While teaching a class this past week on Building Trust, I found myself giving the participants this admonishment: “Just like anything in life, you’re going to get out of this what you put into it.”
I’m not quite sure where that came from, but I suspect it was the words of advice given to me over the years from my mother, teachers, coaches, and bosses. I imagine you’ve probably received, or given, that same advice before. It’s good advice because it’s true.
When it comes to trust, it’s especially true. You see, trust can’t begin to grow until someone first extends trust. That’s because there’s risk involved. Risk and trust go hand in hand. If there’s no risk involved, then there’s no need to trust. But if you are vulnerable to the actions of another, then trust is required. You have two choices when presented with relationship risk: you can withhold trust in order to protect yourself, or you can extend trust in the hopes it will be reciprocated and both parties will benefit.
Reciprocation is a key factor in the development of trust. There is a social dynamic in relationships known as the Law of Reciprocity. Essentially it means that when someone does something nice to us—give us gifts, show love, extend trust, give grace, grant forgiveness—we have a natural human instinct to respond in kind. Unfortunately, the opposite is true as well. When someone acts cruelly or hostile toward us, we often respond in even more cruel and hostile ways.
In the public square these days, negative reciprocity is the norm. Warring factions have developed a singular membership criterion: you’re either with me or against me. We have demonized those whom we believe to be against us. They are no longer honorable, well-meaning people with different ideas. They are mortal enemies who cannot be trusted at any cost. The result is one group treats the other with contempt and hostility, the other group responds in kind and even turns it up a notch for good measure. Around and round we go in a negative, downward spiral, zero trust loop.
Leaders in all realms of society need to get back to leading with trust. We need to smartly, yet courageously, extend trust to our stakeholders with the positive expectation they will reward our trust by responding in kind. Trust begets trust. The Law of Reciprocity.
You’ve got to give it to get it. That’s the way it works with trust.
Who do you see when you look at a black person? Do you see a husband, father, wife, mother, son, or daughter? Do you see a businessman, tradesman, doctor, lawyer, scientist, soldier, or educator? Do you see someone with hopes, dreams, ambitions, fears, and insecurities? Do you see a person who is very much like you?
Unfortunately, whether we realize it or not, many of us don’t see those things. We see different. We see a threat. We see contempt. We see distrust. We see suspicion. We see fear. We see “less than.”
That needs to stop. If we are ever going to bridge the racial divide that separates us, we need to start trusting each other. The only way for trust to begin is for someone to take the risk of extending trust to another. It’s through that act of vulnerability that intimacy can develop and trust can flourish.
A few days ago I held a conversation with four of my friends, all African-American men, to learn more about their personal experience with racism. The discussion was rich, educational, humbling, and impactful. I encourage you to watch, listen, and reflect on what you can do to keep this conversation alive in your own sphere of influence.
For leaders, trust is a must. It’s the critical foundation for creating an environment where your team members can flourish, be engaged, and exercise their creativity and innovation to achieve their goals and those of the organization. Trust is the connective tissue in relationships and organizations, and it allows us to collaborate and achieve more together than we would independently.
But trust is under attack. Nearly everyday we hear or see reports of prominent leaders who have been caught in a scandal, violated the law, or broken trust with their followers in some form or fashion. Whether it’s intentionally or unintentionally, we act in ways that cause others to doubt our trustworthiness. We are our own worst enemy when it comes to undermining trust in our leadership.
What are the ways we undermine trust? Well, there are several, but five stand out above the others. These five ways have the power to destroy trust on multiple fronts. They can erode trust slowly over a long period of time, to where one day you wake up and realize the trust you thought you had in a relationship has disappeared. On the other hand, these enemies of trust can also destroy a relationship in one fatal blow, like a sledgehammer crushing a cement block. You must be on guard to constantly protect and nurture the most prized possession of your leadership—trust.
