How to repair a trust problem
Repairing trust is a reset. Not a return to the way things were.
In our working lives, there are many reasons why trust between people breaks down. A new CEO disparages an employee or an entire team. A massive round of layoffs makes remaining employees feel uncertain about the future. Rapid growth or change radically alters power dynamics. Deadlines keep being missed. Gossiping about colleagues and breaking confidentiality is a common part of office culture.
Regardless of the cause, a state of distrust is exhausting and destructive.
When you lose trust in someone, you may feel a sense of dread all the time. You might find yourself constantly, almost obsessively, checking what someone is up to. Your ability to tolerate the unknown (the very essence of trust) is shattered. A normal response to distrust is to get defensive and then disengage. But do you want to carry the weight of this feeling every day?
Can we repair trust once it has broken down?
Depending on what happened, the trust may be so deeply damaged that you’ll never feel a sense of safety or solid ground again. In that case, the courageous step can be walking away from the situation. There are, however, many occasions when you want or need to fix the trust issue.
Making strides forward requires deep acceptance that it's OK for the trust that forms to be different from the trust that existed before.
Here’s a way to Rethink the process of repairing trust:
Repairing trust is a reset.
Not a return to the way things were.
And the process starts with…
Identifying the cause of the disconnection:
It’s helpful to think of the loss of trust as a disconnection problem — before you can solve it, you must first understand the underlying cause. You might identify with one of these causes that often instigate trust rifts:
Lack of recognition and respect:
“Why do you always take credit for my work?”
“Do you ever value my contributions?”
“Do you even need or want me on your team?”
Imbalance of power and control:
“Why do you always get to make the final decision?”
“Do you intentionally leave me out and keep things hidden?”
“Why do you think you’re more important than I am?”
Lack of empathy and care:
“Do you have any idea what it's like to do my job/be in my shoes?”
“Do you even care about me or the contribution I make?”
“Why are you always so distracted, and never properly listening?”
The real trust issue is often buried or hidden. We pin the blame on surface-level behaviours — they’re so annoying, patronising, controlling, fill in the blank.
Finding a reconnection:
For trust to have a chance to properly heal, you must get out of the blaming state. “They did this to me,” is not a constructive place to move on from.
Reconnecting after a trust rift requires changing the story — creating a new narrative about the relationship.
Something to try this week…
I find it’s helpful to think of trust as shifting into different phases, rather than being rebuilt. Think about a time when trust has broken down between you and someone else:
Remind yourself of a time when the relationship felt solid and connected.
Accept that something caused damage and caused you to disconnect.
And now find ways to reconnect.
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