Regaining a Place of Trust
Everyone makes mistakes. Some of them are big; others small. Some are so significant that we wish we could roll the clock back by a month, a year, or a decade. Others are barely noticeable.
The magnitude of our mistakes, however, is usually measured in terms of the consequences. Did you get a parking ticket or did you lose your job?
If you once held a position of trust, then perhaps it was an error of judgement on your part. Maybe you let slip some confidential information at a party, and it got back to the person involved. Your relationship was damaged as a result, and because of the industry that you’re in, you found that others no longer trusted you the way they once did. This has damaged your career prospects.
Or, your boss caught you off-guard with an embarrassing question. You mumbled something about not knowing the answer, later realized that it was entirely your fault, but did nothing about it. When the truth came out, you found yourself side-lined in the company.
These are two examples of how you could have “fallen from grace”; how you could have ceased from being a trusted advisor. In this article, the third in our Trusted Advisor series, we need to focus on how you can regain your place of trust. If you had it once, and you want to get it back, how do you go about doing so?
There are several steps. Sometimes they’ll work. Other times they won’t. That’s because when trust is broken, some people won’t ever give it back to you. In such cases, all you can do is become more circumspect and then move on. You can’t force a relationship to exist, and neither can you reason one back into existence; but if you follow these steps, then you will increase the chances of restoring it.
1. Be humble
Humility depends on you owning the error; all of it. It’s amazing how many people don’t know how to do this.
How many “apologies” have you heard that sound like this? “I’m sorry if I offended you.” Of course you offended the other person; otherwise you wouldn’t be in a position where you needed to apologize.
When you insert that little word “if”, you let yourself off the hook and even worse, put some of the blame for the offence onto the other person. What kind of apology does that?
2. Be specific
“I’m sorry that I did such-and-such. It was irresponsible. It won’t happen again.” Can you hear the difference?
When you breach the trust that someone has had in you, then you have to make sure that he or she knows that you know what the exact cause was. That’s so that the other person can be reasonably confident that you won’t let it happen again. If you don’t know why that person no longer trusts you, then how will you be able to prevent it from recurring?
3. Be prompt
There’s something about procrastinating that makes what we don’t really want to do more difficult than if we simply did it right away. Apologies are like that. For our part, the infraction seems less and less significant. For the injured party, however, it gets bigger and bigger. Is it any wonder that you’re no longer trusted?
If you want to restore the relationship, then you must act as quickly as possible, preferably before the other person has a chance to think about what you’ve done. In other words, you want to apologize before that person even feels offended.
Of course, you don’t want to overreact, apologizing for everything under the sun. It will drive you nuts and make the other person have doubts about you because you have so many doubts about yourself. But one of the characteristics of trusted advisors is that they demonstrate good judgement; and if you have it, then you’ll know in your heart when you’ve said or done something that was inappropriate.
4. Be proactive
It’s not enough to minimize the damage and accept the blame. You also need to do whatever is necessary to rebuild that relationship. It won’t happen by itself.
What are some things you could do?
This will depend very much on the nature of your role and the relationship that you had beforehand. The one thing you can and must do, however, is to put the other person first. In other words, you deliberately subordinate your interests to the interests of the person whose trust you want to regain. If it’s still all about you, then clearly you haven’t understood the root of the problem.
Trust depends on respect, and you must prove that you respect that other person and the relationship that you had with him or her.
5. Be committed
In short, don’t give up. It takes far less to lose trust than it does to regain it.
You have to remember the principle of consistency. For as long as you are trusted, the judgement of the person who put you in that role is validated. When you breach that trust, it causes that person to start questioning his or her own intuition in everything. As a result, that person will start to second-guess other decisions he or she makes, especially those where some doubts may have existed already.
Non-verbal questions about your true agenda may arise, too. Behaviours which were once seen as entirely innocent may be scrutinized for hidden meanings, even if they’re not there and never have been.
It’s up to you
The responsibility for regaining a position of trust rests mostly on you. Only you can own the error, act quickly to rectify it, and work to restore the relationship. Whether or not the other person will ever trust you again is a matter for them.
You can only do your best.