Five Ways We Undermine Trust in Our Leadership
Self-Orientation – Self-oriented leaders place a higher priority on their personal needs and desires above those of their followers. They’re in it for themselves. They are more concerned with how they look to their higher-ups than how they’re viewed by their team members. Charles Green, co-author of the book The Trusted Advisor, uses a formula to describe how trust is built. His “trust equation” is Trustworthiness = (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy) ÷ Self-Orientation. The more self-oriented (aka, selfish) you are, the greater you reduce the amount of trust you build with others. Self-oriented leaders are more focused on “me” than “we.”
Control – Most people think distrust or mistrust is the opposite of trust. That’s not correct. The opposite of trust is control. That’s because trust requires risk, and you must give up a degree of control when you accept the risk of extending trust to someone. For trust to be established, someone must first extend trust, and it’s the leader’s responsibility to go first. Leaders who refuse to accept the risk of trusting others are forced to rely on controlling behaviors like micromanaging, not sharing information, or performing all the work themselves.
Isolation – There are a few ways we let isolation undermine trust in our leadership. One is when leaders isolate themselves from others, either intentionally or unintentionally. Unintentional isolation happens when leaders move higher up in the organization and have less contact with their team members, become focused on other priorities, or simply get distracted with busyness to the neglect of connecting with team members. Another way isolation erodes trust is when leaders “freeze out” or intentionally ignore a team member. People trust leaders who establish a personal connection with them. They want to know their leader cares about them and their well-being. Distrust is born in the absence of connection, and isolation has a way of feeding upon itself and creating more distance in the relationship.
Unreliability – Perhaps the most common way we undermine trust, unreliability slowly chips away at trust every time a leader fails to meet a commitment. Leaders are expected to be role models of accountability, and when they don’t keep their own commitments, it sends a message to the entire team that it’s OK for them to do the same. Unreliability is also a silent killer of trust. Most people are forgiving when small, inconsequential commitments are dropped. Being a few minutes late for a meeting, a slow response to an email, or canceling a meeting at the last minute are common examples of everyday behaviors that demonstrate unreliability. A few, infrequent occurrences of those behaviors don’t have much impact on trust, but when they happen often enough that the leader develops a reputation of being unreliable, a trust gap has developed that can be difficult to overcome.
Dishonesty – Being dishonest is the cardinal sin of trustworthy leadership. Above all, trustworthy leaders are honest and act with integrity. That means keeping your promises, not gossiping, and telling the truth. Trustworthy leaders not only tell the truth, but they’re honest without spinning the truth. Spinning the truth is really mis-characterizing the facts of a situation in order to make yourself or the organization look good or attempting to influence people to interpret the truth in the way you want them to. Many people view integrity as the heart of trust, and if leaders are not honest, they have virtually no chance to win the trust of their followers.
When leaders are trusted by their followers, anything is possible. Research has consistently shown that high trust leaders have teams that are more productive, innovative, and have higher levels of engagement. The best way to build trust is to avoid breaking it in the first place, and to do that we have to quit sabotaging ourselves by acting in ways that undermine trust.
I saw this tagline recently in an advertisement for a digital security product. The company’s message was straight-forward and clear—when it comes to digital security, you should never, ever, ever trust anyone or anything. Always verify.
Sadly, this advertising tagline struck me as ringing true for the way many people treat relationships in this day and age. Our current polarized political and social climate pits people against each other with little room in the middle. You’re either Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, patriotic or traitorous, a coastal elite or a fly-over country bumpkin.
This either/or mentality is shaping the way we build trust in relationships. In order for trust to be established, one person has to make the first move to extend trust to the other. It’s risky and there’s no way around it. If there wasn’t risk, there wouldn’t be a need for trust. How can you make the first move to extend trust if you believe you should never trust and always verify? You can’t.
If we hope to make any progress in finding common ground with each other we have to learn to trust. Trust isn’t all or nothing. Trusting someone doesn’t mean you trust them 100% of the time in all situations. Trust is situational. It’s contextual to the individual and circumstance. For example, I have a high degree of trust in Tim, my auto mechanic. Over the years he’s done quality work, charged a fair price, and been honest in his dealings. He’s earned my trust. Would I trust Tim to prepare my tax returns? No, I wouldn’t. He’s not a CPA.
