Meaningful trust is gold dust. It is the foundation on which great relationships are built. It’s what enables lawyers to engage with their clients and foster respect and integrity. Yet everywhere one looks at the moment, one sees relationships disintegrating just at a time when they need to be strengthening.

Take the political situation in the world today. We are crying out for figures who can build relationships yet all we read about is relationships turned sour, miscommunication and hearsay. What was really said at that Downing Street dinner?  Will the leaders of USA and North Korea even try and see the others point of view? In fact we’re struggling these days to see many people in the public eye who even want to build relationships, let alone know how to. But great leaders, like great law firms, have to.

So how? Well there are 5 clear steps we can take to up our ‘trust quotient’. These are; 1. the conviction and energy with which we Engage; 2. the quality of the attention we give others and Listen; 3. whether we can Frame our points in a way that demonstrate how well we’ve listened;  4. being able to Envision something mutually agreeable and then 5. seeing it through, that is when we Commit.

The best communicators follow this 5 step trust process and their reputations shine bright when for others it’s murky at best. How many public figures in the heat of debate can we say that about these days? That their words are uttered from a good place? To use the Downing Street dinner example again, what we see is an extraordinary amount of ill will already.

‘We’ at Speak The Speech have just returned from a week’s work in India working with a leading international law firm. Their challenge was that they had disparate teams located in every corner of the world. They wanted to be one team; to have one approach. For this they needed to trust each other. So everything we did was about engaging face to face; breaking down those barriers with different cultures, finding commonalities and building that trust. How do you do that? Well of course some of it is about the essentials like good eye contact, handshakes where appropriate, open and interested body language which all make for great initial engagement – but also it was about giving the sense right from the start that these relationships matter. It’s incredible how this all-important good start gets the trust process in full swing. Of course this all had to be done under the banner of authenticity. Most of us are finely tuned observers and get an instant sense of when others don’t have our interests at heart. This had to be genuine for it to have a chance.

If we’re not careful, we can fall into the trap of listening simply until it’s our time to talk, rather than properly listening to understand. We are wired to find our version of events more interesting and will make that very clear before someone has finished what they’re saying. When this happens, a lot of the good work that we’ve done in the engagement stage can be quickly undone.

The gold dust appears when ‘phase II’ is at it’s best; when we are truly listening, truly suspending our agenda to listen to the viewpoint of the other person. When we are demonstrating that, not only have we listened, but we have understood and shown genuine empathy. That is not to say that we have to necessarily agree with the person - there is nothing aggressive in assertiveness, it is in fact an appropriate expression of our needs and opinions while respecting those of others, but the single most powerful thing we can do to establish trust is make someone feel they’ve been listened to and understood.

When we’ve engaged and listened well, the remaining three components of the trust process come far more easily. We’re far better able to frame things in a way that’s mutually agreeable. At the very least in a way that’s mutually understandable. This a vital skill for lawyers and legal counsel. We’re far better able to envision outcomes that are more closely aligned with clients’ real needs and concerns. When we do all this and then are seen to actually commit, to see our promises through, we build meaningful trust and relationships that last. That has to be worth it.