Updated: 2 days ago
My focus until now was how to build your trustworthiness and have other people trust you more. This article focuses on how to regain trust once you lose it.
How do you know you lost their trust?
The first question you should ask yourself is: how do I know I lost someone’s trust in me? They may have told you that in so many words, but often you have to be attentive to notice a change in the other person’s behavior and attitude towards you. If you are their boss, do they appear less inclined to share bad news with you because they are afraid of your reaction? If they are your boss, did they stop giving you important assignments? Did they start micromanaging your work? Ask you to prepare more detailed reports of your work?
“I don’t care” is a valid answer
Assuming you know you are less trusted, the next question you should ask is whether you even care. You don’t have to be trusted by everyone, in everything, and all the time. Did you even know that the other person trusted you? Did you care before whether they trusted you or not? What are the consequences of losing their trust, and can you live with them? Finally, is there anything you can do about that loss of trust? If the loss of trust was due to a mistake you made, which you acknowledge to be a mistake, you could probably recover from it. But if the loss of trust is due to a fundamental personality incompatibility in an area that is important to both you and the person who now trusts you less, you might not be able to regain their trust.
If your answer is “I don’t care,” just keep one thing in mind: trust is transferrable. A person who lost trust in you might share that with others, who might trust you more.
Don’t get into the situation
Hindsight is 20:20. The easiest way to regain trust is not to lose it at all. Consider your actions, and do your best to predict and prevent situations in which you might lose someone’s trust in you. For the most part, those are predictable.
It takes a lot more effort
The bad news is that it takes much more work to regain trust than gain it in the first place. The reason is that we react much stronger to negative events than to positive ones. If you lied once, you probably lost the other person’s trust, and telling the truth once would not be enough to regain that trust. You must consistently act in a trustworthy way and for a long time just to get to the level of trust the other person had in you right before you acted in an untrustworthy way.
How did I get here?
Don’t try to regain trust before you understand why you lost it in the first place. The first step to solving any problem is to recognize there is one and understand why it happened. Your understanding must be of the other person’s perspective, which might be different than yours. What did you do that caused the other person to lose trust in you? Have you misled them somehow? Did you miscommunicate something? Did you not set expectations, and they had higher expectations than what you intended to deliver? Was their trust in you unjustified? Did you even know that they trusted you? When you consider their perspective, remember that maybe 10% of the reasons they lost trust in you were based on fact, but 100% is based on their perception. Also, remember that your intentions and actions are not the same. Your intentions might have been pure and good, but they were not as visible to them as your actions and behaviors, and the latter caused you to lose their trust in you.
Once you understand what you did that caused the other person to lose trust in you, own it! Don’t blame anyone or anything else—especially not the person who lost trust in you. The last thing you want to do now is to put them in a defensive position. Ask yourself whether you want to be right or you want to be trusted. Feel free to explain why you did what you did, but don’t justify it. When you justify what you did, you are telling them there is a good likelihood that you will do it again, and that’s not the way to regain trust. They need to trust you not to do it again.
What can I do to regain your trust?
Now that you know what you did that caused you to lose the other person’s trust in you, and you owned it, it’s time to turn it around, and that starts with asking a very simple (yet not easy) question to ask: what can I do to regain your trust? When you ask this question, first and foremost, you are indicating to the other person that their trust in you is important to you, that losing their trust is something you wish would not have happened, and that you intend to work hard to regain that trust. Secondly, the answer they might give you could help you determine what you should do to regain their trust. Maybe it’s something you haven’t thought about?
Don’t abuse the second chance
Assuming that you asked for a second chance, you mustn’t abuse it. The person who lost trust in you may be thinking three things: (1) “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me;” (2) Maya Angelou’s “when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time;” and (3) “Once bitten, twice shy.” Each of those statements would cause the other person to be skeptical of your efforts. For that reason, you must be extra careful not to abuse that second chance. Also, remember that if you only messed up once, this could be interpreted as a single occurrence event. But when you do it again, it becomes who you are. It’s no longer something you did but something you do.
Finally, ensure that your efforts to regain the other person’s trust are visible. Remember that whatever happens one inch outside the frame never happened…
Dr. Yoram Solomon is a trust expert, author of The Book of Trust, host of The Trust Show podcast, a two-time TEDx speaker, and facilitator of the Trust Habits workshop that helps building trust in organizations.