This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

This week’s tip is brought to you thanks to my extraordinary partnership with my co-author, Charlie Green. It’s an excerpt from a script we’ve written (and will be recording soon) for our new video learning library, and it answers this question:

What do you do when your clients or colleagues are untrustworthy?

In these cases, most of us humans follow our baser instincts to minimize risk. We avoid confrontation. We point the finger at them.

Therein lies a problem, unfortunately. If you blame others, but don’t address the issues directly, then you’re not being trustworthy because you’re not speaking the truth. If you talk about others behind their backs, then you’re not being trustworthy because you’re working around the relationship, not on it.

[Tweet “3 tips for dealing with people you don’t trust: Assess, seek and decide. #trust #culture”]

If you’re serious about increasing the level of trust in your relationships, you have to help lead the change when trust is missing. Which requires risk-taking—yours.


On the upside, there are three relatively simple steps you can follow to constructively confront someone you feel is untrustworthy:

  1. Assess the risks of confrontation. List pros and cons, both of saying something and saying nothing. This helps you get a balanced view of something that feels emotional and yucky. Assuming you conclude that you should continue, the next step is …
  2. Seek to understand. Approach them with a request for help and a genuine willingness to listen. You might say something like: “Amal, we see xyz situation differently. I think it’s important that we’re on the same page so I need some help to understand just where you’re coming from.” Then listen. Really listen. And finally …
  3. Make a decision. If your conversation went well, great. If you are still unresolved, say, “This has been helpful. I’d like to think about this and get back to you.”

Of course there are times when you simply can’t live with the outcome. Knowing when and how to choose your battles is important. So is having principles worth fighting for. Just be careful here: human nature will always have us overrate the number of situations that truly can’t be recovered.

Here’s the bottom line: People sometimes behave badly. The question is: How will you show up as a leader in response?

Make It Real

This week, take a good hard look at the people you don’t trust. Complete at least step 1 for at least one of them. What do you see now that you didn’t see before?

Learn More


Read more about trusting others’ motives, from our friends at Trusted Advisor Associates, or find out more about dealing with untrustworthy people in Chapter 25 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

The following two tabs change content below.

Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).