Ways to Rebuild Trust at Work

If Your Trust at Work Is Damaged, Take 5 Actions to Regain Trust

Work trust, once destroyed, is difficult to regain. Trust in your work organization and in your coworkers is fundamental to your happiness and success at work. This is because trust is the cornerstone of the work culture of a successful company.

In a work culture that encourages transparent communication, thoughtful risk, experimentation, employee motivation, goal achievement, employee empowerment, and employee engagement—all hallmarks of effective organizations—work trust is paramount. Without it, these and other desired work behaviors won't occur.

In an earlier article, the top five ways to destroy trust at work were reviewed. These are certainly not the only ways to destroy trust; organizations destroy trust daily at work in hundreds of small ways. If you notice how these five trustbusters play out at work, you'll be prepared to institute and participate in these efforts to rebuild and regain trust, once trust is lost at work.

You can rebuild trust at work by taking these positive actions.

Apologize for Lying

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If trust at work is damaged because you lied, you will need to admit you lied and apologize with honest, sincere, and unmistakable humility. No other solution will work to rebuild trust at work. It is one of the most difficult methods suggested for managers to regain trust at work—for the average person, admitting a lack of integrity is tough.

If you want to share the reason why you lied, you can, but you risk sounding as if you are making excuses for your lie. There is no good reason why people lie at work.

So, most of the time, recognize that you are making excuses or helping yourself feel better by justifying your behavior. Neither is conducive to rebuilding the trust you damaged.

The goal of your apology is to repair the most egregious form of trust destruction imaginable: an out and out lie. Your coworker almost always knows or will find out that you lied. A smart coworker will not trust you again.

To rebuild trust, both the admission of guilt and the apology are necessary. Even if these are offered sincerely, your coworker will be wary for a while. And who can blame him? Your lie undermined the most precious of unspoken workplace contracts. 

Apologize for Lying by Omission

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Yes, telling part of the truth is a lie. Leaving out details or part of the story will not win points with any coworker. They won’t trust that you are telling them the whole story and will anticipate being blindsided in the future by the details you omit.

And, yes, they will see right through your later attempts to equivocate or explain your words or the missing portions of the story.

Coworkers see right through excuses such as "forgot to mention", "didn’t know", and "didn’t think you needed to know." They recognize your efforts to extricate yourself from a lie of omission for what they are: more lies and excuses.

Want to know how to rebuild trust at work after a lie of omission? See number one above. Admit you lied and apologize. Nothing else will make amends and begin the process of rebuilding trust.

Note Your Efforts and Failures to Walk Your Talk

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On occasion, you will fail to walk your talk. We all do; after all, you're human. Knowing the impact of your actions on the organization's operation, especially if you are an executive or senior leader, you must note your failure.

Perhaps you received feedback from employees or a fellow executive that your actions don't match the organization's identified values or vision. Perhaps you notice the incongruence with the specified desired actions on your own.

However you receive the message, if your actions are different than the organization’s expectations, you must note the discrepancy publicly. An apology is nice, but a statement about how you will change your actions is most important. 

Make it okay with your coworkers and fellow executives to bring any discrepancy to your attention in the future. Your sincere statement about how you will change your behavior followed by visible efforts to change will demonstrate your commitment to adopting the desired behavior.

You can also help "walk the talk" by noting to coworkers when you are making the effort to work on your conduct. They may not notice, and the gentle reminder will reinforce your commitment, in their eyes, to your pledge to "walk your talk."

Make Up for Failing to Do What You Say You Will Do

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It's easy to miss projections and goals. You must take into account so many factors when organization performance is predicted that missing your target, over-expanding, or over-promising rewards can severely injure trust.

A small manufacturing company almost declared bankruptcy. It was proceeded by a round of goal setting that left employees shaking their heads; the targets were so far out that no one could visualize actually achieving them. Additionally, the owner had promised that the opportunity was so special, that by this time next year, "We'll all be driving around in red sports cars."

Right, said the employees. And right they were, as the projected opportunities failed to materialize. Threatened with the loss of their livelihood, the employees distrusted everything management did or said. The organization's HR department set up a long-term plan to gradually regain trust.

The owner set a new, reachable goal at the weekly meeting. Each week, the goal was achieved; the owner noted to staff that the goal was achieved and thanked them for their contribution. Gradually, as more realistic goals were met, the staff came to trust their leadership again.

The same type of effort will also work at the department level, but your best bet is to avoid involving yourself or your organization in over-promising, over-projecting, or using a crystal ball.

Summary Thoughts About Rebuilding Trust at Work

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These tips and tools for rebuilding trust at work will take you a long way toward building the trusting workplace you desire. They provide work trust-building solutions for the top five ways in which trust is destroyed, plus more.

It's not just the desire for trust at work as a goal in and of itself, a workplace in which employees experience trust is a successful workplace. Employees and customers are happier because of the underlying tension that afflicts organizations without trust is missing.

Employees can act with candor and without hesitation. Rehearsing and wordsmithing are unnecessary as employees communicate without fear of reprisal. Thoughts are not withheld or monitored based on who is present to hear them.

A trusting workplace affords employees a comfortable environment for open communication, risk-taking, innovation, and achievement. A trusting workplace ensures managers and coworkers that discretionary energy is expended to serve the overall good of the organization. Got trust? Your organization rocks.