So, if trust is situational, how do we know when we can trust someone? An individual is trustworthy when he/she is…
Able—An able person demonstrates competence by having the knowledge, skills, and expertise for their particular job. They achieve goals consistently and develop a track record of success. They show good planning and problem-solving skills and they make sound, informed decisions.
Believable—A believable person acts with integrity when they tell the truth, keep confidences, and admit their mistakes. They walk the talk by acting in ways congruent with their personal values and those of the organization. They treat people equitably and ethically and ensure that rules are fairly applied to all members of the team.
Connected—Trustworthy people care about others. They are kind, compassionate, and concerned with others’ well-being. They readily share information about themselves and the organization. Being a good listener, seeking feedback, and incorporating the ideas of others into decisions are behaviors of a connected person who cares about people.
Dependable—People trust those who honor their commitments. DWYSYWD—doing what you say you will do is a hallmark of a trustworthy person. They do this by establishing clear priorities, keeping promises and holding themselves and others accountable. Dependable people are punctual, adhere to organizational policies and procedures, and respond flexibly to others with the appropriate direction and support.
Never trust, always verify. It’s a catchy phrase that plays well for a company advertising a digital security product, but it’s a relationship killer. There’s no way to have any sort of relationship with someone without a modicum of trust. Someone has to make the first move to extend trust, with the hope and belief the other person will prove him/herself trustworthy.
Addressing low trust in a relationship is a challenging issue. As soon as the “t” word—trust—is mentioned, emotions start to rise, defensiveness climbs, and people begin to feel uneasy about where the conversation is headed.
When I conduct workshops on building trust, participants often ask me for advice about how they can tell someone they don’t trust them. That’s because trust is not a topic most people are comfortable talking about, and few are equipped to handle a trust conversation in an objective, productive, and respectful way that strengthens the relationship rather than tearing it apart.
The key to addressing a lack of trust in a relationship is to not focus on trust itself, but on the behaviors causing low trust. In fact, as a general practice, I recommend trying to avoid using the “t” word completely during the trust conversation. By focusing on behaviors, you and the other person can zero in on what you can control; how you treat each other.
But how do you do that? How do you convey to someone you don’t trust them by only talking about behaviors? There are three basic steps:
Diagnose which element of trust is low. Before you can even begin to discuss specific behaviors causing low trust, you have to diagnose which element of trust is being eroded. That’s because trust isn’t a one-dimensional concept. Research shows that trust is made up of four elements: competence, integrity, care, and dependability. Depending upon the context and nature of the relationship, some elements may be emphasized more than others, but all are still important and needed to some extent. For example, competence, integrity, and dependability may be more relevant in the relationship with your auto mechanic, while demonstrating care may be less so. You want to make sure the mechanic is knowledgeable about fixing your car, charges you a fair price, and completes the work on time. Although care is less important in this context, if the mechanic is rude and treats you disrespectfully, it may cause you to wonder if he/she truly has your best interests in mind and therefore erode your trust in him/her.
Identify the specific behaviors causing low trust. When you feel you don’t trust someone, it’s rarely a situation where you distrust everything about the individual. It’s almost always one or two key behaviors driving the erosion of trust in the relationship. Once you’ve diagnosed which element of trust is low, you can then narrow down the behaviors causing the gap in trust. For example, let’s look at dependability. People are dependable if they behave in ways that show they are reliable, responsive, and accountable. Those kinds of behaviors look like meeting deadlines, following through on commitments, being readily available or getting back to you in a reasonable amount of time, and holding themselves accountable for the results of their commitments. If you are experiencing low trust with a colleague because he/she isn’t dependable, you’ll close the trust gap quicker and easier by getting crystal clear on the behaviors causing low trust and how you can fix them.
