Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpy had a great fall, All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t get Humpty together again.”Unknown
For me, the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme is great illustration of what happens when trust is violated or broken. Whether the relationship is personal or professional, things fall apart when promises are broken, commitments are not honored, lies are told, information is withheld, confidence is betrayed and people or their actions are willfully misrepresented by others. Regardless of the circumstance, the results of broken trust are division, doubt, fear, insecurity, hurt, bitterness, stress, resentment and unhealthy interactions or relationships.
What Happens When Trust is Broken?
In my last post, I wrote about how everything we do revolves about trust. I explained the dynamics of how trust works and how it shows up in our everyday lives. In this article, I want to continue the conversation by looking at what happens when trust is broken and what it takes to rebuild it. Whether the relationship is personal or professional, the consequences of broken trust can be high and long-lasting. Violated trust can result in toxic work environments, divorce, broken friendships, terminated business arrangements and an overall suspicion or distrust of others as everything becomes more difficult without trust. I can still remember one of my most painful experiences with violated trust. It happened with a friend I had long regarded as a sister and had never imagined would hurt me in the way she did. Regardless of the motive behind her actions, whether she meant to hurt me or not, the pain I experienced from the betrayal was devastating.
The effect of broken trust is not just restricted to personal relationships. Most of the tensions and problems in interpersonal relationships at work are a product of ‘professional hurt’ arising from a feeling of distrust that a team member(s) might have about another’s willingness or readiness to support them. Distrust in teams can also be a consequence of decisions or actions taken that can seem threatening or inconsiderate of employee well-being or might emerge from a disappointing experience of having been let down by management. Regardless of the reason for the distrust, the cost to business is high as the efficiency of the team and overall performance of the organization can be crippled by the absence of trust. And this can quickly spiral into loss of productivity as employees lose psychological safety, operate in silos and struggle with sharing information and knowledge to work together successfully.
Can Trust Be Rebuilt?
Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend about the topic of trust. He adamantly expressed that once trust is broken, it can never return to its original form or level. When I asked him how so, he explained that his father had once told him that trust and virginity operated on the same principle- it does not come back after you have lost it. I chuckled at his perspective which represented a new and different way of thinking about the implications of broken trust. So, I asked him if he believed that trust once could be regain after it was broken. He then explained that while trust can be rebuilt in a relationship, it would always be limited (and not absolute as it originally was) since the person whose trust was violated would always harbor doubt at the back of his/her mind.
While his perspective on what happens when trust is violated might sound cynical, the implications of broken trust are indeed far reaching, and relationships are irrevocably changed when and where this breach occurs. For example, there are many couples who work through issues of infidelity to forge stronger bonds and relationships while others do not survive. Whether the relationship is personal or professional, the pain and hurt of broken trust can blind people from ever seeing objectively again, hold them prisoners to doubt and fear and render them incapable of moving forward.
Our inability to trust or form trusting relationships can also date back to our childhood days and travel with us into adulthood. Child psychologists argue that babies learn self-confidence and to trust their environment from the very early stages of their development. If a baby cries and is picked up, the baby learns to trust that someone will come to their aid. Correspondingly, when a baby cries and no one responds, that baby will feel unsafe and become wired to doubt their environment and the world around them. Trust issues are also common amongst people who struggle with abandonment (emotionally or physically), loss of a loved one or some other type of trauma during their early years.
Quite often the people who break trust expect the persons affected by their actions to just get over it and move on. Unfortunately, restoring trust is neither that simple nor easy. When one person is deeply offended or disappointed by the actions of another, they might forgive the person and still struggle with forgetting the past and letting go of the pain associated with the experience. This can then lead the individuals to develop deep seated trust issues that prevent them from trusting others and even undermine their own confidence in their ability to make good choices and accurate judgements about people.
Tips for Rebuilding Trust
Without vision people perish and without trust relationships are doomed. So, since we cannot operate effectively without trust, how do we rebuild trust that has been broken or built it anew? The answer to this question might lie in the same measure we use to determine whether we can trust someone- that is by their character and their competence. For instance, when my daughter messes up, she is always quick to say, “I’m sorry”. Her apology to me is always met with my standard response which is -if you are sorry, change your behavior. I then go on to explain to her that while it is important to always say sorry when she does something wrong, apologizing is not enough. To restore my confidence in her, she will need to back up her words with actions that demonstrate a commitment to making good choices regardless of whether I or someone else is watching. Simply put she must walk the talk and do what she says she will do.
While there are no quick fixes or overnight solutions to rebuilding trust, here a few tips in no particular order which can help you restore trust or strengthen it:
- Be honest: I firmly believe that honest is a sign of respect and that we do not do anyone a favor by misrepresenting the truth or lying to maintain the peace or avoid hurt feelings. If you want people to trust you, you must demonstrate integrity and talk straight.
- Admit your wrong: You cannot be wrong and strong. “If you mess up, fess up” and hold yourself accountable for your mistakes and failures and ask for forgiveness. Take responsibility for your actions without pointing fingers or making excuses for your actions. If you are unclear about the situation, ask the person- what did I do to hurt you?
- Make amends: For the person who caused the hurt, there must be ownership and acknowledgement of the impact of one’s action, backed by strong remorse and a genuine resolve to change behaviors as evidenced by their actions now and in the future.
- Forgive: Making the choice to forgive is not easy and can seem as if the other person is getting off the hook. However, this is about forgiving yourself for trusting the person as well as forgiving the person for hurting you. The key here is to remember that forgiveness is for you. It allows you to let go of all the negativity and toxic emotions associated with whatever was done to you.
- Be open: Adapt a mindset that what you see is what you get. Be real about who you are and what you represent. Accept yourself for what and who you are and do the same for others. People will not trust who you pretend to be.
- Communicate expectations: This will require you to be assertive and clear about your needs and expectations of others or what you might need to feel safe. Don’t deny your feelings, name the emotions and share them. Do not expect people to read your mind, speak up.
- Keep your promises: This comes down to your personal integrity. Are you trustworthy? Do you trust yourself? Do you do what you say you will do? Is there evidence in your life to support who you say you are?
- Be Patient: For the person who suffered hurt, trusting again will takes time, courage, and vulnerability to open oneself to the prospects of being hurt again. Give yourself and the other person time and a real chance to heal and recover.
In conclusion, can trust be restored? I believe so. We as humans are resilient and have the capacity to learn, unlearn, love, and forgive. Trust is no different. But bear in mind that there are no guarantees that we will not break trust or be hurt again when our trust is broken. However, if we behave in ways that demonstrate openness, trustworthiness, and consistency, we can regain trust and strengthen it. After all, as Oprah Winfrey says, “In the end, all you have is your reputation.”
Until next time, Remember, It’s A Learning Life!