This post is part of our Monthly-ish Tips series.


I’ve been thinking (and writing) a lot about trust and communications lately—related to dialogue as well as broadcasts like presentations and group-wide communications. Here’s my template for how you can rebuild trust you’ve lost when you’re talking to someone. (I’ll take a stab at how it might go for a written communication next week.)

First, here’s a quick recap from a prior tip on the trap most smart people fall into when it comes to rebuilding lost trust: You’re too logical about it. You focus mostly (or only) on the more rational aspects of the trust equation. For example, you make a new/better promise, then (presumably) follow through, which boosts reliability. You try to fix the actual problem, which builds credibility.

Imagine a client who says:

“This is the third time I’ve raised this, and the project is now at risk of delay.”

All too often the immediate reply is:

“Here’s how we’re going to fix it right now.”

This response, while usually well-meaning, is particularly problematic 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. Not doing so can take some serious hours off of your life. Think about the cost in terms of time and energy of a client who complains over and over and over again about something that happened in the past. Persistent complaints are very often a sign that an old wound is festering because you’ve applied the wrong medicine.

So, let’s try this again.

Instead of rushing to a solution, try a six-part process.

Imagine a client who says:

“This is the third time I’ve raised this, and the project is now at risk of delay.”

Now, tailor this starter script to suit your style and situation, communicating in a way that’s genuine and heart-felt:

1. Prove you’ve heard they’re upset:I’d be frustrated if I were you.”
2. Explore/acknowledge the impact:“You said you’ve raised this three times, which has personal impact in terms of _________. And you mentioned delays, which _________.”
3. Take responsibility:“I could have done better, specifically _________. I am personally taking responsibility for this.”
4. Offer to make them whole:“I’d like to at least try to lessen the impact by _________.”
5. Commit to preventing it:“I’ve also escalated this/committed to making sure this doesn’t happen again by _________.”
6. Offer a solution:“Here’s how we’re going to fix it right now.”


Consider the world of difference for the receiver who’s hearing your plan to make it better after a whole lotta acknowledgment.

Yeah, it takes longer. I timed it: three seconds versus 30-ish.

I’m willing to bet those extra 27 seconds will save you hours—and maybe even days—in the long run. Seems to me that’s a pretty good return that’s worth a try.

Make It Real

This week, think about a time when you had to recover trust that you lost. Reflect on the six-part process. What did you include? What did you miss?

Learn More


Review my recorded webinar on rebuilding lost trust (scroll down to Webinar #2) or brush up on Charlie’s and my tips for constructive confrontation when others are untrustworthy in Chapter 25 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.


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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).