The Risks and Benefits Of Building Trust (Full spoken text included)
OF BUILDING TRUST
When I look back on all the projects I have done as a UX
Architect, there are very few that I am truly proud of. They have
in common that the team and the client trusted me. These
projects were not award-winning, but I am proud of them,
because I feel we built the best result possible as a team. With
the time and the skills we had.
ingredient is trust
In many other projects though, I felt deeply frustrated. But why?
These clients would not listen to me. I would spend more time
discussing and arguing than actually doing good work. And I
never gained enough impact to truly change something. And
that’s what I always want: change something and make it better.
So why did some clients trust me, and others didn’t?
On a journey
About three years ago - after an especially frustrating meeting - I
decided that I want to learn how to earn my clients trust.
I started with experiments. I questioned and changed my own
behaviour and observed what happened.
And I asked for advice. I made a series of interviews on the topic
of trust. I talked to a psychologist and a recruiter. I talked to
people living trust and to people who work in highly controlled
environment - a call center - where every minute you work is
tracked. And I asked them for advice on what do I have to do to
And I am here today to talk about my experiences and learning
on that journey.
WHEN DO WE
Please ask yourselves, when do you trust somebody?
Imagine you give somebody access to your bank account and
leave on holydays for a week. Or if you have kids, you let
somebody watch over them for an afternoon and maybe go on a
boat trip with them. What kind of person would it take, that you
feel safe? That you know your money is still there and that your
kids will return home safe and alive?
Most people ﬁnd it very diﬃcult to answer that question and so
did I. That’s why this was my ﬁrst question in my interviews.
When do we trust somebody?
I learned that we can build trust with people who share the same
values as we do.
Values are things or behaviours that we believe are important in
life. E.g. honesty, success, generosity, humility or excellence.
We trust people who act in a similar way as we do. People who
won’t do something we ﬁnd entirely wrong. But what is right and
wrong for you? What kind of behaviour do you expect from
Knowing your core values is not as easy as it sounds. It takes a
deep understanding of yourself.
You need a
It will help you to answer questions like
What are my goals in life? What do I expect from a job or a
relationship? In what situations do I feel truly happy, proud and
fulﬁlled? How do I learn and grow?
Knowing your core values will help you take decisions on how to
behave towards other people. It will help you understand
conﬂicts, why you just don’t like working with certain people.
And it will help you see who appreciates your behaviour and acts
in a similar way. And these are the people you can trust.
HOW DO WE EARN
How do we earn somebody’s trust? I often thought I have to
convince my clients with my competence, my skills and my
knowledge. And it is important, it does build trust if you know
what you are talking about. But it is only half the rent. At the end
of the day, you earn people’s trust when you treat them well.
treating people well
How you treat them well is very personal, and depends on what
is important to you. I will rise topics, where I had to learn some
lessons myself, and topics where I still have challenges ahead of
me. I have not mastered everything myself, that I am preaching
other people’s work
When my team grew from four to eight people I read a lot about
leadership. To my embarassement, I realized that many things
are normal to do towards a team member, but not so normal to
do towards a client. Giving credit for instance.
When we work on a project, we have sprint reviews every
second week. The whole team presents, what they have done.
Developers, designers, ux architects. But when is the moment
when the client can present his work? A lot of clients do a great
deal of work for a project, but when do they get feedback and
credit for it? And when did I ever thank my clients for their work?
Not so often.
When you are a boss, and your employees do good work, you
probably want to give them something back and share the
beneﬁts with them.
Share the beneﬁts
But when did I show my clients that they are still valuable to me,
after I won the pitch? When did I give them something back?
Oﬀered them a ﬁnancial reward, a service or an opportunity for
development? Not so often.
So I had to learn to treat my clients with more value and respect.
But when I did, I felt they took more pride in their jobs.
of their jobs
They gave their best. And I guess they also enjoyed it more,
working with me.
ideas and learning
Imagine you have a boss who says “When you talk about that
topic, your eyes light up. Let’s make more room, so that you can
learn more on the topic and work more on it”. Does that sound
good to you? Sounds really good to me. But have you ever done
this for your clients? Do you know what your clients are
interested in, what drives them? Do you see opportunities for
them? I think the ﬁrst step to do this, is that you have to learn
from your clients ﬁrst.
ideas and criticism
I am so guilty of reading a clients concept and thinking “This is
all rubbish. I can’t use any of this. I have to start all over again”. I
did not take my clients for competent. So I had to learn to listen
better. An to ask more questions. No matter how tight my budget
was, I took time in the beginning to get to know my clients, their
wishes, ideas and knowledge. And I asked them for criticism in
every step of the project. But learning isn’t always pleasant. If
you ask about criticism, you will get criticism and you will hear a
lot of things that you don’t do so well. If you aks for ideas,
maybe the best idea comes from somebody else and you have
to let go of your original concept of the project. You are not the
solo act anymore, you are just a member of the orchestra.
