Trust: key to a successful vendor/client relationship

Tobin Conley | 05.20.14
Topics: Project Management

A recently published book explores the concept of trust and offers some important lessons for those seeking to establish lasting relationships – both personal and professional – based on this fundamental human interaction. In The Truth About Trust, David DeSteno explores some of the key factors underlying how trust is established between individuals and groups.

DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University where he directs the Social Emotions Group, is a fellow of the Association for Psychological Science and serves as editor-in-chief for the American Psychological Association’s journal Emotion.

In the book, he presents two key traits that are central to creating and sustaining trust: competence and reliability.

Competence – whether a person appears informed and experienced – is noted as a pre-qualifier for trustworthiness due to a number of instances indicating that a strong correlation exists. For example, studies show that children instinctively prefer knowledgeable teachers to those who are considered ‘friendly’ and that adults often tend to elect officials who appear ‘in control.’

The second factor, reliability, is a bit trickier, as it involves the prediction of future actions. However, a good proxy for this may be a person’s past record. In other words, how trustworthy they have proven to be in the past? (Keeping in mind, as is commonly mentioned in financial commercials, “past performance is no guarantee of future results.”)


While breaches of trust can and do happen, DeSteno says that the best approach is to be realistic, honest, and forgiving – with both yourself and others.

So, what does this all have to do with associations and their vendor partners? When looking to establish a new relationship with a vendor for an AMS, CMS, or other technology engagement, it pays to recognize what can establish trust from the outset in such a setting.

If you are a client, looking for those who exhibit strong competence and subject mastery in the field where you seek help will be a critical factor in the decision-making process. Also important is the reliability factor, often best illustrated by strong references, both formal and informal.

If you are a vendor, being open and honest in these two areas will go a long way toward laying the foundation for trust and subsequently a long-term relationship with the client.

It might sound simple – and in some ways, it is – but it can make the world of difference in terms of whether a vendor-client relationship endures or goes south in a hurry.

Flickr photo by ucirvine

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