Today, I want to talk about a question that is relevant to so many people. As a leader, this is also very, very important because we do make mistakes in our leadership.
And the question today is: how do you earn back trust once you’ve lost it in your team, or your relationship? Is there a way to earn it back?
When we talk about trust in any relationship—whether it’s romantic, professional, or familial—you have to understand that it is first given. It is first, freely given.
Yes, there may be some guardedness from the other person, preventing them from trusting you completely. But at the same time, they’re still putting some trust in your relationship. This trust is why they’re open to having a conversation with you, why they’re open to sharing a drink with you. That’s why they’re open to working beside you or working in the same office as you. Trust is initially given, though partially at times.
Ernest Hemingway says, “The best way to know if you could trust someone is to trust them.”
Sounds simple, but in hindsight, this is also very painful. Because if you trust the wrong person, then you are at the receiving end of a very painful experience.
So giving someone your trust—whether you give it bit by bit or wholly—and then having that trust broken is a very painful experience.
And for a lot of us, have experienced this one way or another. Whether it’s in a professional environment or a relationship environment, we all have experienced this.
There are four main ways that trust is earned. Once it is given to you, you earn it in four major ways. Number one is reliability.
Are you a reliable person? Can people count on you? When you say something, do you do it? When you make a promise, do you keep it?
Number two is commitment.
When you are someone who says that “I’m committed to you”, or “I’m committed to this job”, do you really mean it? Do you give it 100%? Or do you only give it 50%? Or do you only give it what’s comfortable for you to give it?
Because when you say you’re committed, commitment means giving your all. You give it all that you got, 100% that you have. When you say you’re committed, but you only give 50% or you only give 30%, that’s as good as lying and that breaks down trust.
The next major way to earn trust is loyalty.
When someone is loyal to someone, you will be able to see that when tough times come. When tough times come, it shakes the relationship.
Whether it’s a conflict between you two, or with those outside the relationship, pay attention. Does your relationship become negatively affected by this conflict, in such a way that trust erodes?
When loyalty is a core principle of yours, anything that will rattle your relationship with that other person will not affect your loyalty to that person.
You will always make sure that you have that other person’s back when they need you the most. You will not run from the battlefield. You will not desert them when they need you the most. You will uphold your Honor to them. That’s what loyalty is about.
And lastly, faithfulness.
How faithful are you in protecting your relationship with that person or in protecting your relationship with your leader, with your manager, and with your boss? Are you faithful in keeping that relationship?
Or do you gossip about them? Do you say something negative about them? Or do you allow yourself to be courted by other people outside of your organization?
Faithfulness is making sure that you have integrity, that you have the honor to keep that relationship whole, and that you are there when they need you. You believe that they will do right by you and you will do right by them as well. That is what faithfulness is.
These are the four major pillars of how to earn trust in a relationship. This is how you earn the trust of your peers. Or if you’re a leader or a manager, this is how you earn the trust of your leader and manager and people who also follow your leadership in the office.
This is also how you earn the trust of your girlfriend, your boyfriend, your wife, your husband, and your spouse. This is how it’s earned. You practice these four things. You will have a very strong, trusting relationship.
What happens once trust is broken? It’s like shattering a piece of pottery. It is no longer useful. It is scattered to pieces. It cannot hold any water anymore. Nothing that you say will be weighty enough to the other party anymore if you break that trust. Nothing you say will hold weight. They will not believe you.
How will they begin to believe you again? The answer is simple. Pick up the pieces one by one. Figure out how they fit together and make sure that you try to make it whole again.
You might need to glue them together. You might need to add some more clay to that pot. You might need to waterproof it. Do whatever it takes to make that piece of pottery whole again over time. And you do that by practicing the four major pillars, plus practicing three other things.
What are these three things? Number one is humility.
Own up to what you’ve done to break that relationship, to break that trust. Say sorry, apologize, and make sure you tell them you’ll never do it again.
Now, they may not believe you when you say that, but they mean it. What’s important is you mean it and you keep it this time. That is the foundation of your broken pottery. That’s the base.
You have already been able to establish the base, but it still doesn’t hold any water. It still doesn’t hold any weight. So what you need now is to build the rest of it.
The second thing that you need to do is be subject to that other person’s accountability checks. This is because they no longer trust you. Your apologizing might help build the base, but that pottery is still cracked in a lot of places and lacks what it needs to hold water.
For example, if you break the trust of a personal relationship, and they say you got to be at home at this time, then you’ve got to be subject to that other person’s accountability checks because you’re the one who did something to break that trust.
Or if your leader or manager at work says, “I’m going to shorten the rope on you and I’m going to check on you more often. I want to know what you’re doing at a certain point in time, a certain date and time because you’ve broken that trust and I’m paying you.” It might feel like they’re micromanaging you, but really they’re doing that because they couldn’t trust you anymore because you’ve broken that trust.
And lastly, number three, keep on working on restoring that relationship by practicing the four major principles I shared with you earlier.
You already got the base. You’re already building the rest of that pottery up to how it was before so that it can hold water, but it’s very fragile because you just glued the pieces together.
It’s not solid yet, so you have to practice the four major things I mentioned. Be faithful, loyal, committed, and reliable.
If you’re able to practice these four major things consistently over time, you will be able to gain that trust back.
Now, with a picture of that broken pottery, it will always be fragile. It will never be the same. But there is still hope when you break someone’s trust because often you will hear people say, “If you break my trust, then I will never give it to you again.”
That is not really true. You can still rebuild that trust, but it takes a whole lot of work and it is a very painful and humbling process and will require a lot of sacrifices.
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