When trust is broken, either for reasons of unethical behavior or due to differing expectations, the results are disappointment, hurt, and anger. It is very easy to respond by not wanting to trust again or invest the time and energy necessary to rebuild the lost trust. However, this only results in embedding unhealthy feelings and behaviors into the organization’s culture. To get your organization healthy again, it's important to begin rebuilding trust as soon as possible. Easier said then done. Here are 10 steps to get you started.
Have each member of your leadership team read this post and/or our full article on cultivating trust. This will create a common working knowledge and language related to the theme of trust. You already have step 1 underway!
As a leader, reflect upon your own willingness to learn about how your actions may contribute to a culture of distrust. Questions could include:
- How did the trust get broken?
- What assumptions was I making?
- What were my expectations?
- Were my expectations understood?
- Were my expectations realistic?
3. Conduct a trust audit
Identify the primary sources that contributed to the distrust. During this time, it is vital to suspend fault-finding. Be solution focused, not fault focused. The goal is mutual understanding – all parties need to agree to what has contributed to the distrust. But this does not necessarily require agreement. Even if another person or group was the primary contributor to the broken trust, energy must be targeted towards answering the question: “What is the appropriate action that will lead to rebuilding trust?”
4. Forgive often
Without forgiveness, it is unlikely trust will be rebuilt since previous failures to live up to your expectations will cloud the rebuilding process. Without forgiveness, the breach of trust can consume enormous amounts of emotional energy and lead to a cynical spirit.
Forgiving does not necessarily mean forgetting but rather putting the offense behind you and moving on with a positive attitude.
5. Model confidentiality
When trust is broken, fear and anxiety levels are usually raised between the parties involved. It is of utmost importance to create an environment where participants know that what is said will not leave the room. For this to happen, the smaller the group, the better.
6. Create safety
When people feel threatened, they are not likely to be receptive to feedback or to sharing honestly about their own perceptions and what contributed to them. Safety is produced by confidentiality, non-attacking communication, and demonstrating genuine concern.
7. Develop expectations
For distrust to change to trust, people must work towards agreed upon expectations and seek to live up to them. This should result in a plan of action to address any concrete factors that contributed to the distrust. For example, if lack of communication is a factor, create new communication opportunities and channels. If competency is a factor, determine how skills can be sharpened.
8. Seek assistance
When necessary, bring in an outside facilitator to assist you with identifying and solving trust issues. Sometimes, an outside voice or neutral party can see processes that those closest to the issues cannot see.
9. Plan for disappointment
It is important to understand there will be many more disappointments ahead. In other words, using a sound biblical anthropology, accept the fact that disappointment is a normal part of life. You will let others down, and others will let you down. God uses disappointment to teach us, discipline us, and to point us to heaven - a place where there will be no more disappointments!
10. Healthy departure
Sometimes it is necessary for a person to leave a team or organization because the level of distrust has resulted in complete destruction of credibility. However, such cases should never be the norm since they cause repercussions to the organization and its members. In such cases, all parties should invest the time necessary to learn from the situation, and the organization must strive to demonstrate love and concern towards the individual who needs to leave. When handled appropriately, this can ultimately result in a fresh start for all parties involved.
Jay is the Executive Director of The Center and serves on the Senior Leadership Team at Calvary Church in Souderton. Jay brings experience in the areas of ministry assessment, leadership coaching, decision-making, and strategic questioning. Jay’s degrees include a B.S. in Bible, a M.Ed in Instructional Systems Design and a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Leadership.