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The 3 Annoying Causes of Broken Trust Damaging Your Teams and the Remedies

July 21, 2021

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After observing and coaching teams, especially executive teams, for the last 25 years, I assert that there are only three root causes for the loss of trust. 

I also assert that they can be avoided and remedied with care, effort and patience.

Broken trust is blamed on behaviour or communication, or lack thereof, that breaks a promise or an agreement or shared or personal values.

Therefore, we are encouraged to honour our promises, agreements and values to earn and keep trust.

In the commonplace workplace, we all intend to earn and keep trust don’t we?

There are circumstances where those intentions are abandoned e.g., agreed adversarial interaction, declared war, covert and undercover operations.   However, these exceptions do not, should not, apply to the commonplace workplace.

In the commonplace workplace broken promises, agreements and values are the symptoms of the three real root causes.

Every breach of trust can be attributed to any one or more of these three root causes:


Example 1:  John promises Gary, his workmate, that he’ll help him finish off a project but doesn’t.

Gary asks John why he didn’t turn up. 

John apologises and says he got distracted by his work and forgot.

Gary asks how come he got distracted.

John says his boss was putting pressure on him to finish a task quickly. 

John was uncomfortable (fearful) explaining to his boss he’s made a commitment to Gary.  He was equally uncomfortable (fearful) of giving Gary notice.  He rationalised that Gary could finish the project OK on his own.

The price is broken trust.

Example 2Mary’s goal is to become the next team leader.

Mary feels she must outshine her teammates and takes every opportunity to grab tasks that show her to be “worthy of promotion”, at the expense of her teammates.  

Mary is motivated by a strong fear of failure.

The price is broken trust.

Bad Habits

Example 1:   In the example of Mary, above, apart from Mary’s fear of failure, she also has a belief that it’s OK to disadvantage her teammates for her own advantage.  That belief is a bad habit whose origin may have come from earlier people of influence e.g., parents, siblings, earlier work experiences etc.

Beliefs are habits of meaning.

In Mary’s case the price is broken trust at two levels.

Example 2:   Phil is always late for meetings and always has an excuse.

Phil’s habit has been with him since school, and he has accepted that he can’t help it – thus he also has a limiting belief about it.

The price is broken trust.


Example 1:   Sharon is a strong character who is passionate about her work and the team she leads.

Sharon has not learned that as team leader her role is to empower her team to do the bulk of the work.

Consequently, Sharon micro-manages her team and does work that the team could be doing, leaving the less challenging tasks for them. 

Sharon hasn’t been developed as a leader and the price is broken trust.

Example 2 Harry has used humour all his life; initially to navigate the challenges of schoolyard harassment; then to win approval and attention from teammates and now, as an executive, to being liked by his team and peers.

The problem is that Harry is not seen as competent, assertive or appropriate.

In his ignorance he has traded respect for popularity.

The price is broken trust.

The Remedies

The Remedy for Fear is Courage

Example 1:  John remembers his values and uses them to have the courage to notify both his boss and Gary.

He also realises that a continued negative response to fear can become habitual.

Example 2:   Mary realises her fear of failure is causing her failure, since fear can make that which is feared happen because one focuses on it.  Because everything we pay attention to grows!

Mary uses her courage to do her best in any task she rightfully undertakes and so earns trust and respect as a team member – crucial to being considered for leadership.

Mary commits to being a fair and hardworking team member, knowing it will take time to re-earn trust.

The Remedy for Bad Habits is Better Practice

Example 1:   Mary realises her habit of making competition mean she must act unfairly is not right and she gets a coach to help her conduct the better practice of improved self and situational awareness and the choice to be fair and diligent.

Mary realises that consistent correct practice is the way to develop better habits. 

Example 2:   Phil gets a coach to help him with time management. 

He realises that the path to correcting his lack of punctuality is to consistently and correctly practice being better organised.

The Remedy for Ignorance is Constant Learning

Example 1:   Sharon realises she hasn’t learned the different behaviour and performance requirements of a team leader and that she can improve that by attending a leadership program, which she does.

Example 2:   Harry realises his reliance on humour is limiting his progression. He engages a coach to help him learn alternative and honourable ways of earning trust and respect rather than merely gaining popularity.


Trust is the most important value for a successful workplace. 

Without it, time, energy and resources are wasted.

Performance and productivity diminish.

Improvement and transformation become almost impossible without trust.

Trust, once lost is extremely difficult to regain and requires these five steps from the breaker:

  1. Self and situational awareness to realise the issue.
  2. Sincere apology.
  3. Timely restitution of, or compensation for, what was done or omitted.
  4. Consistent commitment to remain in honour.
  5. Patience when expecting re-giving of trust.

Re-giving trust requires these four steps from the aggrieved:

  1. Recognition of the root causes, in the breaker and self.
  2. Acceptance of the apology.
  3. Forgiveness.
  4. Gratefulness for the restitution or compensation.

Emotionally developed people with clarity about their values and a deep sense of humanity can regain trust and re-give trust more readily than others.

There may be situations where trust can never be regained.

We would be arrogant to think we’ve never broken trust!

How many examples of the root causes of broken trust and their remedies can you think of?

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