There are many who believe that once trust has been breached or broken it can never be repaired, at least not to the level that returns the relationship to it’s former state. I absolutely agree with that. Except I believe that while the relationship will never be the same, that does not have to mean it will be worse.
In fact, I believe that in the process of restoring trust you can actually build a relationship that is stronger than it was before. Repairing trust is hard work, but breakdowns provide an incredible opportunity for us to reassess our relationships and make changes in our we interact and work together to make us far more effective going forward.
It is easy to trust someone who has never let us down. But if we are taking any level of risk at all there will be breakdowns, some of which will be caused by us. And rarely do we act fully alone – some breakdowns will happen because we have pushed the boundaries of what is possible given the dynamic of our existing relationships. Unless we use the inevitable breakdowns in an uncertain, rapidly changing world to learn how to trust each other more, we won’t grow to meet the challenges we face, let alone be prepared to take the risks required to do the extraordinary together.
The opportunity of leveraging breakdowns in trust to fuel breakthroughs in relationship is not just a nice possibility. It is an essential skill for thriving in a world that increasingly depends on or ability to cooperate and collaborate to be successful.
Below are a few suggestions for how to begin the process of re-building trust. Jane also provides some great suggestions specifically focused on rebuilding credibility in her post.
Admit You Screwed Up, And Leave Out the Good Reasons
Giving good reasons for why we screwed up is tempting and has even become somewhat of a practice in our culture. But explaining our reasons just serves to deflect our responsibility in the matter. It doesn’t help build trust and all too often reasons are used in an attempt to let ourselves off the hook from taking personal responsibility and/or somehow make us feel better. This leads me to the next point.
Don’t Just Apologize, Demonstrate Personal Responsibility
In an excellent post titled Credibility: Don’t Leave Home without It Jane Perdue leads off with this…
Said by a perplexed employee to a co-worker: “When will my boss get off my case? Sure, I made a huge mistake last month that nearly caused the client to drop us, and I was a little late to tell my boss about it. I’ve apologized and am changing my ways, but my boss keeps questioning everything I do. He’s treating me like I’m a new employee.”
Expecting an apology to be enough to regain trust is a big mistake. It is a great place to start, but admitting we screwed up, expressing remorse and saying we are sorry is not the same as taking personal responsibility for the impact of our actions. To do that we need to seek to fully understand the impact and contribute to repairing the damage done. We need to come to the table with our head held high as a partner in dealing effectively with the aftermath rather than head hung low with guilt in the hope that eventually all will be forgiven. Don’t let your mistakes or failure to keep your commitments become someone else’s problem.
Own Your Gap
Beware of the cover up. When we screw up, especially in a corporate setting that pulls for us to look good, it can be tempting to write off what happened as an aberration in our behavior or to try to prove ourselves by demonstrating just how much we know or how “good” we are overall. Most people won’t lost faith in you for a mistake or two even if they are big ones. But they will be unlikely to trust you for long if you don’t do some soul searching and identify the gap(s) in your capabilities and mindset that contributed to the breakdown. Share what you learn and go to work on what you need to learn until it actually shows up in new behavior.
What do you think? Do you think trust can be repaired? If so, what are your suggestions for how to go about it?