Leading with Trust

Reflect Back Before You Say Sorry – Tips for Improving Your Apologies

If you say you’re sorry before truly understanding how the offended party feels, have you really apologized?

That question may not be quite as metaphysical as the classic, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?,” but it’s certainly worth considering if you’re serious about rebuilding trust in relationships.

I remember countless situations when my two sons were young kids and they’d get into squabbles with each other. After refereeing their dispute and performing my fatherly duty to declare one or both of them at fault, we’d inevitably get to the point where I’d tell one of them to apologize to the other. You probably know how the rest of the story unfolds, right? After several declarations of innocence and blaming the other person, one of them would grudgingly utter a terse, resentful, and perfunctory “sorry.” Neither of them were overly concerned with understanding how the other felt; they just wanted to placate dad and get on with their business. That strategy may fly when you’re six years-old, but it doesn’t work as an adult in the workplace.

Delivering an effective apology is one of three key steps in rebuilding trust. However, apologizing isn’t as simple as it seems on the surface. There are key success factors of effective apologies, one of which is reflecting back the other person’s feelings.

Why is reflecting back feelings important and how do you do it?

  • Reflecting back feelings is important because it allows you to understand how the other person is feeling. It also allows the offended party the opportunity to process, share, and release the feelings he/she has been holding on to, which is important for moving beyond the hurt of the situation.
  • When you apologize, give the other person time to speak and share their feelings. The apology is as much about them—their pain, emotion, state of mind—as it is about your behavior. Don’t make the apology all about you.
  • As you listen to the other person share his/her feelings, don’t rebut, argue, or defend yourself. The purpose of reflecting back feelings is to show the other person you understand how he/she feels. It’s not to debate or argue points of facts.
  • Reflect back feelings by using statements like, “I heard what you said,” and “I understand why you feel that way.” Using statements like “Tell me more about that,” or “Help me understand what you mean by…” will open up the conversation and allow the other person to share in an environment of safety.

So I’ll take a shot at answering the metaphysical question: If you say you’re sorry before truly understanding how the offended party feels, have you really apologized?

My position is no, you haven’t fully apologized if you don’t understand how the other party feels. Admitting your harmful behavior is half of the apology. You can take it all the way home by understanding, acknowledging, and addressing how your behavior made the other person feel. Following this approach will increase the effectiveness of your apologies and lead to higher trust in your relationships.

Broken Trust – 3 Steps to Repair & Regain the Trust You’ve Lost

As I’m driving into the office one Thursday a few years ago, I’m contemplating the agenda for my team meeting that morning. It dawns on me that it’s April 1st—April Fools Day. Being a guy who loves a good practical joke, I immediately start thinking about a prank I can pull on my team. The only idea that comes to mind is to tell the team I’m resigning. I figured people will immediately know I’m joking, we’ll all get a good laugh, and then we’ll go on our merry way. Boy, was I wrong.

I enlisted several co-conspirators to follow my lead and feign reactions of surprise and sadness when I made the announcement at the end of the meeting. What ensued were acting performances worthy of an Oscar. The net result was team members were shocked, angry, and felt betrayed by my callousness. One person got very emotional and stormed out of the meeting in tears. Why I thought that joke would be funny is beyond me. Instead of having a good laugh with my team, I had severely eroded their trust in me.

Over the next several days I met with team members one-on-one and together as a group. I followed these three basic steps to rebuild trust between us.