Provide feedback on the behavior. Giving feedback to someone is a moment of trust in the relationship. It’s an opportunity to either build trust or erode it, so it’s important you approach the situation with a clear purpose and plan in mind. Once you’ve diagnosed which of the four elements of trust is being eroded, and narrowed down the specific behaviors causing that erosion, the next step is to provide feedback on those behaviors and develop a plan for strengthening them moving forward. Focus the conversation on the behaviors the person can control and change moving forward, not on general personality traits or characteristics. Resist the urge to over-generalize or soft-pedal the feedback. Be descriptive, specific, and describe the negative impact resulting from the behavior, but also assume best intentions on the part of the other person. Finally, keep the conversation focused on problem solving the troublesome behaviors and moving forward in a productive way. Using our previous example of addressing a trust gap caused by someone’s lack of dependability, the feedback might sound something like: “Sarah, we need to discuss the weekly project status reports. You’ve missed the Friday deadline the last three weeks, and as a result, the executive team has had an incomplete picture of the overall project status for their Monday meeting. I’m concerned because this isn’t normally like you. Can we talk about what’s been going on and figure out a plan to make sure we get this corrected?” In this example, without using the word trust, you’ve addressed the behaviors causing low trust with Sarah and have begun to put a plan in place to rebuild trust moving forward.
No one considers themselves to be untrustworthy, so to flat-out tell someone, “I don’t trust you,” will usually lead to damaging the relationship further and make the recovery of trust all that harder, if not impossible. But by diagnosing the elements of trust being eroded in a relationship, identifying the specific behaviors at the root of the issue, and discussing ways to address them moving forward, you can get trust back on track while preserving and growing the relationship.
“An Implosion of Trust”—That’s the headline of the executive summary of Edelman’s 2017 Trust Barometer. Their annual trust survey and report goes on to cite grim statistics about the state of trust in the world:
Trust in government, business, media, and NGOs declined broadly over the last year, the first time this has happened with all four institutions in the 17 years Edelman has been tracking trust.
Only 29% of respondents say government officials are credible and just 39% say the same about CEOs.
The media is distrusted in 82% of the world’s countries, and in only five (Singapore, China, India, Indonesia, and the Netherlands ) is it above 50%.
85% of people lack belief in the system.
It’s enough bad news to make you want to stay in bed and pull the covers over your head, isn’t it? (Note: These statistics are measuring generalized trust in a social and institutional context. For an excellent treatment on the importance and challenge of defining trust, read this and this from trust expert Charlie Green.)
We don’t have a crisis of trust so much as we have a crisis of untrustworthy leaders. Just take a look at Fortune’s list of the world’s 19 most disappointing leaders to get a feel for how many suffered trust-related gaffes. An institution is simply a collection of individuals who act in such a way that causes their constituents to trust or distrust the organization. Leadership sets the tone for an organization’s culture and performance and it’s there we need greater accountability for leading in trustworthy ways.
But what makes a leader trustworthy? There are four key elements to being trustworthy. You can easily remember them as the ABCDs of Trust:
A is for Able—Demonstrating Competence. Leaders who possess the skills, knowledge, and expertise for their roles earn trust. Able leaders demonstrate their competence by having a track record of success. They consistently achieve their goals and can be counted on to solve problems and make good decisions.
B is Believable—Acting with Integrity. Integrity is at the heart of trustworthiness and it’s impossible to be fully trusted without it. High integrity leaders are honest, tell the truth, admit their mistakes, and act in alignment with their values and those of the organization. They walk the talk.
C is for Connected—Caring about Others. Trustworthy leaders value relationships. They care about their people and act in ways that nurture those relationships. Connected leaders establish rapport with people by finding common ground and mutual interests. They share information about themselves and the organization in a transparent fashion, trusting others to use information wisely. Most of all, connected leaders are others-focused. They place the needs of others ahead of their own.
D is for Dependable—Honoring Commitments. Fulfilling promises, maintaining reliability, and being accountable are critical aspects of being dependable. Trustworthy leaders do what they say they’re going to do. They don’t shirk their responsibilities or hold themselves to a different (i.e., lower) standard than their team.
Think of the ABCDs as the language of trust. The more leaders focus on learning the language of trust, the more trustworthy they will become, the more trust they will earn from others, and the more our organizations will embody the ideals of trust. Download this free e-book to see if your leaders are building or eroding trust.
