Making a Referral By Transferring Trust

I provide a lot of referrals to clients and colleagues and have built my own business development and executive coaching business through referrals from others to me. What makes those referrals so powerful?

Here’s an example of a referral I made. A few years ago, in my in-house legal role, I had a working relationship with a lawyer I liked and trusted. I introduced that lawyer to a colleague in another company who I thought could benefit from working with this lawyer as well. As a result of my introduction, the colleague retained the lawyer, and that relationship is still going strong after several years.

The Trust Transfer Process

Referring someone we know to another person we know happens all the time. On the personal side, think blind dates or babysitters or doctors. It’s part of the networking process. What makes it work? Something I call “Transferred Trust.” The Trust Equation gives us the formula to enhance our own trustworthiness. But what happens when we make or receive a referral? How do we transfer that trust to another, and if we’re on the receiving end, for what do we look or listen?

Here are the steps from my example, simplified:

  1. I trust a lawyer.
  2. I have a colleague who trusts me.
  3. My colleague needs a lawyer.
  4. I describe the lawyer I trust to my colleague, and shared why I trusted him and made the referral.
  5. My colleague trusts the lawyer I trust, enough to engage him based on my introduction.

Trust Transfer and the Trust Equation

Let’s dissect this referral in terms of the Trust Equation (from The Trusted Advisor by Charles H. Green, David H. Maister, and Robert M. Galford, Free Press, 2000):

Trustworthiness = Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy

The quality and degree of trust transferred will directly depend on:

  • The depth of the referrer’s trustworthiness
  • The trustworthiness factors shared with the person receiving the referral

If I shared that the lawyer always got back to me quickly, I transferred reliability. If I gave an example of how the lawyer showed that he cared more about doing the right thing for me as his client than getting more work for himself, I transferred that he had low self orientation. If I described something the lawyer did that helped my company save money and time, I transferred credibility.

And while it’s up to the referrer to transfer trustworthiness, it’s up to the person referred to retain that trustworthiness through his/her own interactions.

How Transparency Works with Referrals

Be careful. You put your own trustworthiness on the line when you transfer trust. How often do we get referrals with transferred trust and are disappointed? If you think there is a good match, but you don’t know much about the person you are referring, be sure to be transparent. It’s ok to say “I know this person to be honest and forthright, and she’s really smart but I’ve never worked with her, so you’ll probably want to talk to her yourself.”

This models transparency, together with low self-orientation, while transferring some intimacy (safety) and some general credibility.

Try this out yourself in a business or social setting. Think of how you refer doctors or contractors, business colleagues and professionals. Pay attention to both referrals shared with you, and to those you give. And practice transferring trust.

Keep Young and Work the Virtual Room

Keep Young and Work the Virtual Room

Remember this question when we were kids: If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? 

Here’s a modern version: If you don’t have a strong web presence, including blogging, Linked in and Twitter, do you still exist?

I’ve been thinking a lot about social media lately and even more so after reading Trust Agents, a new book by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, and attending the Trust Summit in New York last week.   I’m still dipping my foot into using social media, yet like many, I’ve been reluctant to jump in all the way.  That is changing, albeit slowly. Here’s why I think it’s important to take the plunge:


I remember the days when simply reaching a certain age, one was seen as old. I think Web 2.0 changed that.  My theory is that in the world of social media, people aren’t judged by simply by chronological age, but rather by adaptability to and use of, technology. It may be true that the older one gets the less likely a person is to use new tools. But age does not prohibit one from jumping in. Chris and Julien capture this concept in Trust Agents, by describing a person who is seen as connected as “One of Us."  Age doesn’t seem to a factor by itself anymore. If my theory is right, then by using Web 2.0 channels of communication we can connect and be connected, without regard to age. And that opens new doors in business for everyone.


It’s more than just about adapting to technology.  It’s also about being part of a community – one that creates trust.  I’ve watched my son play a virtual game on line and build relationships with a community of avatars representing people.  Trust is created based on how long people are there, and how people talk with, trade with and treat each other, even when they never can meet in the real world.   

 That’s not to say real world connecting isn’t important. I teach a workshop called How to Work a Room and Still Feel Good About Yourself™  This workshop is about the typical ways to network in person – conferences, luncheons and charity dinners, even in line waiting to board a plane, and addresses how to build relationships – NOT sell – in that environment.  It is still relevant to network this way in business. 

