Restoring Trust at Work

5 Practical Tips for Rebuilding Trust

Posted Apr 23, 2012

The law in ancient Rome required the engineer who built an arch to be the first to stand beneath it. Perhaps if the impact of our actions were as publically visible, we wouldn't be facing diminishing trust levels in most of our workplaces.

The unspoken toll of the trust deficit impacts productivity, engagement, creativity, discretionary efforts, and economic recovery. And while none of us can change the trust trajectory of others, we can certainly change our own.

Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes things don't work out. Sometimes matters happen outside of our control that cause commitments not to be honored. Disappointment? Yes. Diminished trust? Maybe.

According to research findings at Wharton, "trust harmed by untrustworthy behavior can be effectively restored when individuals observed a consistent series of trustworthy actions."

However, consistent trustworthy actions aren't always enough for trust restoration. What happens if we never planned to honor our commitments? What then? Of all the behaviors negatively affecting trust building in the workplace, lying tops the list of what people say when they think of trust betrayed.

According to the study it turns out that, "Trust harmed by the same untrustworthy actions and deception, never fully recovers - even when deceived participants receive a promise, an apology, and observe a consistent series of trustworthy actions."

But most people aren't involved in deliberate deceptions at work. For most of us, the good news is that authentic trust, the kind we need in our workplaces, develops through critical thought and experience, with accountability at its core, and can be regained. Relationships matter more than outcomes to those who practice authentic trust.

Here are 5 practical tips for rebuilding authentic trust at work:

 1. Be like the Roman engineer. Whatever your work and its associated actions, operate as if you must publically stand for your results. Trust can't be restored without personal accountability grounded in consistent and trustworthy actions. That includes acknowledging that trust was broken.

2. Own your role in what happened. We all make mistakes. We all hurt people unintentionally. We all impact relationships from time to time by our actions at work. But the difference in creating openness for trust to be restored is the difference between seeing yourself as a passenger along for the ride or as the responsible driver culpable for your missteps. Own what's yours.

3. Operate with an inner mirror. Watch yourself be yourself. Are you operating from good intentions or manipulative self-interests? Are you honoring your commitments and fulfilling your promises? Would you trust you? The power of behavioral integrity, the alignment of actions and words, can't be overstated. How will people perceive your actions from this point on? Don't give anyone any reason to doubt your trustworthiness, or your intentions.

4. Restart the trust. Trust is an action. Someone must re-start the trust. Be that someone. Just like you don't get love by being loveable, but only by loving, you don't get trust unless you give trust. Use the dimmer-switch approach to trust building, fueled by authentic communication practices.

5. Give it time. Diminished trust or broken trust - it takes time to regain what was. If the relationship matters, then trust building matters. Be patient. In the words of Ray Owen, "Trying times are not the times to stop trying."

We all have stories we can share about broken trust at work. But in the reality of these times, it's time to start sharing stories of trust rebuilt.

 You'll find more trust building tips in my new book, The Titleless Leader.