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Regaining Trust

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Drawing on 30 years of research and experience, Drs. Dennis and Michelle Reina of the Trust Building Institute in Stowe, Vermont, have developed an approach that includes a language to discuss trust issues constructively, identification of behaviors that build and break trust, and steps for rebuilding trust and sustaining it over time.

1. Acknowledge what has happened. Own up not just to the mistake that was made, but also to its impact on those who were directly or indirectly affected. The greater the impact, the greater the need for acknowledgement.

2. Allow feelings to surface, and manage them. Find out how people feel about what happened: disappointed, frustrated, angry, betrayed? These natural feelings must be acknowledged and properly managed or they can go underground, contributing to gossip, backbiting, and the vicious grapevine. Denying the mistake, making excuses, or trying to cover it up will only make matters worse.

3. Get support. Can you share your thoughts and feelings with a trusted friend or colleague, spouse, coach, or counselor? Talk about what you should and should not do moving forward. Or you may want to call in a skilled and experienced facilitator to mediate the situation. This kind of support is essential in order to work through the process of healing and rebuilding trust.

4. Reframe the experience. Put the situation into a larger context by explaining the facts about what happened, how it affected people, and what you will do about it. Help those who are involved to realize they have choices.

5. Take responsibility. This requires a lot of courage, yet the good will and credibility that result are tremendous. As the saying goes, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” It’s best to underpromise and overdeliver at times like this. Give back more than was lost by your mistake.

6. Forgive yourself and others. Resentment, cynicism, and blame are toxic. Help yourself and others shift from blaming to problem-solving. Ask, “What needs to happen to resolve this mistake?” You can’t erase the past, but you can make amends and recover in the present.

7. Let go and move on. To regain trust with clients and employees, help people accept the truth without blame. Acceptance is not condoning; it is shifting a preoccupation with the past to investing energies into the present to create a different future.

Moving to acceptance is a learning process that takes time and commitment. You won’t always win, but if you focus on these seven steps and the behaviors that create trust in the first place, it will make a difference.

(These abridged “Seven Steps for Healing” from Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace: Building Effective Relationships in Your Organization (2nd ed.) are used by permission of the authors, Dennis Reina, Ph.D, and Michelle Reina, Ph.D.)