However, there are a lot of people that never get to the same physical rooms we are in.  But they are in virtual rooms.  And those virtual rooms are growing in size and number.  Those rooms include blog conversations, Twitter, Facebook connections and groups, and of course, LinkedIn.  If we’re not in those rooms, we’ll never meet the people who are, and will miss the opportunity to build relationships with new connections that “meet” there. 

And just like a connection at an event can lead to follow up, so can a virtual room connection. For example, recently, I connected with a contact I met when she commented on one of my blogs on We talked by email and then by phone.  And we’re building a relationship just as we would have had we met at a conference.   


Many will now have to operate in both the real and Web 2.0 worlds. Of course we still exist if we’re not blogging and tweeting. While the Web 2.0 world doesn’t discriminate based on age or any factor other than whether we enter the room and appropriately create relationships, only we can decide if we need to be there. But if we’re not in the room – whether virtual or physical, we’ll never even know what we’re missing. This is a benefit of social media, and why we can’t ignore it, whether we’re 20 or 65.

Buying Insurance from the Trust Bank

The payoffEver have something you said or did misunderstood? Maybe the level of misunderstanding is directly related to the amount of trust you have built up. Here’s what happened to one of my clients:

Cheryl wanted to congratulate her long-time client Tom on his recent promotion. So she bought him his favorite whiskey and a gift bag. She put the whiskey in the gift bag herself, and personally delivered it to Tom’s office. Several days later Cheryl received an envelope containing a $20 bill along with a note from Tom’s assistant attached to the cash saying, “We found this in the bag. It must have been a mistake. P.S. Tom says thanks.”

Cheryl was mortified. Being in the construction industry Tom was extremely sensitive to anything that might appear to be inappropriate. Cash in a bag with a bottle of whiskey could qualify. Cheryl had no idea how the $20 bill got into the gift bag, although she suspected that she may have been holding on to the $20 bill as she was packing the gift bag and it dropped in the bag along with the bottle. She called Tom immediately after receiving the note, but he was traveling. She knew she couldn’t address this issue in an email.

When Tom returned to the office the next week, Cheryl and Tom met on the project they were working on. Cheryl thought Tom might have forgotten about the $20, but at the meeting, she mentioned the bottle, the money, and her suspicion of how the $20 got in the bag. She expressed her fear of what it might have looked like. Tom had forgotten about it, but he appreciated her raising it.

Because of their relationship, Cheryl had accumulated a lot of trust in the Trust Bank. Tom did not even think anything was wrong or inappropriate, because he trusted Cheryl. If we looked at his reaction, we would say that he didn’t question her motives or veracity, because he trusted her – trust that was built up long before the incident occurred. In fact, when Tom mentioned the $20 to his wife, she said: “It’s Cheryl – it must have been a mistake.”

So we have a happy ending. This may seem like a dull story. No great conflicts. No cleaning up a horrible mess. Cheryl and Tom had a good laugh – and joked that even if Tom could be bought, a $20 payoff wouldn’t cut it. And with that discussion, both deposited more currency in the Trust Bank.

I Should Have Said…


ContemplationEver leave a conversation and think: “I should have said…”?

A coaching client of mine who is a lawyer related to me how he realized that he had missed an opportunity for new business during a meeting with his client. Here is how the conversation went:

Lawyer: My client and I talked about the business and his family.
Me: What were you thinking about when he mentioned the opportunity you think you missed?
Lawyer: Actually, I was thinking about a deposition I had to take later that day.

Charlie Green’s recent blog “Does Multitasking Ruin Your Ability to Multitask?” addresses how multitasking – while on the phone, watching TV, taking in scenery – affects our ability to get things done effectively. Isn’t it also multitasking when one is ‘just’ thinking about something else?

And wouldn’t it be interesting if our minds and our bodies were in the same place at the same time? Perhaps we would process and act on information in real time, and not have to say "I should have said…" Then again, that’s where we sometimes find ourselves.  Then what?

I suggested a simple fix for the lawyer’s lack of mindfulness. He could address the issue head-on by applying the skill of Name it and Claim It.  Say to the client: “When I left your office, I realized that you had a concern you might have wanted to discuss, and I missed it at the time.   Is that something you’d still like to talk about?”

What about you?  Do you have something you’d like to talk about – an "I should have said" story, and how you fixed it?

What Clients Really Want

In a sales workshop for lawyers that I recently facilitated, a participant “role-played” a potential client. Together, we developed a scenario based on a business owner he knew well.

During this role-play, his fellow workshop participants sat one by one with the potential client to have a business conversation. Their goal was to be retained as his lawyer.