Who do YOU trust? The phrase, “Never trust anyone over 30,” was coined by Jack Weinberg, a political activist at Cal-Berkeley in the 1960s. Now on the other side of the fence, Boomers are more likely to say you shouldn’t trust anyone under 30. In return, Millennials just give Boomers the side-eye (whatever that means).
The reality is that trust – as a general idea – is seemingly non-existent in society. Today, people don’t trust politicians, public schools, the media, banks, big business, or even the police. And then there is the very common distrust that exists inside the workplace between generations AND between managers and employees.
Bottom line? Millennials and Boomers don’t trust each other, and it is wreaking havoc in the office.
Join me, Kelly Riggs and Robby Riggs as we discuss the importance of trust in leadership and what Boomer managers can do differently to build trust with Millennials.
When conducting training classes to teach people how to become more trustworthy and build trust in their relationships, I often have to address some common myths. There are commonly held beliefs about trust that aren’t quite as true as people believe.
Here are eight common myths about trust and my thoughts about the truth behind these misconceptions.
Myth #1: Trust takes a long time to build — You’ve probably heard this said before or maybe even said it yourself. Sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s not altogether true. Yes, there are instances where trust can take a long time to build, such as relationships that have infrequent interactions or where one or both of the parties are trust-averse and uncooperative with each other, but in many cases trust is established quickly. When you walk in a doctor’s office and see diplomas on the wall from Harvard Medical School and John’s Hopkins, you have an immediate sense of trust based on the doctor’s expertise. The same is true for many professions where the individual’s expertise engenders immediate trust. A person’s reputation for being trustworthy also carries great influence when starting new relationships. Trust can be built very quickly.
Myth #2: Trust is lost in a second — This is the companion to myth #1. In relationships where a strong bond of trust has been formed, a single instance of violating trust rarely destroys the whole relationship. In fact, a high-level of trust in a relationship leads to the parties assuming best intentions about each other, so when a breach of trust occurs, the offending party is often given the benefit of the doubt. Instead of losing trust in a second, trust is more frequently lost when it’s broken repeatedly over a period of time. One party keeps making withdrawals from the trust account of the other party until eventually they start bouncing checks.
Myth #3: Trust is fragile — Because people believe the previous myth about it only taking a second to break someone’s trust, they assume that trust must be fragile. Wrong. Trust, true trust that has stood the test of time, is extremely resilient. Consider the most trustworthy relationships you’ve seen or experienced in life. They are probably ones that have endured their fair share of trust-busters, and yet because of the high level of trust between the parties, they addressed the challenging situations and moved beyond them in ways that continued to sustain and reinforce the trust between them.
Myth #4: Trust is soft — One of the most common myths I encounter, particularly from senior leaders, is that trust is a “soft” interpersonal issue. You know what I mean, the group hug, hold hands, and sing kumbaya kind of soft. Well, trust is anything but soft. Trust has hard, bottom-line impacts to people and organizations. Research has shown that high trust companies consistently outperform low trust ones. High levels of trust enables innovation, creativity, productivity, collaboration, and lower turnover, all of which directly impact an organization’s bottom-line.
Myth #5: Trust “just happens” — People assume trust just happens naturally, like some sort of relationship osmosis. The truth is trust is built through the use of very specific behaviors that can be taught, learned, and practiced. If you’re leaving the building of trust to chance, well, chances are you’re not going to be successful. Learn the specific elements of trust and how you can use their associated behaviors to become more trustworthy and develop high-trust relationships.
Myth #6: Distrust is the opposite of trust — On the surface this seems to make sense, right? If we have a spectrum with trust on one side, then distrust must be on the other. Actually, the opposite of trust is control. Control? Yes, control. See, when you don’t trust someone you try to maintain control. Staying in control means less risk, and risk is required when trusting someone. Without risk there is no need for trust and trust requires that you give up control to one degree or another.
