Five Steps to Repair Broken Trust

I believe that 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 five 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.

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.

I recommend reading Ken Blanchard’s “The 4th Secret of the One Minute Manager” as an elegantly simple reminder of the power of an effective apology.

About Randy Conley

Randy is the Vice President of Client Services & Trust Practice Leader for The Ken Blanchard Companies. He works with clients around the globe helping them design & deliver training and consulting solutions that build trust in the workplace and oversees Blanchard's client delivery operations. He has been named a Top 100 Thought Leader in Trustworthy Business Behavior by Trust Across America. Randy holds a Masters Degree in Executive Leadership from the University of San Diego and enjoys spending time with his family, bike riding, and playing golf. You can follow Randy on Twitter @RandyConley where he shares thoughts on leadership and trust.
This entry was posted in ABCD Trust Model, Apology, Integrity, Leadership, Relationships, Repairing Trust, Trust, TrustWorks!. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Five Steps to Repair Broken Trust

  1. brieaynna says:

    That’s fine if I am the one who initiated the breaking of trust. What if I am at the receiving end? What if someone does something to destroy the relationship between us? Do I send that person a copy of this blog article and wait? Other than a lot of prayer about the situation, what does one do?

  2. kathryn says:

    5 months ago my husbands two older sons (from a previous marriage) and the mothers of four grandchildren sent him an email telling him that they were cutting off contact with the grandchildren.Reasons given was their displeasure as to how we were raising the youngest two children, decisions that pertained to our marriage relationship and my personal reactions to situations that they did not approve of. We have sought counseling and one of them is showing signs of wanting to rebuild a relationship. I am not so sure that it can be rebuilt, how does one rebuild a relationship when you know that your own grandchildren are being used as a “game piece.” We thought there might be a problem at the time but when asked we were not given truthful answers. Thank You.

    • Randy Conley says:

      Hi Kathryn. Thank you for your comments and I hope this article provided some sort of help to you. It sounds as though you are taking the right steps toward repairing the relationships, and I can share with you from my own personal experience that trust can be rebuilt over time if the parties are willing to put forth the effort.

      Best regards,

      Randy

  3. Hi Randy, I came across your blog while researching about Trust for a leadership course I’m teaching and searching for content for my blog. Your title is really cool as trust is such an important issue in today’s workplace. If you compare leadership books or team building books from the 1990s and now you’ll notice how little we focused on trust back then and how much more important it has become. Thanks! Lesley

    • Randy Conley says:

      Hi Lesley. Thanks for your feedback. I think the ability to build high-trust relationships is a leadership imperative. More and more people and organizations are starting to tune into that message and the more of us that can reinforce it the better!

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  7. fahlito says:

    Reblogged this on The Fahlito Brigante Blog and commented:
    If there no trust, everything else is futile!

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  9. Zach says:

    How do I rebuild a trust from infidelity while in a long distance relationship? We are married and she is still in Canada while I am in the U.S. and it seems the steps available sound good if you are with your partner. What else can you do at this point?

    • Randy Conley says:

      Hello Zach. First of all, let me say that my heart goes out to you and I pray that you and your wife will be able to work through this situation. There is hope that if both people are committed to repairing the breach of trust, your relationship can grow stronger than it was before. Secondly, I think the five steps apply even if you’re not physically located together. The physical separation makes the dynamics more challenging, but you can still work through the process.

      My best to you,

      Randy

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  12. lalit mohan says:

    Hi I need your help for get back her trust from one of my best friend on me.I have broken her trust in term of saving her from some of the bad elements,but situationaly she has known everything from someone and getting upset from me.I apolised and told her what is the truth and reasons to happend this through SMS . It she is not replying on my SMS. I need help and support for repair the situation.

    M worrying …..pls help me out.

    • Randy Conley says:

      Hello. I’m sorry for your situation. I would recommend you try to speak voice to voice or meet in person. Trying to rebuild trust via SMS is pretty difficult.

      Best wishes,

      Randy

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  15. Philbert says:

    I agree with the steps to take to try and bridge the gap. As some have eluded it is the old adage, “Do it to me once shame on you. Do it to me twice, shame on me.” Unless the issue that created the breach in trust is outlandish and obviously a stupid mistake/event, maybe it will mend. However, my experience is the one who broke the trust will never regain it. It is kind of like the comment that there is meaning in every joke, it isn’t just a joke. Violating trust meant they were probably walking the line and stumbled. It will likely happen again.

  16. Charles Fiaccabrino says:

    Dear Sir,
    Your remedies appear sound and those who have broken a trust might benefit.
    As far as this person is concerned, why did the “leader” break the bond of trust in the first place?
    Breaking a trust is the same as telling a lie. There is NO excuse for either interpretation.
    No matter the situation and the remedies you foster, there will always linger withihn the person to whom the act of abrogating a trust was committed, a sense of distrust, Breaking a trust is for losers because they don’t have the talent to succeed without misinterpreting the facts.
    Without honesty and integrity a person is not a true leader but a miscreant with a mask of deception.
    Charles Fiaccabrino Roche Diagnosdtics [ret]
    President of the Fiaccabrino Group Ltd

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