Broken trust is one of the most devastating realities a leader can face, yet it’s an issue that inevitably crops up in any workplace. If you find yourself in the unenviable position of needing to repair damaged trust after something has gone awry, there are ways to get your team back on track and open up the channels of communication throughout your organization.
Let’s dive in to explore how leaders can diagnose and resolve broken trust among their teams for better productivity and morale. From clearly outlining expectations to implementing better decision-making protocols, learn what measures you should take when trying to restore faith between co-workers and management alike.
First of all, recognizing that trust is broken is precisely where the magic happens. We all make mistakes and will inevitably cause a breakdown of trust at some point. However, it’s what we do with our mistakes that really matters. Most of us feel pain and shame when we hurt others, especially people who report to us. It’s important to recognize and lean into that raw pain to find growth and connection waiting for us: We can rebuild trust through pain, and that helps elevate us as leaders. The pain of broken trust often serves as a catalyst for growth, regeneration and transformation.
1. Repair Starts With You
With great leadership comes great responsibility. Leaders make a conscious choice to lead, and therefore have a responsibility to do so. One of the most critical job duties as a leader is to focus on daily trust-increasing activities, especially when consciously repairing the damage from broken trust. You, the leader, carry the sole responsibility for your actions and must begin the trust-rebuilding by offering a heartfelt apology. Leaders cannot expect to be trusted if they don’t start with the intention to trust — it’s a two-way street.
2. Apologize and Acknowledge
Simply saying “I’m sorry” isn’t enough to repair trust once it’s broken — but it’s the best place to start. Always begin with a sincere and authentic apology, then acknowledge the part you played in the situation. Accept and recognize your wrongdoing and explain how the issue came to be. Then name the steps that you are going to take to ensure that it won’t happen again. Once you’ve taken responsibility, you can then start to rebuild trust.
3. Meet People Where They Are
“How do you want me to be with you right now?”
This simple question will quickly tumble down the walls of insecurity and hurt. Simple, yet so incredibly powerful, it allows all parties to express their needs, which are likely different from your own. And it shows that you’re willing to be flexible and accommodating to regain trust. This question also level-sets expectations and prevents misunderstandings. Discussing feelings at work can be challenging, especially in organizations where employees and leaders don’t often talk about personal issues, but it can absolutely be critical at times.
4. Trust Takes Time
Trust is the cornerstone of all relationships and is the essential ingredient that allows people to work together effectively and efficiently. When trust is lacking, people are reluctant to communicate and share ideas, stifling creativity and collaboration. Tending to trust regularly requires commitment and time.
Some ideas are committing to regular one-on-one check-ins with your direct reports, and making sure they are holding regular check-ins with their direct reports, too. Team building exercises are fun and essential moments to put work aside and spend some time getting to know people on a personal level. Research shows that it’s much easier to trust people we know personally, so it’s important to take the time to develop interpersonal relationships on your teams. And finally, I empower you to make a company-wide declaration to commit to open and honest communication, as this is the very best way to actively build and sustain trust in the workplace.
Leaders face an immense challenge in rebuilding trust with their employees once it has been broken. It can be hard to know where to start when trying to mend the trust that has been lost, but there are steps organizations, and the leaders within them, can take to regain confidence in the workplace environment.
There’s no quick fix to regaining trust, but by following the trust formula outlined above, you’ll be on the path toward repair. Remember: It starts with you, always apologize and acknowledge, meet people where they are and know that trust takes time. No matter your level of experience or area of expertise, you can restore trust on your team and improve performance as a result.