Myth #7: Trust is all about integrity — Integrity is one of the four core elements of trust and most people identify it as being the most important when it comes to building trust. However, integrity is just one of the building blocks of trust. Another is competence. People who have expertise, a proven track record, and are effective at what they do inspire trust. A third element of trust is connectedness, showing care and concern for others by building rapport, communicating effectively, and demonstrating benevolence. Finally, the fourth element of trust is dependability. You build trust when you are reliable, accountable, and responsive in your actions.
Myth #8: Trust is all or nothing; you either have it or you don’t — Trust is not a one size fits all proposition. There can be different levels of trust in relationships based on the nature of the relationship and context of the situation. For example, you may have a high level of trust in your plumber to fix plumbing issues in your house, but you wouldn’t trust him to repair your automobile because it’s not his area of expertise. Or, you may have someone in whom you confide your deepest feelings to because they have earned your trust as a close confidant, but their history of being habitually late causes you to not trust them to arrive on time for an appointment.
Many times we accept myths as truths because on the surface they seem pretty reasonable. That’s the case with these myths about trust. But when you dig a little deeper, you begin to see that trust is not quite as simple as we make it out to be. It’s actually quite complex and multi-dimensional.
I’m interested in your experience. What are other myths about trust you’ve encountered? Please take the time to share by leaving a comment.
As I reflect back on 2015, it’s incredible to consider this is the fifth year of the Leading with Trust blog. In some respects it seems like just a few months ago that I started writing about the importance of trust in leadership, but in other ways it seems as though this blog has been a part of me for as long as I can remember.
This past year saw an amazing 67% increase in viewership! It’s mind-boggling to me that hundreds of thousands of people take the time to read, comment, and share articles from this blog. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to encourage others to lead in authentic ways that build trust in the workplace. The world desperately needs servant leaders more than ever and it has to begin with trust.
As you reflect on your leadership lessons from this past year and contemplate areas for growth in 2016, these Top 7 articles from this year may provide some inspiration and guidance. Enjoy!
3 Reasons You Find it Hard to Trust People — For the second year in a row this is the most viewed post on Leading with Trust. Choosing to trust someone can be a difficult and risky situation. This article will help you understand three common reasons why you find it hard to trust people and what you can do about it.
Maybe you’ve heard these types of phrases from leaders in the past, or to bring it closer to home, perhaps you’ve even uttered them yourself:
“I just can’t trust my team to complete the job to the quality I expect.”
“Deadlines always seem to be a moving target with my team.”
“I seem to be on a different wavelength with my team. I say one thing but they hear another.”
“I don’t always see or feel a sense of teamwork. We seem to be a collection of individuals rather than a unified team.”
Do any of those sound familiar? All of them can point to a lack of trust between the team leader and his/her team. But have you ever paused to consider why you don’t trust your team? It may not have anything to do with them. It might be you.
Trust doesn’t “just happen” in relationships. It takes intentional effort, and in a team setting, it’s up to the leader to cultivate the right environment for trust to flourish. If you find yourself not trusting your team, explore these three areas:
Trust Signals – Trust is developed through the use of specific behaviors, and based on a complex set of variables (our personality, early childhood upbringing, past experience, and our values, just to name a few), each of us is “tuned in” to certain behavioral signals that communicate trust. The challenge in a team environment is every person can be tuned in to different trust signals, so what communicates trust to you may be different than what communicates trust to someone else. It’s important to establish a common language of trust so that everyone is picking up the same signals. A helpful tool to get everyone on the same page of trust is the ABCD Trust Model. It takes the four elements of trust (competence, integrity, care, and dependability) and puts them in an easy to understand model that provides a common set of trust signals for everyone to use.
Mis-aligned Expectations – Many times the reason leaders don’t trust their teams is they haven’t done a good job of clarifying expectations. Leaders often assume the team knows the importance of the goal, the quality standards expected, or the deadline for completing the work. When the team doesn’t perform as expected, the leader jumps to the conclusion that the team can’t be trusted. Step back and reassess the situation. Did you verbalize your expectations and make them absolutely clear? Did you equip or train your team to meet those expectations? Did you provide the day-to-day coaching needed or did you just leave the team on its own? When expectations aren’t met, we have a habit of judging others by their actions but judging ourselves by our intent. Judge your team by their intent and explore whether or not your expectations were communicated clearly.
