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What Every Leader Needs to Do to Restore Trust Once It's Broken

    Trust seems to have gone missing these days in almost every aspect of society. The value of it in relationships has been taken for granted, and many people have a wait-and-see attitude about trusting others. There are those who say, "I'll trust you until you give me a reason not to", and there are others who say, "I'll trust you when you prove you're trustworthy." It takes a very long time to get people to a level of comfort where they can let their guard down and be less judgmental about a person's integrity. However, once trust is broken--and it can result from a single egregious act--it may never be restored. Even if it is, it's not likely to make it to full restoration. There's likely to be the barrier of a small amount of lingering doubt along with the memory of the pain felt from the betrayal.
So what needs to happen to weld together a new relationship. The old one has been damaged so something new must happen. Three things in particular will help if this applies to you:
  1. Be accountable. Confess your mistake, faulty thinking, poor behavior or whatever the cause of why things went wrong for which you were responsible. You're more likely to earn a person's respect faster if you're honest about your role in causing the break. Passing the buck, being defensive, and making excuses only deepen an already open wound. Own your part and apologize sincerely.
  2. Be transparent. Since you are on a quest to improve trust, you should let the people who matter know that you're making this a priority. Tell the party or parties you offended that you plan to do better, and then share those plans specifically. For example, if I took credit for a colleague's idea because I was trying to impress a boss who treats me like I'm invisible, I have to let that colleague know that I realize what I did was wrong. I apologize and tell the colleague that I want to restore trust between us. I tell her that the way I plan to do this is to go back to the boss and give her the credit she deserves. Then I promise never to do such a selfish thing again--and in the future, I don't!
  3. Be consistent. Trust restoration must be under construction at all times for whatever amount of time it takes for the other side to feel confident again. Therefore, making sure that you are consistently demonstrating the behavior you promised in step two is a must. Those who were affected by lost trust need to see you acting on your promises. They need to see your efforts to be trustworthy again. They should be able to say without wavering, "I see you working hard at restoring what we lost, and I am willing to trust you again." You should give people permission to provide you with feedback on your efforts and the status of the relationship. And if you're doing it right, restoration can take place.
    Rebuilding trust is difficult and at times painful. But the alternative is much worse. Though the journey may be long and even awkward, the final payoff will be worth the work. Is there a need for restoration of trust in relationships in your organization? If so, let me know what you're doing to make it better.


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