Ten Concrete Steps to Rebuild Trust

April 23, 2019

Several authors (including Stephen M.R. Covey) have suggested that trust between people is like a bank account. The balance is what determines the level of trust at any point in time, and it is directional.

I might trust you today more than you trust me. We make deposits and withdrawals in the trust account nearly every day with the things we say and do. Usually the deposits are made in small steps that add up to a large balance over time.

Unfortunately, withdrawals can be massive due to what I call “The Ratchet Effect.” All prior trust may be wiped out quickly. Nobody is happy when trust is lost.

I believe trust withdrawals can lead to a long term higher level of trust if they are handled well. Just as in a marriage when there is a major falling out, if the situation is handled well by both parties in a cooperative spirit, the problem can lead to an even stronger relationship in the long term.

Let’s investigate ten steps that can allow the speedy rebuilding of trust.

1. Act Swiftly

Major trust withdrawals can be devastating, and the trauma needs to be treated as quickly as possible. Just as a severe bodily injury requires immediate emergency care, so does the bleeding of emotional capital need to be stopped after a major letdown. The situation is not going to heal by itself, so both parties need to set aside normal routines in order to focus significant energy on regaining equilibrium.

2. Verify care

Both people should spend some time remembering what the relationship felt like before the problem. In most cases there is a true caring for the other person, even if it is eclipsed by the current hurt and anger. It may be a stretch for some people to mentally set aside the issue, but it would be helpful to do that, if just as an exercise.

If the problem had never happened, would these people care about each other? If one person cannot recognize at least the potential for future care, then the remedial process is blocked until that happens.

3. Establish a desire to do something about it

If reparations are to be made, both people must cooperate. If there was high value in the relationship before the breach, then it should be possible to visualize a return to the same level or higher level of trust.

It may seem out of reach if the problem was a major let down, but it is critical that both parties really want the hurt to be resolved.

4. Admit fault and accept blame

The person who made the breach needs to admit what happened to the other person. If there is total denial of what occurred, then no progress can be made. Try to do this without trying to justify the action.

Focus on what happened, even if it was an innocent gaffe. Often there is an element of fault on the part of both parties, but even if one person is the only one who did anything wrong, an understanding of fault is needed in this step.

Sometimes neither party did anything particularly wrong, but the circumstances led to trust being lost.

5. Disagree without being disagreeable

If both parties cannot agree on exactly what happened, it is not the end of trust forever.  The first rule is to disagree with a constructive spirit while assuming the best intent on the part of the other person.

Suspend judgment on culpability, if necessary, to keep the investigation on the positive side. This is a part of caring for the other person and the relationship.

6. Ask for forgiveness

It sounds so simple, but many people find it impossible to verbalize the request for forgiveness, yet a pardon is exactly what has to happen to enable the healing process.

The problem is that saying “I forgive you” is easy to say but might be hard to do when emotions are raw. True and full forgiveness is not likely to happen until the final healing process has occurred. At this point it is important to affirm that forgiveness is at least possible.

7. Determine the cause

This is a kind of investigative phase where it is important to know what happened in order to make progress. It is a challenge to remain calm and be as objective with the facts as possible.

Normally, the main emotion is one of pain, but anger will often accompany the pain. Both people need to describe what happened, because the view from one side will be significantly different from the opposite view.

Go beyond describing what happened, and discuss how you felt about what happened. Do not cut this discussion off until both parties have exhausted their descriptions of what occurred and how they felt about it.

Sometimes it helps in this stage to do some reverse role playing where each person tries to verbalize the situation from the perspective of the other.

8. Develop a positive path forward

The next step is the mutual problem solving process. Often two individuals try to do this without the preparatory work done above, which is more difficult.

The thing to ask in this phase is “what would have to happen to restore your trust in me to at least the level where it was before.” Here, some creativity can really help.

You are looking for a win-win solution where each party feels some real improvement has been made. Do not stop looking for solutions just because it is difficult to find them.

If you have gotten this far, there is going to be some set of things that can begin the healing process. Develop a path forward together. What new behaviors are you both going to exhibit with each other to start fresh.

9. Agree to take action

There needs to be a formal agreement to take corrective action. Usually this agreement requires modified behaviors on the part of both people.

Be as specific as possible about what you and the other person are going to do differently. The only way to hold each other accountable for progress is to have a clear understanding of what will be different.

10. Check back on progress

Keep verifying that the new behaviors are working and modify them, if needed, to make positive steps every day.

As the progress continues, it will start getting easier, and the momentum will increase. Make sure to smell the roses along the way. It is important to celebrate progress as it occurs, because that reinforcement will encourage continued progress.

If there is a another set-back, it is time to cycle back on the steps above and not give up on the relationship just because the healing process is a challenging one.

In many cases, it is possible to restore trust to a higher level than existed before the breach. This method is highly dependent on the sincerity with which each person really does want the benefits of a high trust relationship with the other person.