Lack of Vulnerability – Too many leaders are closed books when it comes to relating to their teams. They are distant and detached, both physically and emotionally. That leads to team members always playing a guessing game as to what the leader wants. People can’t do their best work when they don’t know what to expect from the leader. The cure is for leaders to be clear on their Leadership Point of View (LPOV). Your LPOV is your leadership philosophy. It’s a statement of why you lead, what’s important to you as a leader, what your team members can expect from you, and what you expect from them. Developing and communicating your LPOV lets team members “behind the curtain.” It shows vulnerability on your part to be real and authentic with team members and it creates tremendously high levels of trust.
Trust has been called the miracle triple-acting agent for organizations. It provides the lubrication that makes people, processes, and systems work more smoothly. It also acts as the bonding agent that brings people together, allowing them to collaborate effectively and achieve more together than they could as individuals. And trust also functions as the catalyst to spur the innovation and creativity that’s necessary to propel organizations to higher levels of success. So don’t underestimate the power of trust, and when you feel it’s lacking with your team, take a look in the mirror first. The problem may be staring back at you.
Suffering a betrayal of trust can be one of the most difficult and challenging times in your life. Depending on the severity of the offense, some people choose not to pursue recovery of the relationship. For those that do, the process of restoration can take days, weeks, months, or even years. If you choose to invest the time and energy to rebuild a relationship with someone who has broken your trust, you have to begin with forgiveness.
I’ve experienced this personally in my own life and can attest to the fact that trust can be rebuilt and the relationship can be stronger and healthier than it was before. But it requires the parties involved to step out in faith, invest the time and effort, and be accountable to each other.
There are many misconceptions about forgiveness, like it’s a display of weakness, it lets the offending party off the hook, or opens the door to people taking advantage of you. Those are misconceptions for a reason: they’re wrong. As you consider forgiving someone who has betrayed your trust, here are 8 principles to remember:
1. Forgiveness is a choice – It’s not a feeling or an attitude. Forgiving someone is a mental decision, a choice, that you have complete control over. You don’t have to wait until you “feel” like forgiving someone.
2. Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting – You don’t have to forget the betrayal in order to forgive. You may never forget what happened, and those memories will creep in occasionally, but you can choose to forgive and move on.
3. Forgiveness doesn’t eliminate consequences – Some people are reticent to give forgiveness because somehow they think it lets the other person off-the-hook from what they did wrong. Not true. Consequences should still be enforced even if you grant forgiveness.
4. Forgiving doesn’t make you a weakling or a doormat – Forgiveness shows maturity and depth of character. If you allow repeated violations of your trust then you’re a doormat. But forgiving others while adhering to healthy boundaries is a sign of strength, not weakness.
5. Don’t forgive just to avoid pain – It can be easy to quickly grant forgiveness in order to avoid conflict and pain in the relationship. This usually is an attempt at conflict avoidance rather than true forgiveness. Take the appropriate amount of time to think through the situation and what will be involved in repairing the relationship before you grant forgiveness.
6. Don’t use forgiveness as a weapon – If you truly forgive someone, you won’t use their past behavior as a tool to harm them whenever you feel the need to get a little revenge.
7. Forgiveness isn’t dependent on the other person showing remorse – Whether or not the person who violated your trust apologizes or shows remorse for their behavior, the decision to forgive rests solely with you. Withholding forgiveness doesn’t hurt the other person, it only hurts you, and it’s not going to change anything that happened in the past. Forgiveness is up to you.
8. Forgiveness is freedom – Holding on to pain and bitterness drains your energy and negatively colors your outlook on life. Granting forgiveness allows you to let go of the negative emotions that hold you back and gives you the ability to move forward with freedom and optimism.
Forgiveness is the first step in rebuilding a relationship with someone who has betrayed your trust. If you skip this step you take the risk of trying to rebuild your relationship on shifting sand and eventually trust will crumble again. Start with forgiveness, you won’t regret it.