His goal as the client…well, he didn’t really know what his goal was. In character, he had a lot of potential legal issues that he saw as business concerns, without recognizing the legal implications.

After the role plays were over, I asked him what it felt like being in the client’s chair.  His response – “I wanted to feel like they cared about ME.”   Turns out, while he did care about his own clients, he did not fully recognize the importance to the client of feeling cared about until he sat in the client’s chair, himself.

That discussion reminded me of a program I co-led at a law school with the former General Counsel of a major US company. What did this executive want from his outside counsel?  To “feel the love."  His words.  And NO – there’s no oxymoron here.  Lawyers have feelings too!   He meant – show me that you value the relationship in addition to providing superior service.

Competence and creativity and even superior service are just the ticket in the door. Without that, the professional likely wouldn’t be or stay at the table. But caring can be the great differentiator, and a key to being a trusted advisor.

Changing chairs, even just to practice or see what it feels like, makes empathy come alive and shows what clients really want. 

Dogs’ Best Friend Builds Trust the Old-Fashioned Way

PatchesA couple of months ago I gave a donation to Best Friends in memory of a friend’s husband. I got my tax receipt/thank you note and even the magazine that described this organization’s work in saving homeless pets.

Last week I got the call – you know – the one where they ask for an additional donation. Except that’s not what happened. The caller was Gabriel, a founder of that organization.

He just called to say thank you for my donation. Then he asked about my family and our pets. He was genuinely curious, and caring. At the end of the conversation, I complimented him for not asking for another donation. He just calls because he wants to. And, of course, he didn’t have to ask.

By having no agenda, other than caring, he earned my trust. And he’s earned another donation. Without asking for it. What a great way to sell.

Does Your School Trust Its Students? Do You?

Companies work hard articulating their values. For example, take a look at a short excerpt from Johnson & Johnson’s Credo.

  • Everyone must be considered as an individual.
  • We must respect their dignity and recognize their merit.

Thinking about and articulating values aren’t limited to big companies. A couple of years ago, one of my kids attended a school where the 8th grade students collaborated to create rules for their own behavior – values in action. The class worked hard together, and then voted on the rules the students would follow.

The rules the students created bear a passing resemblance to those quoted from J&J’s Credo – a document developed in an exercise that I would imagine took J&J many committee meetings and people hours to formulate. Here are the rules from the students as I recall them from parents’ night: ·

  • Be inclusive, share and work together
  • Talk things out
  • Don’t pull other people into your fights
  • Don’t get stressed out if an assignment is too hard
  • Always encourage fellow classmates
  • Include everyone all the time
  • Respect everything and everyone: classmates, teachers, and their belongings
  • Work hard to do your best.

I have to hand it to the school administrators. They believed in their students. They trusted that their students would create great rules for themselves. They also trusted that their students would both follow those rules, and impress upon each other the value of obeying or living by the rules.

And it worked! Designing rules collaboratively enabled both buy-in and self-enforcement. When these kids finished eighth grade they had a great start collaborating on, creating, and living values. I look forward to seeing how they bring their collaborative skills and values into the working world in a few years.

Everything I Needed to Know About Sales I Learned From my Father

I grew up in New Jersey, The Garden State. At least that’s what it said on our license plates. My dad was a salesman, selling fertilizer and other products to mom and pop farmers in the 60’s and early 70’s. I went with him on sales calls, spending the day riding around the state with him, and watching him work.

He wasn’t like the other salesmen. He didn’t like pushing people. In fact he truly cared about them. Here was a typical sales visit to a farmer:

Farmer (either spouse): “Morris – come on in.” They liked Dad (still do).

Dad: (After sitting with the first cup of coffee, which he didn’t like but drank anyway because he didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings). “How’s your family?”

Farmer: “The kids don’t want to do anything…[complain, complain, brag brag for 10-20 minutes].

Dad: “How’s Rosie” [Names the farmer’s wife if she’s not there, otherwise asks her directly].

Farmer: “The best” [complain, complain, brag, brag for 10-20 minutes]

Dad: “How’s things going on the farm?

Farmer: [Complain only for 20-30 minutes].

Dad: “Do you need anything?”

Farmer: “I need…” [places an order].

The farmers knew why Dad came – he never had to say. Often they told him that they liked buying from him, not because his product was better, but because he took the time to listen to them. They trusted him. He kept his word. When there was a problem, and there always was, he dealt with it.

Yep. I learned a lot about selling watching my Dad with farmers. He was caring, a listener, credible, reliable, and he rarely talked about himself unless asked. Totally trustworthy. Still is.


