Essential Consulting Skills: Building Trust, Rapport, and Important Values

man and woman standing at a computer smiling

Organizational trust is a topic that’s gained popularity over the years, especially in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. But trust has always been important in an organization’s success. Paul J. Zak, Professor of Economic Sciences at Claremont University, says for Harvard Business Review, “Employees in high-trust organizations are more productive, have more energy at work, collaborate better with their colleagues, and stay with their employers longer than people working at low-trust companies” and that “the rewards include higher productivity, better-quality products, and increased profitability.”

As a consultant, the ability to work with various people and build trust with their team and a client in a way that leads to trust is an essential skill. Aggressive, combative, or overly direct consultants will struggle to find common ground with those they are trying to help. In contrast, overly passive consultants might come off as lacking in accountability, resolve, or expertise. Companies hire consultants because they need guidance to help them make decisions and execute complex tasks. The trick to building rapport as a consultant is to strike the right balance between listening, providing information, and taking action. How do you do this?

To find out, AIM asked some of our clients what they most valued in an effective partnership and how consultants can build better trust. Here’s what they had to say:

1) Consultants Listen and Partner

Clients may lack trust with consultants for a few different reasons. They might think that consultants will take too long to understand their business, spending many hours on a project without providing value equal to the time. Or they might feel the consultant is proposing a solution that may not address their root concerns or issues. Worrying about these situations can erode trust and create barriers to a true partnership.

To build trust, it’s essential to approach the client and situation with an open mind and without a hidden agenda. Achieving trust is a function of listening and demonstrating that you understand the problems your clients are facing. Listen first: this will enable you to be viewed as a true partner rather than an outsider.

2) Consultants Know That Feelings Are Important

As a consultant, it can be easy to get lost in the expertise of what you know and forget that getting people to take action depends on their willingness to trust you, which depends, at least somewhat, on how they feel about you.

This is the foundation of leadership. It isn’t enough to demonstrate that you know what to do. To earn trust and build rapport, you must think about how people feel – whether that’s how they’ll respond to your communication style, how comfortable they are around you, how open you are with them, and more. When people trust you, they are more willing to listen to your opinions, even the ones that are difficult to hear, because they know who you are, and that you only want what’s best for them.

3) Consultants Demonstrate Expertise in the Little Things

Clients hire consultants to their projects to solve a specific issue, and they expect consultants to be an expert on that topic. The critical skillset they may not think about, though, are the soft skills that make project delivery successful. Technical skills can be taught or learned, but soft skills, like attitude, cannot be picked up as easily. A consultant’s attitude can affect how well the client trusts them.

Soft skills like organization, attention to detail, and the ability to effectively employ push and pull communication techniques are often key differentiators that set a skilled consultant apart.

4) Consultants Communicate Effectively

Communication skills are essential for any consultant worth their salt. Communication isn’t just about being able to speak or write clearly. It’s also about the frequency of your communication, your style of delivery, your body language, and being able to read the room to know what kind of communication is needed and appropriate.

Building trust and rapport with clients as a consultant, while not difficult to master, is an important skill that differentiates your organization from other firms. It’s a skill that will improve your reputation as a consultant and support your organization’s growth.

Thank you to our clients for sharing what they value most in partnerships!

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