Building trust differs between men and women

  • June 16, 2014
  • Cristi Cooke

Lawyers and law firms alike should incorporate female-friendly strategies into marketing and business development activities. For example, historically effective client events such as golf tournaments and hockey games are usually not as effective for courting female clients. Both lawyers and their firms need to consider the age-old question: “What do women want?”

Whether male or female, clients don’t differ in terms of their business challenges and legal problems. However, men and women do tend to differ in some of the building blocks of trust: in how they communicate, in the way they socialize and build relationships, and in the realities of their time pressures. Lawyers who observe, understand, and adjust to how the patterns of building trust differ between men and women will build stronger client relationships, and will develop these relationships faster.

Understanding how to build trust is crucial. According to David Maister, author of The Trusted Advisor, the more your client trusts you, the more they’ll reach for your advice, act on your recommendations, share more information, refer you to their friends and business acquaintances, and give you the benefit of the doubt. So how can lawyers adapt to female clients’ building blocks of trust? Here are three key areas to put on your radar screen.

1. Be aware of how women socialize and build relationships.

Typically, men build relationships by doing activities together, whereas women build relationships by sharing conversation together. Put another way, men tend to build relationships shoulder-to-shoulder, while women tend to build relationships face-to-face. This might be why sporting events like golf tournaments and hockey games work well with male clients, but tickets can go unused and be unappreciated by their female counterparts. Although many women like golf and hockey, women are typically more attracted to events that empower, educate, and entertain, while still allowing time to connect with those who will add value to their networks. Consider wine-tasting or cooking classes, and invite a mixed crowd. Host a socializer before or after the event, and consider sending the invitation list to her in advance, so that she can prepare to network with those who add value to her business. Above all else, use the opportunity to converse and connect with her “face-to-face,” not “shoulder-to-shoulder.”

2. Be aware of how women communicate, and adapt your style.

Linguist Deborah Tannen, in her book You Just Don’t Understand, suggests that men are report-talkers and women are rapport-talkers. In other words, men tend to use language more often to talk about data, facts, and information in order to prove and demonstrate expertise; whereas women tend to use language more often to build or maintain relationships by finding things in common, by sharing experiences, and by simply feeling understood.

When observing a rapport-style of speaking in your female client, try adjusting to it. Ask questions that will allow her to feel understood, such as “What’s keeping you up at night with respect to this area of your business?” or “Tell me about what particular event or idea caused you to pick up the phone and call me.” Visit her at her office (don’t bill for this visit) to demonstrate that you want to understand her and her business, not just her tightly defined legal problem.

3. Deliver solutions that address her time pressures.

According to Statistics Canada, married working women spend 2.2 hours per day on household and childcare duties, while their male counterparts spend 1.4 hours per day. Businesswomen are significantly more time-pressured than their male counterparts, and your ability to respond to this fact can be a heavily weighted factor when she is deciding whether to do business with you…or your competitor.

Acknowledge and validate her time pressures. Start meetings by saying, “I know you must have a million other priorities – thank you for meeting with me.” Instead of giving her a free computer bag with your logo on it, give her a gift certificate for a personal chef or a personal shopper at Christmastime. Audit your business processes: do you save time by sending agendas and checklists in advance of meetings? Are your bills perfectly clear, so she doesn’t have to spend time calling to discuss them? Pay attention to the small details that add up to consume her limited time. Time is a precious commodity for everyone, but particularly for women who work full-time and still do the vast majority of child-care and household duties.

Although we know that not all women are the same, if we can observe and respond to patterns of behaviour, we can form trust, and thus do a better job of serving our clients. Remember that marketing to women is not limited to spa days or designing pink brochures. Understanding fundamental patterns in women’s communication styles, socializing styles, and time pressures is a more enduring way to form trust.

Copyright 2007 Cristi Cooke. All rights reserved.

Cristi Cooke is president of Majority Marketing (, a consulting firm that shows clients exactly how to gain market share by understanding one of the fastest-growing, yet untapped, markets in North America - women. Cristi recently presented research results and recommendations at the CBA’s "Leading the Canadian Law Firm in the 21st Century" conference in Halifax. Contact Cristi at, or call 1-613-321-1503.