If you been in leadership for any length of time, something egregious takes place and you are impacted. You get that “run over by a bus feeling”. Trust is lost.
Trust breaches come in all shapes and sizes. You never quite know when and how it’s going to show up. Regardless of the cause or circumstance, it hurts. Eroded trust, causes rifts in relationships, and stymies effective teamwork.
You can’t control when you get thrown under the bus, but you can choose how to understand and respond.
Trust Shattered, Trust Rebuilt: A Guide to Understanding and Overcoming Betrayal in Professional Relationships
Trust is the silent force that creates a harmonious and productive working environment. A fragile yet crucial element binds teams together, driving efficient collaborations and forging strong professional relationships. When that trust shatters, the echoes of the fall can impact every facet of work dynamics, leading to an atmosphere filled with suspicion and doubt. As a leader, comprehending the roots of such breaches and the road to restoration can help heal wounds and revive the organizational spirit.
Delving into the Roots: Why and How Broken Trust Occurs
Trust is violated when actions defy expectations, leading to a betrayal that can occur for several reasons in the professional world.
Inconsistency is often a prime suspect. Leaders who do not “walk the talk,” fail to honour commitments, or do not consistently enforce policies breed an environment of distrust. Colleagues who fail to fulfill their responsibilities can also tarnish the reliability factor, causing the trust to falter.
The stark violation of ethics, such as dishonesty or hiding crucial information, also significantly fractures trust. Such actions are deemed as betrayals because they don’t just strain the professional relationship but attack the personal integrity of the parties involved.
Power misuse or authoritarian behaviour can further poison the trust well. When people in positions of authority misuse their power, subordinates may feel exploited, leading to resentment and a breakdown of trust.
Any Powerful Emotion Can Be the Cause Behind Betrayed Trust
Emotions can cloud judgment and fuel irrational behavior. Sometimes a perceived situation isn’t based on reality. That doesn’t matter. As long as a person believes they can benefit in some way, and their benefits are greater than the damage they’re going to cause in their mind, they can rationalize taking action.
Common biases like over-optimism, conviction bias, or superiority bias often kick in and fuel the process
Forgive, Remember, and Overcome: The Pathway to Trust Restoration
Overcoming the consequences of broken trust necessitates a healing process involving acceptance, understanding, and mutual efforts.
Recognition is the first crucial step. The offending party must admit their misstep and its implications. This openness can clear the fog of misunderstandings and exhibit a sincere commitment to mend the strained relationship.
Subsequently, the act of forgiveness takes centre stage. The injured party must be able to forgive the offender without necessarily erasing the episode from memory. Remembering is not about holding grudges, but rather, it serves as a reminder of the lessons learned.
Creating a Safe Path: Guardrails and Tips for the Trust Restoration Process
A few healthy guardrails must be set in place to navigate the terrain of trust restoration successfully.
Constructive Communication: Open, honest, and empathetic dialogue about the incident, its consequences, and how to move forward is crucial. This channel can resolve misinterpretations and set the right expectations for future interactions.
Consistent Actions: Actions speak louder than words. The party that broke the trust should consistently exhibit reliable and trustworthy behaviour to reaffirm their commitment to change.
Shared Objectives and Responsibility: Identifying common goals can help to realign focus, uniting both parties towards a larger purpose. Setting defined roles, responsibilities, and accountability mechanisms can bolster trust along with shared goals.
Transparent Practices: A transparent work environment minimizes misunderstandings and potential trust violations. Regular status updates, a culture of feedback, and open-door policies can promote transparency.
Defined Professional Boundaries: Clear professional boundaries can prevent future conflicts and trust breaches. These include setting and respecting expectations about job roles, work etiquette, personal space, and workload.
Here are six personal tips on how to respond to broken trust
1. Remember that your response shapes your reputation – Above all else, remember this point: how you choose to respond to the situation will significantly shape your reputation. Take the high road and respond with integrity, empathy, and professionalism. Don’t let someone else’s unprofessional behaviour goad you into responding in kind. Trusted leaders know that at the end of the day, all they have is their integrity.
2. Don’t react defensively – Defensiveness only escalates the situation and lends weight to unjustified criticism. Getting heated up over friendly fire gives emotional control to the other party and limits your ability to respond rationally and thoughtfully.
3. Listen to understand, not to refute or defend. Our most common instinct when we experience broken trust is to zero in on the fallacies of the other person’s comments and formulate a response to protect ourselves. Instead, resist the urge to focus on the micro elements of what’s being said.
4. Consider the source – Probably the sagest of all advice regarding betrayal. You can rest easier if the betrayer is prone to dramatization, criticizing others, being egotistical, or other unpredictable behavioural patterns. However, suppose the perpetrator is known as a steady, stable, trustworthy professional who has personally supported you in the past. In that case, you should take stock of their feedback and explore it further.
5. Understand the circumstances– It’s helpful to put yourself in the other person’s shoes to understand their motivation for unfair behaviours. Is the person unhappy? Stressed? Insecure? Vying for power or control? Frustrated? Is there a significant amount of change happening in the organization? Criticism increases dramatically. Criticizing and blaming others is a defence mechanism to deal with the fear of being asked to change. Even though you’re the target, remember that unfair criticism is often more about them than you.
6. Remember that you are more than this event – It’s easy to get down on ourselves when we experience the fire of criticism from colleagues. Most people strive to perform well and do what’s right, and when a boss or colleague criticizes our efforts, it hurts deeply. Depending on our personality and emotional makeup, it may lead to anger, bitterness, stress, resentment, self-doubt, and pity, to name a few. Remember that this too shall pass; in the big scheme of things, this is probably just a blip on the radar. Keep focused on all the positive things in your life, such as the people you love, those who love you, the successes you’re having at work, the joy you experience from your hobbies, your spiritual faith, and the support of your family and friends.
As the American writer Elbert Hubbard said,” the only way to avoid conflict is to do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing”.
Getting wounded by a breach of trust stinks; there are no two ways about it. But remembering these principles can help us keep things in perspective and maintain a strong defence when we’re thrown under the bus.
Until next time..