Is There a Secret to Restoring Trust?

KiKi L'Italien

At some point in your life, you have been betrayed.

Perfidy by a parent, a loved one, a friend, an institution, or by society at large; no one seems to escape the pain of being wronged.

Some treachery may seem so tiny and minuscule that it hardly seems worth mentioning, though it can linger like a splinter in the soul.

Other betrayals are so monumental, they seem impossible for any human to forgive.

Broken trust makes for big headlines and it always has.

Storytellers from the beginning of time have found the response to betrayal, tales of vengeance, particularly successful as humans flock to the stories that allow them some kind of release.

We all love it when the bad guy gets his comeuppance. John Wick, Deadpool, Carrie, Hamlet, The Princess Bride, The Count of Monte Cristo…these stories have thrilled us because we love seeing justice doled out and we can imagine our own wrongs being righted through the heroes in our stories.

It is most likely you have experienced betrayal yourself.

Hopefully, not in the history-making traumatic sense; but maybe someone stole your lunch from the workplace kitchen. Or maybe a friend told someone else more details about your life than they should have — and it got back to you. Or maybe someone you trusted lied to you and you found ou about it.

The effect of deceit on a relationship is terrible and often painful. Maybe less so for the case of the lunch bandit, but still…

It is also likely that you have been the betrayer.

Maybe you were the lunch stealer. The gossip. The cheat.

I’m not calling you out about any of it, but I do believe it is very rare that we make it through life without experiencing both sides of betrayal.

Some of us have horror stories about broken trust. We can leave those for another day.

What I want to talk about in this post is the low-to-mid-level betrayal that one experiences in the workplace and how we might be able to repair and restore trust after it has been broken.

Can trust be restored?

Some people will say trust cannot be restored — no matter what. I disagree.

I’ll admit it is hard, though. And it requires a purposeful effort to heal after trust has been broken.

I am not a therapist, but I have witnessed when trust has been restored and when it hasn’t, and here is what I’ve learned:

  1. There must be an acknowledgment. Whatever it was that happened to break trust, nothing will ever truly heal until the damage has been called out and acknowledged. The reason for that is simply that one cannot assume that anything will change if the wrong is not recognized. I am reminded of every parent’s demand for a child who has done something in need of correction: “Tell me what you did.” The betrayal must be recognized and communicated for a relationship to be open for healing.
  2. There must be an apology. It is possible to be at fault, to know one is at fault, and for that individual to also not be sorry for what they did. This is unacceptable for the party that has been wronged. Without an apology, trust can not be restored.
  3. There must be a process change. The guilty party must make changes to the process in place to ensure the situation doesn’t happen again. The reasoning goes something like this: “Here is what I did wrong and I am sorry. Here is what I will do differently to make sure it never happens again.”

If there is a fourth step, it is in providing accountability to ensure that the new process works, and the intention for change will be protected so that the trust will never be broken in the same way again.

This formula will work if the restoration of trust is desired by both the betrayer and the betrayed. There is hard work on both sides that will need to be done in order to support the difficult path forward. It takes time, fortitude, and the conviction to match.

To restore trust also requires proactively working on being trustworthy in all areas.

Any kind of community begins and ends with trust. Without trust, there is no community. When trust has been broken, you can work to cultivate and earn trust with acknowledgment, remorse, and change.

And, of course, trustworthy behavior.

Do you agree? Disagree? Have you witnessed trust rebuilt? Please share your thoughts with us on Twitter by tagging @kikilitalien or @TeckerIntl!


*If you liked this, you can join me to learn how to earn and sustain a trusting community with staff in a virtual/hybrid work environment. Glenn Tecker and I are presenting a free webinar on Thursday, August 27, from 2–3 pm ET. You can register here: https://bit.ly/Trust4