  1. Acknowledge—As the 12-step recovery process has taught us, the first step in fixing a problem is to acknowledge you have one. When violations of trust occur, it is tempting to sweep the fallout under the rug and pretend it didn’t happen. Breaches of trust need to be met head-on and burying your head in the sand and pretending it doesn’t exist only makes the wound fester and become infected. It’s helpful to assess which of the four elements of trust has been eroded and then admit your mistakes. There are few trust-building behaviors more powerful than admitting and owning your mistakes. After your admission, let others express their feelings. Listen with empathy and understanding; don’t debate and argue.
  2. Apologize—The second step in rebuilding trust is to apologize for your actions. This is a make it or break it moment in the process of rebuilding trust. If you apologize well, you set the course for healing and higher levels of trust in the future. If you botch the apology, you can dig yourself into an even deeper hole of hurt and dysfunction. Effective apologies have three basic components: admitting your fault, expressing remorse for the harm caused, and committing to repairing the damage. Check out The Most Successful Apologies Have These 8 Elements for more tips on apologizing.
  3. Act—This is where the rubber hits the road in rebuilding trust. You can articulate the most awesome apology in the world, but the relationship will suffer permanent harm if you don’t change your behavior. The key success factor is to have a plan of action that is agreed upon with the person you offended. Outline how each of you will move forward in the relationship, what accountability looks like, and how you’ll know when the breach of trust has been repaired. The time it takes to repair trust is usually proportional to the severity of the offense.

Rebuilding trust in relationships requires us to be vulnerable and courageous. We have to acknowledge we did something wrong, apologize for our behavior, and act in ways that repair the damage we caused. However, the net result can be even stronger levels of trust. Relationships that have experienced the crucible of broken trust can come out stronger on the other side if both parties are willing to engage in this hard work to get to a place of healing and restoration.

On the Far Side of Broken Trust – Hope for Those Who Have Been Betrayed

Betrayal and broken trust brings immense pain.

I know. I’ve been there. And you probably have too.

When we talk about breaking trust, there is a continuum of severity of the offense. My fellow trust activists, Dennis and Michelle Reina, have an excellent way of expressing this concept. First, you can categorize offenses as either major or minor. Second, within those categories you can view the offenses as intentional or unintentional. The severity of the trust betrayal happens on a continuum, from those instances where a person unintentionally behaves in a way that erodes someone’s trust, to those instances where the person intentionally behaves in a way to deceive or betray.

Betrayal Continuum by Dennis & Michelle Reina

When we’ve experienced an intentional, major betrayal of trust, it can seem like all hope is lost of salvaging the relationship. After all, isn’t that the truth behind the cliché “trust takes a long time to build and just a second to lose?”

I’m here to tell you that there is hope on the far side of broken trust. If you and the other party are committed to restoring the relationship and putting in the necessary time and effort to rebuild trust, there is hope for the future. There are three important ideas to consider and remember:

1. Trust is incredibly resilient—Trust is much stronger than we give it credit for, as most people who have had long-term relationships can testify. Trust experiences ups and downs over the course of time, but if both parties learn to develop open and honest communication and practice forgiveness and restoration when minor trust offenses occur, they develop the strength necessary to weather a major breach of trust.

2. Trust can be stronger after a betrayal—Once a relationship experiences an intentional, major betrayal of trust, it will never be the same. But it can be better, deeper, and stronger than it was before. Betrayals of trust often cause the parties involved to realize the value of their relationship. Instead of taking it for granted, the parties can gain a new perspective on the importance and priority of the relationship and work to make it healthier than it was before the breach of trust.

3. It’s an opportunity for a new beginning…or a necessary ending—After experiencing a breach of trust, and before deciding to embark on the journey of rebuilding it, it’s important to consider if the relationship is worth preserving. For example, if your auto mechanic intentionally deceives you and charges you for repairs that weren’t needed, you may decide it’s better for you to end that relationship and find a new mechanic. That’s an easy choice with an impersonal service provider, but it’s quite another for a close personal relationship. Yet in spite of the pain caused by a betrayal in a close relationship, it presents an opportunity to pursue a new beginning. Both parties need to be absolutely committed to restoring the relationship in order to recover from a major betrayal of trust. Trust is a reciprocal process—one person gives it, the other returns it. You can’t rebuild it if only one party is committed.

Trust is the foundation of any healthy and thriving relationship. It may sound simplistic and perhaps counterintuitive, but the best way to build trust is to never break it in the first place. What I mean by that is trust is created through repeated interactions in a relationship where the parties prove themselves trustworthy to one another. The more trust is built over time, the stronger it becomes and is able to endure and persevere when a major betrayal occurs.

