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Broken Trust

Have you ever unintentionally let someone down?

Have you had one of your employees let you know that they don’t trust you anymore?

Have you made a promise you didn’t keep?


As small business owners and entrepreneurs, trust is the cornerstone of our business practice.

Because of the nature of how small organizations operate by relying on everyone to wear multiple hats, we have to hire and work with people we can trust.  We also must use vendors we can trust and, when left to our choices, we hope to work for clients whom we can trust.

Everything is built on trust.

Trust, as defined by organizational scholars, is our willingness to be vulnerable to the actions of others because we believe they have good intentions and will behave well toward us.

In other words, we let others have power over us because we think they won’t hurt us and will, in fact, help us.

Trust, however, is a double-edged sword. Our willingness to be vulnerable also means that our trust can be betrayed. And over and over, businesses have historically betrayed that trust.

Broken Trust

Because we are human, and the people we trust are human, at some point someone is going to fail in our relationship, and the trust so diligently earned is lost.  We are all fallible, and sooner or later, we are going to forget something, say the wrong thing, or despite making promises, do something else.

As business leaders, our best course of action is to assume that we will, at some point in time, fail our employees, and at some time, they will fail us.

Need for Trust.

When employees do not trust managers and leaders, various forms of organizational fallout are likely, including low engagement, high turnover, loss of corporate pride, and reduced innovation. Trust has to be present for employees to take risks, and risk is at the heart of all innovation.

Rebuilding Trust

Because trust in the workplace is so important, once trust is lost, the only choice of action is to begin rebuilding that trust immediately.  Here are several suggested steps to begin the process of rebuilding trust.

  1. Acknowledge what caused trust to be compromised.
  2. Discuss personal feelings and emotions. When trust is broken, it is emotional; employees feel devalued and discounted. Leaders need to permit employees to express these feelings and emotions constructively.
  3. Get and give support to others in the process.
  4. Reframe the experience and shift from being a victim to taking a look at options and choices. It’s not necessarily what happens that is important; it is how we respond.
  5. Leaders must take responsibility. Ask, “What did I do or not do that caused this to happen?”
  6. Forgive yourself and others.
  7. Let go and move on.

The Bible

King David said in Psalm 118:8–9,

“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes”.

David spoke from experience, having been betrayed many times by those close to him. Instead of becoming bitter or regarding all people as inherently untrustworthy and not worth his time, he learned and taught a simple truth: sinful people will fail us, but we can always trust in God.

David’s son, King Solomon, learned that lesson well, saying in Proverbs 3:5–6.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

And do not lean on your own understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge him,

and he will make straight your paths.

Don’t be surprised or disappointed when you and your employees fail in your trusting relationships.  Rely on God and be prepared to make amends and move on.