Have you ever struggled to release the pain caused by broken trust? Sure, you wanted to forget what happened. To move through the experience and move on. Yet, the pain lingered like a phantom limb.
Stealing your focus.
Draining your energy.
Holding you back.
I just took a call about this from a prospective client – the VP of HR for a consumer products company. This woman’s team had a lot on its plate. A new CEO to position. A leadership team to develop. A transformative agenda to bring out. But, the biggest challenge?
For the past few years, the company had gone through lots of changes. Changes whose negative impacts had largely been worked around, instead of through. This is what that head of HR said to me:
“Hits on trust that happened years ago are posing a serious threat to our current initiatives,” she told me. “Instead of trust being used as a vehicle to connect and move forward, people are using it as a weapon, using what happened in the past to judge and criticize. These historical hurts on trust have been identified as the number one barrier to our agenda’s successful implementation. We’re looking for a healing strategy.”
A healing strategy. That got my attention.
Isn’t that what we all need, when trust has broken down? We all want to learn to trust again and get back in the game. We all want healing for the people we work with and support – healing that helps them be their best. There’s only way. And that’s to step in and work through the historical hurts. Here’s where I can help – with a roadmap proven to overcome historical hits on trust and help people and teams learn to trust again.
Observe and acknowledge what’s happened.
Give the gift of awareness. Notice and acknowledge what you and your people are experiencing. Healing begins when leaders recognize what has occurred, its effect on people and the system, and the resulting losses.
Sometimes ‘what happened’ to break trust down is straightforward. A single act. A glaring oversight. But far more often, trust has been worn down by less obvious behaviors. Little things people have ‘done’ to one another unintentionally.
Small behaviors that were perceived as insensitive.
Fleeting reactions that triggered doubt about intentions or motives.
Ways people felt railroaded, instead of supported, to move through change.
Assess where trust stands, and why. Get a baseline understanding that will help you and your people stop beating around the bush and address core issues.
Encourage feelings to surface.
Trust is emotionally provocative. When it’s broken, strong feelings get stirred. Anxiety. Vulnerability. Regret. Betrayal. People may wonder if they have what it takes to move on and contribute – or if they even want to. Give people permission to express those feelings constructively. Create safe forums that allow people to express their fear, frustration, anger, and doubt. Interrupt the cycle of resentment going ‘underground.’ Help people give voice to the negativity they’re holding, so they can begin to release it.
Give yourself permission to get support.
Rebuilding trust is hard work. But something quite powerful occurs when the breach of trust is truthfully acknowledged. Not twisted, justified, or defended – but simply acknowledged.
People can begin to move from finger-pointing to understanding. From judging to considering extenuating circumstances. From abdicating to problem solving. From loss to possibility. Trust work is game changing. Yet, it’s not always easy. You may need support to bring out the highest intentions of everyone in your organization.
You may need support to support the trust work.
Give yourself permission to go after the help you need. For 25 years, the biggest mistake I’ve seen HR leaders make is not asking for support earlier.
Reframe the experience.
Help people understand the bigger picture of ‘what happened.’ Encourage them to ask questions about what they’ve experienced. Give them open answers. Help them discover opportunity. Authentically engaging a process of inquiry gives people the chance to broaden their perspectives. To see beyond their own pain and take in the challenges the business is facing. People want the organizations they work for to be successful. Help them see their role in forging that success. Paint a picture of where they fit in and how you’re in this process to rebuild trust together.
Support people to take responsibility. They may not have responsibility for what occurred and what they experienced. But they can take responsibility for how they choose to respond. Yes, there is power in hearing and acknowledging what happened. But the key to turning sinking trust around is inviting others to take responsibility for aligning around the path forward. This open invitation is an opportunity to empower people. To unleash the paradigm-shifting realization that trust begins with them. With their sound intentions. Their constructive attitudes. Their commitment to extend the benefit of the doubt, check out assumptions, and truly seek to understand – instead of blame – one another when trust breaks down.
People have far more power than they realize to dramatically improve the level and quality of trust in their workplaces. Spark that awareness. Feed it. Use it.
Offer release through forgiveness.
Forgiveness is freedom. It’s not forgetting what happened, but releasing the grip of what happened. It’s about letting go, so you can move on. Help your people move through lingering bitterness. Listen for what still needs to be heard and understood for them to feel ready to let go. Help them choose to remember the lessons and release the impact. Support them rebuild trust and open up to co-creating the future. Leading the way in extending forgiveness is not just for others, but for yourself. Carrying guilt about your possible role in trust’s breakdown won’t serve anyone.
Let go and move on.
Trust begins with you. Model moving on! Contribute to your organization’s new Trust Story. You’ve got a fresh start, and you’ve earned it. Yet – don’t underestimate trust’s fragility. Keep close tabs on the behaviors you model.
The moment any of us stop paying attention to trust is the moment we risk losing it.
About the Author: Michele Reina is co-founder of Reina, A Trust Building Consultancy. She, along with business partner and husband Dennis Reina, have collectively devoted nearly 50 years to researching trust, developing rigorous instruments to measure trust and defining practical steps to rebuild trust that has been compromised. Michele works with organizations like Walt Disney World, American Express and Harvard University, taking the guesswork out of trust building to achieve measurable improvements in collaboration and teamwork, employee engagement, leadership effectiveness, workplace culture and change management.