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Rebuilding trust in seven steps

Trust is easy to break and hard to repair. Yet, as a leader, in the absence of trust, your vision and objectives are virtually irrelevant.

The good news is that there is a proven seven-step process, drawn from two decades of research, for taking concrete, constructive and compassionate action.

The seven steps

By practising these seven steps, you can muster courage, mend broken trust and move forward with a more engaged and energised workforce.

  1. Observe and acknowledge what happened

When trust is broken, most people experience the impact as a loss – the loss of what was or what could have been. Acknowledge their experience; listen to what’s important to them, and demonstrate that their views matter.

  • Assess the situation (formally or informally): what is the impact of the change on people?
  1. Allow feelings to surface

Provide people with nonthreatening environments in which to express their feelings and begin to work through them.

  • Help people speak about their pain: what are people telling you regarding what they are feeling?
  1. Get and give support

Help people recognise where they are stuck and see how they can shift from blaming to problem solving. And seek support for yourself, too, perhaps through fellow leaders, a mentor, or an executive coach.

  • Recognise your employees’ needs and your needs: what support is needed? By your employees? By you?
  • See Getting and giving support.
  1. Reframe the experience

Help people to see the bigger picture, such as the business reasons behind a set of decisions, and to consider the individual choices and opportunities now in front of them, including potential benefits.

  • Help people realise they have choices: how can you help people refocus their thinking, and counter people’s fear with possibilities?
  1. Take responsibility

Determine the lessons learned and the actions you can take to improve the current situation. Hold yourself accountable, and also help others take responsibility and hold themselves accountable, too.

  • Take responsibility for your part and help others do so: what role or part do you and others play in the change process? What is in your control that you can take responsibility to change?
  1. Forgive yourself and others

Forgiving doesn’t mean excusing; it means acknowledging the impact of broken trust and then agreeing not only to move through it, but also to learn from it and do better while going forward.

  • Help people shift from blaming to problem solving: what needs to happen to shift the conversation from ‘they are doing it to me…’ to ‘what can I do?’
  1. Let go and move on

There is a difference between remembering and ‘hanging on.’ Employees may not forget what happened, but help them in the process of letting go and moving on with a sense of shared responsibility.

  • Accept what is so: what needs to be said or done to put this issue to rest?

The seven-step process isn’t a one-minute, quick fix, because healing after a betrayal requires movement through a series of emotions. The seven steps for healing model provides an important foundational framework to help people work through the painful feelings of betrayal, no matter how major or minor they are, towards rebuilding trust.