7 Powerful Steps to Rebuild Workplace Trust

According to a recent survey by the American Psychological Association, more than half of U.S. employees’ sense of well being at work can be attributed to the workplace trust that’s present – or missing – in their working environments.

While people know they need trust in their workplaces, most still aren’t sure how to restore trust once it’s been lost. In large part, this is due to a lack of awareness of the common, everyday behaviors people practice that perpetuate a culture of distrust within their own organizations.

In our 20+ years of research, we’ve discovered that 90% of the behaviors that break workplace trust are unintentional and subtle. Moreover, we’ve seen that these trust-breaking behaviors occur on a daily basis and are committed by everyone, at every level of responsibility, and within every form of professional relationship.

While people know they need trust in their workplaces, most still aren’t sure how to restore trust once it’s been lost.

Consider the following behaviors, which we’ve found to be the top trust-breakers in our work with people around the world:

  • Covering up mistakes
  • Gossiping
  • Hoarding information
  • Leaking confidential information
  • Micro-managing
  • Sending mixed messages
  • Shooting the messenger
  • Shutting down others’ ideas
  • Taking credit for others’ work
  • Throwing others under the bus

Do you experience others breaking your trust in these ways? Can you remember a time when you were the one to engage in one of these behaviors? We’d imagine you can. None of us is immune to slipping into these patterns of behavior as we juggle our mounting responsibilities at home and work.

When you and others break workplace trust, it’s easy to feel helpless and hopeless. We assure you: There are things you can do to release yourself and your coworkers from the crippling effects of diminished trust.

Here we provide you with a practical and proven framework, the Seven Steps for Healing® to help you restore trust to your workplace.  This powerful model gives you stepping-stones away from the feelings of hurt, frustration, and protectionism that broken trust creates towards a place of renewed confidence, heightened awareness, and expanded energy. You have the ability to restore trust to your workplace and increase your own trustworthiness within your relationships.

There are things you can do to release yourself and your coworkers from the crippling effects of diminished workplace trust.

Step One: Observe and acknowledge what has happened.

The first step to move through an experience of broken workplace trust is to clarify what happened to you and acknowledge the impact of the betrayal on your work and life. Did you suffer the loss of time, financial reward, or professional opportunity? Did you lose a collaborative partner, a mentor, or a friend? When you identify the effects of broken trust, you honor your perceptions of your experience and begin the process of restoring trust.

Step Two: Allow feelings to surface.

We all experience an emotional fallout from the breach of workplace trust. In this second step, you own your feelings about your betrayal, and grieve for the losses that may have occurred as a result of it. Your emotions may range from slight frustration or distraction to full-blown rage or devastation. Regardless of their intensity, your feelings are valid and deserve to be recognized.

Regardless of their intensity, your feelings are valid and deserve to be recognized

Step Three: Get support.

When your workplace trust has been broken we all need support. While it’s understandable you may be hesitant to reach out for help when you feel you can’t trust others, this is a time to be compassionate to yourself and ask for support. The role of your confidant is to give you perspective, and help you see a productive way forward out of your place of hurt – perspective you may not be able to gain on your own.

 Step Four: Reframe the experience.

Placing your experience in a larger context and striving to understand the extenuating circumstances which led to the breach of trust allows you to view your experience holistically. You’re able to grasp the complexities of your situation, consider what might have been going on for the person who let you down and begin to contemplate the options available to you as you move forward.

Even if you didn’t play a role in the breakdown of trust, you do have a role to play in restoring it.

Step Five: Take responsibility.

Even if you didn’t play a role in the breakdown of workplace trust, you do have a role to play in restoring it. Even if you’re not ‘at fault’ in a situation, showing others – and yourself –you’re willing to dig deep and learn which behaviors you need to practice to keep the situation from happening again is an extremely powerful way to restore trust with others. You break the rhythm of distrust when you own how you show up in your relationships.

Step Six: Forgive yourself and others.

Learning to forgive is a gift you give yourself. When you forgive, you release yourself from the weight of bitterness and resentment and empower yourself to approach others with compassion and understanding in the future. When others sense you you’re able to forgive, they extend their forgiveness (and trust) to you – perhaps even when you need it most. Accepting that you and others are human and fallible is a core facet of your ability to build trusting relationships.

You break the rhythm of distrust when you own how you show up in your relationships.

Step Seven: Let go and move on.

When you’ve walked the steps to restore trust in your workplace relationships, you disengage yourself from the grip broken trust can have on you. Letting go and moving on doesn’t mean you forget what happened, how you felt, or the impact damaged trust had on your life. It simply means you choose to focus on the insights and deeper understanding you’ve gained about your connections with others…and about life in general.

Practicing these steps to restore broken trust will help you move through past and current disappointments, hurts, and breaches of trust to create the trust-based workplace you want, need, and deserve. The steps will also help you help others deal with their pain and frustrations. Broken trust can be a gift and teacher if you allow it to be. Together, you and your coworkers can be empowered to build stronger partnerships, more creative collaborations, and deeper personal connections through your shared trust-building experiences. Trust begins with your proactive contribution to a trust-based workplace. Workplace trust begins with you.



Drs. Dennis and Michelle Reina are co-founders of Reina, A Trust Building Consultancy. Considered pioneers in the field of trust, their clients include American Express, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, the US Army, Harvard, Yale, and Walt Disney World. They are the authors of the award-winning, best-selling business books, Rebuilding Trust in the Workplace: Seven Steps to Renew Confidence, Commitment, and Energy and Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace: Building Effective Relationships in Your Organization. Dennis and Michelle can be reached via www.ReinaTrustBuilding.com; info@reinatrustbuilding.com; or 802-253-8808.

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