But I am convinced, that the more perspectives you see and the
more ideas you hear, the better your product will be.
And if you know your client’s ideas, his strengths and
weaknesses, then you can encourage him to learn something.
To learn a new skill, to take responsibility for something, to move
in another direction, to take on a challenge, make mistakes and
learn from them.
If people learn and grow, they often ﬁnd new goals. And it is
possible they can’t reach these goals with you, and that they
leave you. But if you are serious about developing others, you
should never stand in their way of reaching their goals. Even if it
means they are leaving you. But if people learn something with
you, if you help them to master a challenge, the will always be
loyal to you.
always be loyal
And they will recommend you. I am sure that if you invest into
people, they will also invest back into you.
Honesty is the number one quality required from a leader, people
say. And it is very strong personal value of mine. That’s why I
started beind more transparent towards my clients.
I was more transparent about my sources when I proposed
something. Have I read study and have numbers to prove, have I
conducted user test, is it my experience or just my opinion, my
personal taste. I was more transparent about my experience.
Have I done it 100 times and I know exactly what’s going to
happen, have I done it once or twice, or have I never done it
before and in fact, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I was
more transparent about my mistakes, even if the client didn’t
notice. And ﬁnally I also showed my emotions and weaknesses.
I said that I don’t know the solution to a problem, or that I was
nervous about a task, because I am not really good at it.
The ﬁrst test of this concept was a pitch I did together with a
team member. The client wanted to know all kind of things. What
was our decision making process, what was our project
management methodology and so on. We did not work with
such strict protocols, and we knew the client would not like that.
It was very tempting to tweak the truth a little bit to please the
client. But we resisted the temptation and explained the client
very honestly how we work. We were also honest about the
client’s expectation of budget. We had done similar projects and
knew it would cost more than the client expected. And we told
him so honestly.
We didn’t make it to the second round.
You can be rejected
“Too honest” was the verdict. That was good and bad. I am glad
we were honest, because we found out very early that neither of
us would be happy in this collaboration. But it hurts to be
rejected. And the more honest you are, the more it hurts.
Luckily most clients appreciated my honesty. When I opened up
my budgets and explained the client in every detail how I was
going to spend his money, I feared a lot of discussions. Why do
you need two days to analyse this, would one day not be
enough? But the exact opposite happened.
I gained higher budgets and I had less discussion about them,
even when I was over budget. Just because the client knew
what was going on and where the money went.
I feared most admitting my inexperience. Saying that I have
never done something, but would like to try it. To my surprise so
many clients were so open to it. They said let’s just try. So by
admitting my inexperience I gained a lot of freedom to explore
And I gained a lot of encouragement to learn.
There is a US company called Gore. They are the inventors of
GoreTex. When they hire you, you don’t work for half a year. You
just learn. You go around the whole company, meet everybody
and build a network. You learn how things are done at Gore.
After this time you not only choose what kind of work you will do
for the company, you also choose who will be your boss. I
imagine that if you can choose who your boss is, you will have a
very strong connection to that person. So choice is a very
important element in building trust.
Let others choose
what is right
That’s why you should be so honest with a client in the
beginning. You should not tell him what he wants to hear, but
explain very honestly how it is to work with you. So that he can
choose if this is the right thing for him or not.
More and more I also let clients decide what is done in a project
and how it is done. I gave them options, explained what the
beneﬁt are and what the risks would be, if we don’t do it. And let
them decide what they want to do. But if you let your clients take
decisions, you better make sure they are well informed.
But it is not enough to share information. You have to explain
why you share it and make it understandable to the client. Avoid
jargon or buzzwords and take the time to make information clear
and simple to the clients so that they can understand it and take
action. The more you share, the more you can be challenged.
You have to be ready to explain everything and to admit bad
ideas or mistakes. But if a client can inﬂuence the outcome of a
decision, he will be way more motivated to understand. And he
can contribute back to the project.
He can share his information and his knowledge. And he can
help you to make the project a success. Of course there are
always bad decisions and mistakes. In my experience, you can
never blame the clients for it. At the end of the day, you are still
responsible for the project. But if you invite clients to decision
making, they will defend these decisions and stick to you in
times of crisis.
Stick to you
in times of crisis
What you win is shared responsibility.
like a good friend
Marike, a project manager I interviewed, told me she treats every
client as if he was a good friend. On everything she does, she
checks back, if she would do the same, if this was a good friend
of hers. This seems a very good check to me, to see if you are
actually living your values towards everybody.
