This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

We all know that bumper sticker: “Stuff happens” (well, that’s the G-rated version). Sometimes things just don’t go well. Problems occur. It might even be your fault. The question is: can you recover the trust you may have lost in the process?

The answer is yes, as long as you go about it the right way, which most of us don’t. Why don’t we? Because we’re too logical about it. We focus mostly (or only) on the more rational aspects of the trust equation. For example, we make a new/better promise, then (presumably) follow through, which boosts reliability. We try to fix the actual problem, which builds credibility.

There’s more to it, though, because any trust injury also has emotional/psychological impact. And to heal that wound—or at least begin to—you also have to work to increase intimacy and decrease self-orientation. For example:

  • Prove you’ve heard their frustration/disappointment/upset. Let them say what they need to say, while you paraphrase and empathize—for at least twice as long as feels comfortable.
  • Explore and acknowledge the impact on them. Let them vent about that too, while you do more than nod your head or bide your time
  • Apologize—or at least take responsibility for whatever part you own (and you always own at least a little part because, let’s face it, it takes two to tango).
  • Offer to make them “whole.” Did the goof cost them money? Time? Political capital? How might you help make that up? Sometimes a genuine offer is all that’s necessary.
  • Show your commitment to preventing the problem from happening again. Owning up to something again and again without acknowledging and addressing the pattern puts you back at square one.

Lost trust is never fully recovered until you fully and explicitly acknowledge what went wrong. If you’re serious about rebuilding trust, then get serious about using your “soft skills” to do exactly that.

Make it Real

This week, think about a time when you had to recover lost trust. Connect the actions you took to the four variables of the trust equation: credibility, reliability, intimacy, and (low) self-orientation. Which ones were well-covered? What was missing? What might you do differently next time?

Learn More


Read about an unexpected way to recover lost trust, or dig into what to do when others are untrustworthy in Chapter 25 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

The following two tabs change content below.

Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).