That outcome is really good news because it allows a significant trust withdrawal to become an opportunity instead of a disaster.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


It’s Faux Trust

September 28, 2013

?????????????????I get a lot of gift catalogs and always chuckle when they advertise the “faux plants.” Why they do not call them “fake plants” is pretty obvious. Nobody would want to buy something fake, so they give the items a fancy name as if that is really going to fool anyone. They keep doing it, so the method must be working for them.

I work in the arena of trust, and I think the notion of “faux trust” is one worth exploring. Stephen M.R. Covey dealt with the topic of faux trust behaviors very well in his first book, The Speed of Trust. Stephen identified 13 key trust behaviors and then identified the opposite behavior and also what he called the “counterfeit” behavior: one that looks real but is not genuine. Here is the list from Stephen’s book.

Trust Behavior –  Opposite –  Counterfeit

1. Talk straight –  Lie or deceive –  Withholding information
2. Demonstrate respect –  Not respect –  Faking respect
3. Create transparency –  Cover up –  Hidden agendas
4. Right wrongs –  Justify wrongs –  Covering up or hiding
5. Show loyalty –  Take credit yourself – Being two-faced
6. Deliver results –  Perform poorly –  Doing busywork
7. Get better –  Deteriorate –  Eternal student
8. Confront reality –  Ignore reality –  Evade reality
9. Clarify expectations –  Leave undefined –  Guessing
10. Practice accountability –  Not taking responsibility –  Blaming others
11. Listen first –  Speak first –  False listening
12. Keep commitments –  Violate promises –  Overpromising
13. Extend trust –  Withhold trust –  Extend false trust

In this article, I will pick up where Stephen’s list leaves off. I want to explore the issue of false trust and see what it looks like. If you look at a faux potted plant very closely, you can determine that it is plastic rather than real leaves and stems. Often the one thing that gives away the ruse is that the “Faux plant” is too perfect. Real plants have some imperfections or dead parts that show up under close examination. So it is with faux trust; the appearance is too perfect for the real world, and that becomes one of the telltale ways we can identify the fake. Let’s look at 10 examples:

1. The issue of risk. Real trust involves a willingness to take some calculated risks. Actually, that is one of the ways trust is defined. If I really do trust a person, then I do not need to see whether he is sneaking behind my back. When Ronald Reagan uttered the words “Trust but verify,” he was revealing a kind of faux trust toward the Russians. It sounded too perfect, and it was.

2. The issue of safety. True trust means the absence of fear. If I trust my boss not to clobber me when I have a contrarian opinion, that means I believe he will not find some way to get back at me. Too often leaders indicate that it is safe to challenge the boss, but end up punishing people when they do it. People quickly learn the plea for openness is really a smoke screen, and they clam up.

3. The issue of hypocrisy. Real trust means the leader always does what he says he will do. It is easy to spot the faux variety of trust when the boss rationalizes why he is bending the rules in his favor. It is always possible to explain away the situation, but the damage done to trust will remain like the smell of a skunk long after the animal has left the area.

4. The issue of favorites. Trust is built on a sense of fairness where people recognize why things are being done a certain way. Ironically, it does not rely on treating everyone the same way. In fact, the late John Wooden, former basketball coach for UCLA, made a remarkable statement about favorites. He said, “The surest way for a coach to play favorites is to treat every player the same way.” That sounds like doubletalk until you realize that each player has unique needs, so treating each player the same as every other one will inevitably advantage one player over another.

5. The issue of the Golden Rule. Faux trust relies on treating people the way you would like to be treated. Some people like to use the “Platinum Rule,” which states “treat other people the way they would like to be treated,” but that one does not work either. The true trust relies on treating every individual the right way, not always how you or they would like to be treated.

6. The issue of accountability. Faux trust means holding people accountable when they do something wrong. True trust means giving feedback when an employee does something right as well as when she does something wrong.

7. The issue of sustainability. Faux trust means giving lip service to the environment and doing so to be politically correct. Genuine trust means always displaying a deep respect for the implications of one’s actions on the planet and acting that way always.

8. The issue of values. True trust means actually living the values each day and explaining to people why certain actions are consistent with those values. Faux trust means there is a set of values on the wall, but we really do not act consistent with them in some cases.

9. The issue of care. Faux trust means leaders talk a good game about really caring for employees, but tolerate huge multiples of more than 500 times between their salary and those of the workers. Real trust means not giving lip service to the issue of caring for others.

10. The issue of admitting mistakes. Faux trust means finding ways to hide the mistakes, pretend they did not happen, blame them on circumstances or other people, and find ways to understate their significance. True trust behavior readily admits mistakes because the leader recognizes that to admit a mistake makes her more human and therefore nearly always increases respect and trust.

I could go on with dozens of additional examples of faux trust versus the real thing. People in any workforce pick up on any inconsistency on the part of leaders. Their eyes are well trained to spot the plastic trust. Once they see the shrub as a fake plant, then from that point on, they will see the decoration for what it is. True, they do not need to water and tend the plant and it will always look reasonable, just as people in a low trust organization will dutifully comply with whatever rules the boss mandates.

The true test of leadership is to have the courage and strength to deliver genuine trust in every case. Let the competition deal with the faux variety of trust.