WHAT WILL BE
What will be my hardest challenges, did I ask in my interviews. I
learned that everybody has been disappointed in life. People
don’t trust easily. Trust is something precious that people don’t
give to everybody.
not over night
It takes time to build trust and it takes time keep it.
But my hardest challenge will be, to ﬁnd the right people.
Find the right
Trust does not work with everybody. You have to ﬁnd people
who share the same values and goals as you do. That’s very
diﬃcult. it sometimes reminded me of ﬁnding out who your true
friends are. And you have to ﬁnd out what drives them and
create an environment where they are happy so that they stay
What comes with it, are the hard decisions what to do, if there is
Face hard decisions
What do you do, if you realise that you just don’t trust a person?
Or that a person just doesn’t trust you. I learned in my interviews
that you have to be honest in such a situation. But you have to
know why you don’t trust a person, you can’t just say “I don’t
trust you”. You have to know the reason and then address it
openly. This can be a ﬁrst step to earn somebody’s respect or
trust. But I also learned in my interviews, that if it doesn’t work
out, it is better to go separat ways. So you will have to face the
hard decisions to reject some clients and to say “We don’t want
to work with you”.
WHEN IS TRUST
THE WRONG WAY?
When is trust the wrong way, did I ask in my interviews. Hardly
ever, was I told. I should not trust opportunists, gamblers or
people who just have other values than I have.
Lise, the recruiter I interviewed, was very strict in one point
though. She said if an employee abuses your trust once, ﬁre him
If your trust
She was not talking about making a mistake or not delivering
what was expected. She was talking about lying or stealing. In
her experience, if a person does that once, he will do it again. So
if your trust is abused, don’t try a second time.
WHAT WILL YOU WIN
Let’s say you found the right people and you established a
culture of trust, what will you win? To understand, I asked for the
opposite. When I asked what a culture looks like, with no trust at
all, people described to me some kind of cover my ass culture.
Cover my ass
Everybody just looks for himself. People don’t help each other or
invest into each other, because they don’t gain anything out of it.
Nobody takes any risks, because it is not allowed to make
mistakes. People just do what their boss tells them to do. People
are not honest. They just tell you what you want to hear and
change their opinion as it suits them best.
So what is diﬀerent when you do have a culture of trust?
When trust is lived, people talk about their mistakes openly. And
they listen to each other. And people being honest and people
who listen to each other, that is an unbeatable combination. And
if people help each other and invest into each other, you have a
true cooperation. And what you win is more pride and joy in your
If you give trust to people and you give them responsibility to
take their own decisions, they will act as if the company or the
product was their own. They will help you make it a success and
they will stick to you in times of crisis. What you win is shared
responsibilities and less sorrows.
If you encourage ideas and if people are allowed to take risks
and make mistakes to learn something, you will have a very high
level of innovation and problem solving.
Let’s say you have a product that you want to be built and
developed. What will happen if we give it to team cover my ass?
What will come out of it? I think … not much. Certainly not a very
innovative solution. What will happen if we give it to team trust?
Most likely, your product will develop and grow.
Innovation very often leads to economic growth too. You will
gain more clients and more employees because you are
recommended. And if your clients trust you, they will give you
more important and strategic work. But most importantly, your
product will not stand still. It will improve continually, develop
and grow. So the main beneﬁt you gain out if building trust, is
Now let me end with my very personal view on my journey in
earning my clients trust. I invested a lot of time, and even more
courage. It was not always easy to be so honest and show
myself. And I suﬀered failure, I failed so many times. I was
disappointed and sometimes truly hurt by people. But I gained
so much serenity, pride and joy. Because when you work with
people who you trust, it is a pure pleasure.
But what was most important to me was, that I gained freedom.
If you earn somebody’s trust, you gain the freedom to explore
new things. And you gain the freedom to change something. And
that’s what I always want: change something and make it better.
MARIKE CARSTENS, HAVVA KARADENIZ, ULRIKE BIERL,
MARIA RAO, ANTONIO TOMO, KRISTIAN KANTHAK,
CHRISTIAN STOCKER, ELISA CHOI AND LISE FRISCHKNECHT
THE TRUSTWORTHY LEADER BY AMY LYMAN, 50 WAYS TO GET
A JOB, KIM GOODWIN ON UX LEADERSHIP
ENCOURAGEMENT, HELP AND SUPPORT FROM
PHILIPP EGLI, SILVIA MARIA JUNG, RITA BARRACHA
AND THE WHOLE UX LAUSANNE TEAM