The Trusted Advisor by David H. Maister

Rating: 8/10

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High-Level Thoughts

Extremely useful if you do any kind of advice-work, like consulting, freelancing, or working on an agency.

Summary Notes

You don't get the change to employ advisory skills until you can get someone to trust you enough to share their problems with you.

Characteristics of Successful Trusted Advisors

The way to be as rich as Bill Gates is to care more about writing code than about being rich. And the way to be a great advisor is to care about your client. A common trait of all these trusted advisor relationships is that the advisor places a higher value on maintaining and preserving the relationship itself than on the outcomes of the current transaction, financial or otherwise.

Attributes of a Trusted Advisor:

  1. Have a predilection to focus on the client, rather than themselves. They have:
  2. Enough self confidence to listen without pre-judging
  3. Enough curiosity to inquire without supposing an answer
  4. Willingness to see the client as co-equal in a joint journey
  5. Enough ego strength to subordinate their own ego
  6. Focus on the client as an individual, not as a person fulfilling a role
  7. Believe that a continued focus on problem definition and resolution is more important than technical or content mastery
  8. Show a strong "competitive" drive aimed not at competitors, but at constantly finding new ways to be of greater service
  9. Consistently focus on doing the next right thing, rather than aiming for specific outcomes
  10. Are motivated more by an internalized drive to do the right thing than by their own organization's rewards or dynamics
  11. View methodologies, models, techniques, and business processes as mean to an end. They are useful if they work, and are to be discarded if they don't; the test is effectiveness for this client.
  12. Believe that success in client relationships is tied to the accumulation of quality experiences. as a result, they seek out client-contact experiences, and take personal risks with clients rather than avoid them.
  13. Believe that both selling and serving are aspects of professionalism. Both are about proving to clients that you are dedicated to helping them with their issues
  14. Believe that there is a distinction between a business life and a private life, but that both lives are very personal. They recognize that refined skills in dealing with other people are critical in business and in personal life; the two worlds are often more alike than they are different.

Characteristics of Trust

  1. It grows, rather than just appears
  2. It is both rational and emotional
  3. It presumes a two-way relationship
  4. It is intrinsically about perceived risk
  5. It is different for the client than for the advisor
  6. It is personal

For the Client

It is not enough to be right, you must also be helpful.

Since clients are often anxious and uncertain, they are, above all, looking for someone who will provide reassurance, calm their fears, and inspire confidence.

We should act as if we are trying to advise our mother or father. Any implied critique is softened as much as possible.

No one likes to be told that they must do anything.

A successful advisor assumes responsibility for the proper mutual understanding.

The most effective way to influence a client is to help the person feel that the solution was (to a large extent) his or her idea, or at the very least, their decision

  • Give them their options
  • Give them an education about the options
  • Give them a recommendation
  • Let them choose

Key Principles in Relationship Building

  1. Go first
  2. Show that you're willing to take a risk in making the relationship closer
  3. Show, don't tell
  4. To make anyone believe something about you, you must demonstrate, not assert. What you claim about yourself, your colleagues, or your firm will always be received skeptically, if it is listened to at all
  5. Listen for what's different, not for what's familiar
  6. What makes this person different from the others that I have served? What does that mean for what I should say and how I should behave?
  7. Be sure your advice is being sought
  8. Clients don't always want advice; they often just want a sympathetic ear
  9. Earn the right to offer advice
  10. Understand the client's situation
  11. Understand how the client feels about it
  12. Convince the client that we understand both of the previous two items
  13. Keep asking
  14. frame the right (gentle) follow-up questions to clarify ambiguity
  15. Say what you mean
  16. To be an effective advice giver, work at making sure that what you intended to say was actually heard that way
  17. When you need help, ask for it
  18. Demands are usually resented, while requests for help usually evoke a positive response. We feel kindly disposed to those we have helped, more so than to those who have done something for us
  19. Show an interest in the person
  20. Taking notes on someone and reviewing them before the next meeting can help a lot
  21. Use compliments, no flattery
  22. Show appreciation
  23. We all want to be appreciated for what we have done


  1. Ability to focus on the other person
  2. Self confidence
  3. Ego strength
  4. Allows one to focus on the matter at hand, not on who gets the blame or credit for it
  5. Curiosity
  6. Inclusive professionalism
  7. How to align with the client to improve their situation

The Trust Equation

Trust = (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy) / Self-Orientation

