How to Re-Earn Trust

Gordon (not his real name) had just been appointed head of his firm’s large regional office, after four years as a senior sales manager there.

He was aware that it was an unpopular choice, having earned the mistrust of three long serving key people he’d criticised and re-deployed whilst in his previous role.    They were influential people and word of their treatment had spread rapidly.

On reflection, with his coach, he’d realised he’d been overly harsh in his criticism of them and could have handled it differently.

Now, he knew he’d have to re-earn the trust and respect he needed to effectively lead the region.

With his coach, he planned the approach he’d take.

First and foremost, he recognised he needed to be sincere, vulnerable and courageous.

He met with each of the people he’d dealt earlier, one at a time, each place chosen for the ease and comfort of the person he was meeting with.   For example, one place was corner table in a nearby café.  Another was the park kiosk behind their office building.

At each meeting Gordon asked how they were, had they settled into their current role.  He was attempting to put them at ease.  They responded cautiously, but went along with him.

Gordon then said “I asked for this meeting with you to apologise for the way I dealt with your situation.   I could have handled it differently.  I have learned that since and assure you that I have adjusted myself.   I understand you will be wary of me.  I’d like our relationship to heal and for us to work together to achieve our goals.   I will do my best to re-earn your trust.  How do you feel about that?”

Without exception, each person took a longish pause before answering.  One person said simply “OK, let’s see how it goes.”     Another said “What you did hurt me a lot. It’ll take time for that to heal.”   The other said “How do you expect me to believe you?”

To each person Gordon said something like this “I’ve made mistakes and recognise them. I’ve learned that our values are never to be broken.  You will see that I mean that.  Judge me by my actions you see from now on.”

Shortly after that meeting he noticed less tension and slightly better performance from the region.

Over the next eighteen months, Gordon remained true to his word.

Two of the three independently came to him and acknowledged the change and declared their support.

The third person, the one who had asked ‘how do you expect me to believe you’, left the business.

It takes time to earn trust, which can be lost easily. Despite your best efforts it may never be re-earned fully.

I help my executive clients earn and keep trust by this simple rule: Be consistently caring and consistently competent in leading with our desired values.

What’s been your experience in this crucial area of trust?

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