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Rebuilding Trust Can Take Time And A Firm Commitment

Coach's Corner--March 31, 2008

The Client
Name: Rose
Age: 38
Title: Technology manager
Years in business: 10 years (two in current role)
Industry: Biotech
Issue: Rebuilding trust after a breach
Q. Yikes! I’ve really damaged a relationship that is important to my career success. I’ve apologized and made a commitment to improve the relationship (in person) — can you suggest additional ideas for rebuilding trust going forward?

A.  Rather than an on-off switch, authentic trust is a dynamic relationship between people that can be restored through communication and effort. Moreover, a trusting relationship recognizes the risk that it can be broken but has the resilience to move past the breach. You’ve made important steps through your apology and commitment to improvement. Now it’s time to make good on your commitment.

The inner game
Start by exploring the nature of the breach in trust, looking carefully at the inner dynamics that caused you to damage the relationship. Different issues may underlie a betrayal — for example, disclosure of confidential information vs. failing to follow through on your commitments. Regardless of the type, examine the reasons for your behavior. You may find that you were overcommitted and afraid to admit it, that you showed a lack of self-control in keeping information to yourself, or that you didn’t have the skills needed to do what you promised. Look at why you violated the trust, and take the necessary developmental steps to avoid this vulnerability in the future.

The outer game
You’ve already opened the door by reaching out to the person you wronged. However, it’s important to determine whether they’re committed to the relationship so that you can begin rebuilding the trust. If they’re not committed, then focus on trying to engage them by starting a candid conversation about the nature of trust and your commitment to working together. Try sharing some of your new understanding about why you broke their trust. Also, to be trusted again, show your trust in your colleague; this requires risk-taking on your part in starting the dialogue and building new commitments.

Once you have a shared commitment, move on to interactions, selecting ones that require less trust on their part but that demonstrate your reliability. For example, you may offer to assist on a lower-risk project than the one on which you dropped the ball. Then give your best possible performance and follow up with them on the outcomes. Gradually, seek higher-stakes opportunities until you’ve restored your reputation.

If you have a very serious breach of trust to remedy, you may have a longer path ahead. The key is to engage with the other person to determine what you could do to regain their confidence. If you’ve divulged confidential information, your colleague will have to decide to trust you again, perhaps with less-sensitive information. As they see that you can be relied on, then you can rebuild, possibly to an even deeper level of trust.

The last word
Restoring trust is always possible, if each side has good intentions. And, if you’re successful in rebuilding trust, you’ll help develop an organizational culture of authentic trust, one that’ll move your business on to even greater success.

 



Liz Reyer, President RCC - Posted March 31, 2008
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