Give Freely to Gain Trust and Attention

What’s the first thing that goes through your head when you meet a prospective client, sit down at the keyboard to write an article, or walk up to the podium to give a talk? What motivates you?

For many (too many) of us, it’s the desire to come across as smart, knowledgeable and polished. It’s natural to be internally focused. But being motivated by the desire to leave an individual or audience dazzled typically has the opposite effect.

I recently attended a conference and at one of the opening cocktail parties I completely forgot this lesson. I engaged in conversation with a nice gentleman and we chatted at each other instead of genuinely listening to what the other person was saying. Instead of probing for common interests, we focused on getting our points across. It ended up being a waste of time, full of awkward pauses and poorly delivered “elevator speeches.”

This poor interaction reminded me of what it takes to have a positive one: We benefit far more when we seek nothing in return. When we share our time, attention and wisdom freely, with no reciprocal expectations, we build relationships of the best kind – the ones built on a strong foundation of trust.

So the next time you approach an interaction, be it in person or via the written word, ask yourself a simple question: How much can I give my audience without expecting anything in return?


There are many ways in which this “give freely” principle manifests in positive ways for lawyers looking to build a book of business. One of the clearest examples is in the arena of content marketing and thought leadership.

Many lawyers, before ever trying, make assumptions that they simply don’t have time to participate in the marketplace of ideas, or that the time spent creating content doesn’t produce sufficient return on investment. After all, there’s work to be done, and every hour spent creating content is time that could be spent billing hours.

In one sense, lawyers who hold this belief are right. In the near-term their numbers may not look as good as they otherwise would. But this is the type of short-term thinking that leads lawyers to get stuck at a certain level, working for suboptimal clients. Years pass, and other lawyers – who are no smarter and no more qualified – pass them by.

For lawyers in it for the long haul, one of the surest, but certainly not the fastest, routes to advancement is through giving freely of their knowledge and expertise. The consistent grind of putting out valuable content in places where key audiences spend time and attention is a path (not the only one, but one that has the potential to scale) to broadly building trust and a reputation for excellence.

Too often lawyers fail to take a long-term approach to developing business and personal brand. They want results, defined as relationships, money and accolades, right now. They have a tendency to overestimate how much they can get done in a day, and underestimate what they can get done in a year. They never seem to get to the 1,500 word article they want to write and that languishes at the bottom of their daily to-do list, so eventually they just give up. And they fail to appreciate that if they just write 150 words per day they would have a full-length book done in a year, altering the trajectory of their career as a result.

Developing business and building a personal brand is the long game. That’s no great insight. But what’s important to take away from this is an understanding that the long game you have to play is one that disproportionately favors the other side. You have to give freely – sometimes for years – before you can have a reasonable expectation of reciprocity. But once that tipping point happens, the dividends start flowing and don’t stop. There’s a long tail to the long-term game of building a powerful personal brand.

Want to get started building a powerful personal brand? Download my free Personal Brand Building Workbook that will help you assess your strengths and begin projecting them to the marketplace.