Interview Like a Trusted Advisor

Recently I had coffee with a group of newly unemployed professionals in my community. Most of them haven’t had to interview for a few years, and they were looking for an edge.

I thought about it and realized – many interviews are conducted on both sides by people who really don’t know how to interview. The interviewer asks questions, presumably to assess fit, and the job hunter tries to impress. That can be seen as over-confident or desparate, in either case, without regard to whether the job hunter is truly right for the job.

I suggested another approach: The real goal of both parties ought to be to determine whether there is a fit on all levels. Change the dynamic of the interview itself to a collaborative discovery. It may not be easy. Interviewers may not be skilled and veering off the prepared questions and format may be difficult. Job hunters want to show that they have what interviewers want, and may be afraid to acknowledge where they fall short.

Changing this dynamic requires both of you to take the risk of thinking unconventionally. If you can move the conversation to what’s really at stake for both parties you can truly distinguish yourself.

How can you collaborate wth the interviewer? Here’s what I suggest:

1. Explore the job requirements together. Understand what is needed and why. Discuss the specifics of what needs to be done, how it’s been done in the past, and why there’s a need to fill this job now. Don’t be afraid to discuss whether it makes sense. Better to address the job now, than for the employer to discover two months from now that the need was different than originally thought.

2. Discuss the ideal candidate. Ask what type if person would be perfect for the job and why. You may agree or have input. Find out what got you in the door – what intrigued someone enough to interview you. Ask what qualifications the interviewer thinks you have, and those he or she thinks you lack. Discuss those qualifications openly.

3. Sell by doing, not by telling. Make it easy for the interviewer to see how you might approach a situation in the job. Your exploration of the job requirements might uncover something that your role might address. You might have enough information by now to talk about how you would address the situation.

4. Understand the decision-making process. Ask the questions that will help you understand how a hiring decision will be made. And it’s not a bad idea to ask about the other talent they are interviewing. If you bring up the subject in a collaborative rather than competitive way, it will be heard with the genuiness you intend.

5. Be open and clear about whether you believe you are right for the job. Express whether you think you are and note your concerns. Don’t be afraid to refer to what got you the interview in the first place.

Notice there is absolutely nothing in these steps that says you should try to dazzle the interviewer with your credentials and your brilliant ideas. Nothing that talks about you selling yourself in the traditional way. Being transparent and collaborative in an interview requires that you are not arrogant (usually a sign of weakness), and certainly does not give the impression that you are desperate for a job.

Not to say you shouldn’t put your best foot forward. Or help the interviewer see what you can do – and how that might benefit the company. But do so only after you learn as much as you can about the job, and only as part of a mutual exploration into whether you might be the right fit. If you are, after a single interview you’re well on your way to earning their confidence and their trust. Then you will both understand that the interest and enthusiasm you’re expressing by the end of the interview are genuine. With the beginnings of trust established you’re bound to find your odds of landing the job substantially improved.

Do you have other tips for interviewing that build trust? Please share them as comments here!

Show Me the Elephant

Why is that leaders and the teams they lead often ignore their issues until they have no choice but to take action? This despite the fact that, more often than not, waiting longer limits their universe of available responses.

I work with a practice group in a professional services firm. They have regular meetings of timekeepers and staff. Lately at those meetings there was an elephant in the room – anxiety about how the economy was going to affect them. Rather than talk about what was really on their minds, they discussed administrative matters and client issues.

In a recent discussion with the practice group leader, I asked – “so what are you and your group going to to do to address the downturn?” My client hadn’t really thought about it. Like many, the leader hoped the team could ride it out. I suggested “name it and claim it." It was simple – raise the issue for the group and talk about it. Some questions to ask:

· How busy are we?
· If we keep doing things the way we are now, what will happen?
· What do we need to do differently?

In such discussions, keep nothing off the table. On the cost side, address reductions – staffing, salary and other expenses. On the revenue side, consider new business activities, think about rates and fixed fee alternatives, figure out how to get paid sooner. Address the issues that have to be addressed. Get cveryone to take ownership of the problem. Put the elephant front and center, and deal with it as a group.

What happened? People got to share their anxieties in an appropriate way, own the problem and develop a solution together. They appreciated the opportunity to think out loud with each other.

Does it really matter why we procrastinate on such issues? Fear is probably at the heart of it. But the origin doesn’t necessarily alter the action. What needs to be done is to name it, so we can claim it.

Do you have an elephant in the room that needs to be called out?