  • Credibility
  • Description
  • Focused on words
  • "I can trust what he says about..."
  • A failure is a windbag
  • The best professionals excel at two things in building credibility: anticipating needs, and speaking about needs that aren't being articulated
  • Enhancing credibility
  • Tell as much truth as possible without harming others
  • Don't tell lies or exaggerate. Ever
  • Avoid saying things that could be construed as lies
  • Speak with expression, not monotone
  • Don't just cite references, involve people
  • If you don't know something, say so
  • Be humble
  • Relax
  • Do all of your homework on the client
  • Love your topic
  • Reliability
  • Description
  • Focused on actions
  • "I can trust that he will do..."
  • A failure is irresponsible
  • Repeated experience of links between promises and action, or the repeated experience of expectations fulfilled
  • Enhancing reliability
  • Make specific commitments to the client around small things, and then deliver on them quietly and on time
  • Send meeting materials in advance
  • Make sure meetings have clear goals, and ensure goals are met
  • Use the client's fit and feel around terminology, style, format, hours
  • Review agendas with your client, before meetings, before phone calls, before discussions. Clients should know that tehy can expect you to always solicit their views on something
  • Reconfirm scheduled events before they happen. Announce changes as soon as they happen
  • Intimacy
  • Description
  • Focused on emotions
  • "I feel comfortable discussing..."
  • A failure is a technician
  • Developing intimacy
  • Don't be afraid. Creating intimacy requires courage for everyone
  • People in senior positions appreciate candor, but candor isn't necessarily intimacy, and they value that even more. Don't coddle/polish messages to them. Disagree without being disagreeable
  • Find the fun and fascination.
  • Test whether you're coming too close to the line, or pushing too far, too fast. If you were the client, is this something you would talk about?
  • Practice a little. Practice phrasing to find the best methods
  • Don't overrate the downside risk. What are you afraid of?
  • One of you has to make the first move, and it's you!
  • Self-Orientation
  • Description
  • Focused on motives
  • "I can trust that he cares about..."
  • A failure is devious
  • Threats to Self Orientation
  • Selfishness
  • Self consciousness
  • A need to appear to be on top of things
  • A desire to look intelligent
  • A to-do list in our minds a mile long
  • A desire to jump to the solution
  • A desire to win more than a desire to help the client
  • A desire to be right
  • A desire to be seen as right
  • A desire to be seen as adding value
  • Clients recognize self orientation through:
  • A tendency to relate stories to ourselves
  • A need to too quickly finish their sentences for them
  • A need to fill empty spaces in conversations
  • A need to appear clever, witty, bright, etc.
  • An inability to provide a direct answer to a direct question
  • An unwillingness to say we don't know
  • Name-dropping of other clients
  • A recitation of qualifications
  • A tendency to give answers too quickly
  • Wanting to have the last word
  • Closed ended questions early on
  • Putting forth hypothesis or solutions before hearing the whole problem
  • Passive listening
  • Watching the client as if he were a television set
  • How to demonstrate a lack of self orientation
  • Let the client fill the empty spaces
  • Ask the client what's behind an issue
  • Using open-ended questions
  • Not giving answers until earning the right to do so
  • Focusing on defining the problem, not guessing a solution
  • Reflective listening, summarizing what you've heard and repeating it back
  • Saying you don't know when you don't know
  • Acknowledging feelings respectfully
  • Learning to tell the client's story before writing our own
  • Listening to clients without distraction
  • Resisting with confidence a client's invitation to provide a solution too early on
  • Adding value after listening, not during
  • Taking responsibility for failure

The Development of Trust

  1. Engage
  2. Focus on the problem
  3. Earn the right to tell and hear truths
  4. Requires the skill of being credibly noticed
  5. Listen
  6. Ears bigger than mouth
  7. Earn the right to suggest a problem statement or definition
  8. Requires the ability to understand another person
  9. Frame
  10. The root issue is stated clearly and openly
  11. Coalesces issues to move forward
  12. Requires creative insight and emotional courage
  13. Envision
  14. A vision of the alternate reality is sketched out
  15. Concretizes vision, generates clarity of objectives
  16. A spirit of collaboration and creativity
  17. Commit
  18. Steps are agreed upon, sense of commitment is renewed
  19. Allows problem-resolution to begin
  20. Requires an ability to generate enthusiasm, and sometimes temper over-enthusiasm

What Good Listeners Do

  1. Probe for clarification
  2. Listen for unvoiced emotions
  3. Listen for the story
  4. Summarize well
  5. Empathize
  6. Listen for what's different, not what's familiar
  7. Take everything seriously (no "don't worry about that")
  8. Spot hidden assumptions
  9. Let the client get it out of his/her system
  10. Ask "how do you feel about that?"
  11. Keep the client talking
  12. Keep asking for more detail to help them understand
  13. Get rid of distractions while listening
  14. Focusing on hearing their version first
  15. Let them tell the story their way
  16. Stand in their shoes while listening
  17. Ask them how they think you can help
  18. Make eye contact
  19. Observe body language
  20. Make them your world
  21. Encourage through nods and smiles
  22. Manage own body language

The Quick Impact List to Gain Trust

  1. Listen to everything
  2. Empathize (for real)
  3. Listen to where they're coming from
  4. Understand where they're coming from
  5. Acknowledge that you understand 2
  6. Note what they're feeling
  7. Build a shared Agenda
  8. Take a point of view
  9. Take a personal risk
  10. Ask about a related area
  11. Ask great questions
  12. Give away ideas
  13. Return calls unbelievably fast
  14. Relax your mind

Top Things to Remind Yourself

  1. I don't have to prove myself every 10 seconds
  2. I have a right to be in this room, I can add value without worrying about it
  3. Shutup and repeat again and again: "Really? and then what happened?"
  4. Also again and again "What's behind that?"
  5. Is my pulse racing? Why? Why not say so outloud?
  6. Have I earned the right yet to give an answer?
  7. Am I trying to win an argument? Turn it back to a conversation
  8. Emulate Lt. Columbo: "I may be a little slow here. Maybe it's just me, but..."
  9. Take responsibility for the emotional outcome
  10. Don't blame anyone for anything ever
  11. More value is added through problem definition than problem answer
  12. Just because a question is asked does not mean that's the right question to answer
  13. Don't be insecure
  14. Is your stomach telling you something's off? It's probably right. Talk about it

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