    

“The ART” is an acronym for the qualities of authenticity, responsibility and transparency.  These qualities enhance credibility.  To be authentic, be yourself without trying to be or act like anyone else.  Be true to who you are and don’t be reluctant to communicate from your heart as well as from your head.  Take responsibility for your actions and your impact on other people.  When you make a mistake, acknowledge the mistake promptly without being defensive and without trying to cast blame elsewhere.  Be as open and transparent as you can be, consistent with privilege, privacy and tactical considerations.

It is also important to avoid engaging in behaviors that undermine trust.  These behaviors include treating people with disrespect, making negative comments about people behind their back, blaming other people when things do not go well, and criticizing a person in front of other people in a way that causes the person to feel shame.  Engaging in any of these behaviors creates an environment in which people will not feel safe trusting you. 

By behaving in ways that inspire other people to trust you, and avoiding the behaviors that undermine trust, you will be able to establish solid professional relationships with clients, with colleagues, and even with opposing counsel.


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John Allison is a professional career coach backed by years of experience as a successful lawyer. He is the founder of The Coach for Lawyers and author of The Art of Practicing Law: A Practical Guide for Lawyers.