6 Steps to Rebuild Broken Trust

Trust Under ConstructionI believe most leaders strive to be trustworthy. There aren’t too many leaders who wake up in the morning, roll out of bed and say to themselves, “Hmmm…I think I’ll try to break someone’s trust today!” Yet even in spite of our best intentions, there will be times when we damage the level of trust in our relationships. Sometimes it’s due to our own stupidity when we make choices that we know are wrong or hurtful to others. Other times we unknowingly erode trust by engaging in behaviors that others interpret as untrustworthy. Regardless of how it happens, breaking trust in a relationship is a serious matter. When a breach of trust occurs, there are six steps a leader should take to repair the relationship:

  1. Acknowledge that trust has been broken. As we’ve learned from the success of the twelve-step recovery process, acknowledging that there is a problem is the first step to healing. Don’t use the “ostrich technique” of burying your head in the sand and hoping the situation will resolve itself because it won’t. The longer you wait to address the situation, the more people will perceive your weakness as wickedness.
  2. Admit your role in causing the breach of trust. For some leaders this may be a challenging step. It’s one thing to acknowledge that there is a problem, it’s a whole other thing to admit you caused it. Our ego and false pride are usually what prevent us from admitting our mistakes. Muster up the courage, humble yourself, and own up to your actions. This will pay huge dividends down the road as you work to rebuild trust.
  3. Apologize for what happened. A sincere apology involves admitting your mistake, accepting responsibility, asking for forgiveness, and taking steps to make amends to the offended party. Explaining the reasons why something happened is fine, but don’t make excuses by trying to shift the blame to something or someone other than yourself.
  4. Assess where the breakdown in trust happened using the TrustWorks! ABCD Trust Model. Did you erode trust by not being Able, Believable, Connected, or Dependable? People form perceptions of our trustworthiness when we use, or don’t use, behaviors that align with these four elements of trust. Knowing the specific element of trust you violated will help you take specific actions to fix the problem.
  5. Amend the situation by taking corrective action to repair any damage that has been done, and create an action plan for how you’ll improve in the future. Your attempts at rebuilding trust will be stalled unless you take this critical step to demonstrate noticeable changes in behavior.
  6. Accountable behavior will be the ultimate determinant of your success. You can apologize until the cows come home and promise not to break trust again, but if your actions don’t align with your words, trust will never be restored. Build accountability measures into your trust-building plan to lessen the chance you’ll repeat the trust-busting behavior.

You can’t control the outcome of this process and there is no guarantee that following these steps will restore trust in the relationship. However, the important thing is that you have made the effort to improve yourself as a leader. You’ll be able to lay your head on the pillow at night with a clear conscience that you’ve done everything under your power to cultivate the soil for trust to once again grow and flourish.

Randy Conley is the V.P. of Client Services and Trust Practice Leader at The Ken Blanchard Companies and his LeaderChat posts normally appear the fourth or last Thursday of every month. For more insights on trust and leadership, visit Randy at his Leading with Trust blog or follow him on Twitter @RandyConley.

11 thoughts on “6 Steps to Rebuild Broken Trust

  1. Interesting article Randy. I think it is rather important that you should engage fully and sincerely with the other person, it is a relationship after all! Trust means different things to different people and what is needed to rebuild trust is rather dependent on what the person who now distrusts you thinks.

    • Colin – you make an excellent point that trust is based on individual perspective. Trust means something slightly different to each of us, and unless we have a common language or model that defines trust, it can be hard to be on the same page. That’s the power of the ABCD Trust Model; it provides that common definition of trust.

      Thanks for adding your insights!


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