At some point in our lives, we all have encountered a situation in which either your trust has been broken by someone else or you have broken someone’s trust. This is just a factor of life and can stem from many sources, some of which are unintentional. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that trust can be broken in the workplace just as easily as it can in our personal lives.
Broken Trust in the Workplace
Examples of broken trust in the workplace can originate in several ways:
A commitment that was agreed upon has been changed unexpectedly, leaving one party in a vulnerable position.
Throwing another employee under the bus (with or without an expectation to gain something).
Going out of one's way to cover up a mistake (to perhaps defer blame).
Withholding information, providing a benefit from the other party not knowing.
In each of the examples above, the manner in which the trust-breaker is viewed no longer resembles the relationship prior to the event trigger. The dynamic is different and now the person whose trust has been broken naturally begins to doubt every message from the trust-breaker.
The sad part about this situation is more often than not, the underlying intent was not to break trust and sometimes simply reflects making a bad choice or decision. What makes things even sadder is that the frequency of such events is higher on a daily scale than a weekly, monthly, or yearly basis.
So, how do we move forward when trust is broken and the working relationship needs to continue?
How to Build Trust Back
While it may be expected that the trust-breaker be the person to initiate the trust building process, a true leader would not wait for that event to happen. After all, the key is to move away from this scenario and get back to a stable working relationship. In order to build the trust back, the following concepts below should be considered:
Here, all parties are open and honest about what happened to cause the trust to be broken. It is important to be able to openly talk about the situation — being hard on what happened, taking the personal emotions and feelings out of the conversation at this point (as much as possible).
This part of the discussion talks about the driver behind trust being broken. This is a continuation of the honesty section but dives deeper into the driving reasons for the decision. Going through this exercise can help everyone understand the context behind the action and may even reveal deeper issues that need to be discussed (or at least revealed).
After discussing the issues at hand, some form of acceptance needs to happen. In some cases, this can occur with not only the trust-breaker but the other party as well. At this point, everyone involved has accepted a situation in history that cannot be changed.
The final step is the process to renew the working relationship. We have all heard terms like "forget the past" or "wipe the slate clean." This is basically the "ask" for this step. Of course, it is rare for a human being to truly be able to give the working relationship a fresh start, especially depending on the severity of the level of trust that was broken. Both parties need to understand that building the trust back may not be an instantaneous event and that substantial time will be required. In the meantime, the following attributes should be exhibited by the trust-breaker:
Dependable. The trust-breaker should be willing to go the extra mile to show they are focused on building the trust back.
Dedicated. The trust-breaker will exhibit a level of dedication much higher than before the trust was broken.
Responsible. The trust-breaker will take on more responsibility to prove that the event was a historic event and not something that will be repeated.
Unfortunately, trust being broken is a common event in today's workplace. However, true leaders should recognize these situations as areas to improve and be apt to correct such issues even when their trust is the trust that was broken. As long as both parties see the value in building the trust back, in time trust should be able to be restored.