This post is part of our Monthly-ish Tips series.

When we go first, we make it safe for others to risk

I’ve been mining The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook for stories lately—like the one about Harold the client for life, the one about how saying “no” can transform a relationship, and the one about a surprising way out of a thorny problem. Here’s one more favorite (for now) about the risks of not taking a risk.

In Chapter 9 of The Fieldbook, we share a story about “Jared,” who once told a tale of woe during a workshop I was leading. He had a flashback to being in a meeting with some prospective clients when, at a critical moment, they all went uncomfortably silent. At the time, he didn’t know what to make of it. Were they turned off? Spellbound? He said nothing, and wondered later (with me and his fellow participants) what he should have done.

My advice was simple (not easy): Take the first risk. Find out. Don’t make assumptions. Say something like, “Hmmmm…I’m not sure how to interpret the silence in the room.” Or even better, add some humor: “Gee, that’s a loud silence. My collar feels a little tight. Any advice on how we should interpret it?”

But that’s not what Jared did. No, he thought “That’s too risky, I couldn’t do that.”

Poor Jared.

His in-the-moment reaction was completely understandable and common—and actually confirms a big misperception about trust-building. Many people intentionally avoid personal risks until they’ve established a foundation of trust. Yet we create trust by taking personal risks. And when we go first, we make it safe for others to risk.

Because Jared said nothing, he left the meeting without understanding the silence and without communicating to his clients that it’s OK to take risks with him. He lacked the courage and conviction (and the caveats) to say something, even at the risk of saying the wrong thing.

The payoff for us all when we do speak up can be profoundly important. For starters, we connect on a more human level and invite deeper conversation. Plus, we avoid the temptation of assigning even the teensiest hint of blame toward his clients for being “reserved” or “difficult.”

The clients’ silence wasn’t the problem here.

And being a trusted advisor is never about being comfortable; it’s about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Make It Real

This week, make a point to notice when you’re uncomfortable in various conversations. If you were going to make an observation about it, or ask a question, what would you say?

Learn More


Review my recent (no-strings-attached) webinar on 7 Risks You Should Take to Build Trust (which includes the Jared story and much more), or review the real reasons we don’t take risks in Chapter 9 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

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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).