If you find yourself experiencing a betrayal, don’t despair. There is hope for having a stronger and deeper relationship as a result of going through the process of rebuilding trust.

The Most Successful Apologies Have These 8 Elements

sorryI’m pretty good at apologizing and I think it’s primarily because of two reasons:

  1. I’ve been married for over 28 years.
  2. I mess up a lot.

That means I get a lot of practice apologizing. I’ve logged way more than 10,000 hours perfecting my craft, so by Malcolm Gladwell’s measurement, I’m pretty much the world’s foremost expert on apologies. The fact my wife is a loving and forgiving woman doesn’t hurt, either.

More than 28 years experience has shown me there are eight essential elements of an effective apology:

1. Accept responsibility for your actions – If you screwed up, admit it. Don’t try to shirk your responsibility or shift the blame to someone else. Put your pride aside and own your behavior. This first step is crucial to restoring trust with the person you offended.

2. Pick the right time to apologize – It’s a cliché, but true – timing is everything. You can follow the other seven guidelines to a tee, but if you pick a bad time to deliver your apology, all of your hard work will be for naught. Depending on the severity of the issue, you may need to delay your apology to allow the offended person time to process his/her emotions. Once he/she is mentally and emotionally ready to hear your apology, make sure you have the necessary privacy for the conversation and the physical environment is conducive to the occasion.

3. Say ‘”I’m sorry,” not “I apologize” – What’s the difference? The word sorry expresses remorse and sorrow for the harm caused the offended person, whereas apologize connotes regret for your actions. There’s a big difference between the two. See #4 for the reason why this is important.

4. Be sincere and express empathy for how you hurt the other person – Along with saying I’m sorry, this step is critical for letting the offended person know you acknowledge, understand, and regret the hurt you caused. Make it short and simple: “I’m sorry I was late for our dinner date. I know you were looking forward to the evening, and being late disappointed you and made you feel unimportant. I feel horrible about hurting you that way.”

5. Don’t use conditional language – Get rid of the words if and but in your apologies. Saying “I’m sorry if…” is a half-ass, conditional apology that’s dependent on whether or not the person was offended. Don’t put it on the other person. Just man up and say “I’m sorry.” When you add the word but at the end of your apology (“I’m sorry, but…”) you’re starting down the road of excuses for your behavior. Don’t go there. See #6.

6. Don’t offer excuses or explanations – Keep your apology focused on what you did, how it made the other person feel, and what you’re going to do differently in the future. Don’t try to make an excuse for your behavior or rationalize why it happened. If there is a valid reason that explains your behavior, it will likely come out during the apology discussion. But let the other person go there first, not you.

7. Listen – This is perhaps the most important point of the eight and one that’s often overlooked. After you’ve made your apology, close your mouth and listen. Let the offended person share his/her feelings, vent, cry, yell, laugh, scream…whatever.  Acknowledge the person’s feelings (“I understand you’re upset”…”I see I disappointed you”…”I know it was hurtful”), but resist the urge to keep explaining yourself or apologizing over and over again. I’m not suggesting you become an emotional punching bag for someone who is inappropriately berating you; that’s not healthy for either party. But many times the awkwardness and discomfort of apologizing causes us to keep talking when we’d be better off listening.

8. Commit to not repeating the behavior – Ultimately, an apology is only as effective as your attempt to not repeat the behavior. No one is perfect and mistakes will be made, but a sincere and earnest apology includes a commitment to not repeating the behavior that caused harm in the first place. Depending on the severity of the offense, this may include implementing a plan or process such as counseling or accountability groups. For minor offenses it’s as simple as an intentional effort to not repeat the hurtful behavior.

So there you go. The Great 8 of giving effective apologies, honed from years of groveling…err…apologizing for my mistakes. What do you think? Are there other tips you would add? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.

Debunking 8 Common Myths About Trust

myth-v-truthWhen 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.

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