We’ve all heard it (and may have said it ourselves) many times: “Trust is hard to gain and easy to lose.” Often that statement is followed up with, “And, once it’s gone…” Even without finishing the sentence the implication is clear: once trust is lost, it’s very difficult to get back.
But is trust really as fickle as we think it is, requiring such Herculean effort to gain and maintain? And is it really so hard to recover once it’s lost?
Trust is Hard to Gain
Let’s start by exploring the idea that trust is hard to gain.
Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a stranger on the street trusting you to watch their beloved cat Lawrence while they vacation in Greece this month.
Before entrusting you with the wellbeing of their precious companion, they would need some reassurances. They would need to be confident that your intentions are good, that you’re able to do the job, that you actually will do the job, and that you will connect with and care for Lawerence almost as much as they do, five walks around the block each day and all.
Trust may be hard to gain quickly with Lawrence’s Greece-bound caregiver, but it’s still relatively simple to demonstrate your intentions, capability, reliability, and level of caring before they ask you to temporarily foster their feline friend.
In fact, there are several things you can do – both with cat-loving vacationers and in your professional relationships – that will accelerate trust, like focusing on the other person and listening, making it a lot easier to gain than we might think.
Trust is Easy to Lose
Next, let’s explore this concept.
Think about a few people at work whom you trust and with whom you have strong relationships. That might include your work BFF, a colleague you really admire, or someone who just gets you.
Has anyone in that group ever done anything to break your trust? Even just a little?
What about that time they said they were going to get right back to you and they didn’t? Or they’re constantly running late so you can’t trust them to join the team for lunch on time. Maybe at some point they weren’t as careful as you wanted with information you asked them not to share.
Yet you still trust them.
With most people we trust, it’s easy to forgive transgressions, especially for smaller things. We assume positive intent on their part and give them the benefit of the doubt. When they don’t get right back to us as they said, we know they probably have a good reason, and we don’t make it a big deal.
From that perspective, real trust isn’t as easy to lose as we sometimes think it is. Real trust can withstand a little testing.
Once Trust is Gone, it’s Not Coming Back
So what about those times when trust isn’t just tested, it breaks – what then? How hard is it really to recover trust once it’s lost?
It’s important to remember that all human relationships go through natural periods of rupture and repair and that no relationship, professional or personal, is going to be entirely conflict free. And that includes broken trust, whether through intentional or unintentional actions.
Furthermore, if we handle the conflict or the broken trust well, the relationship can actually come back stronger than before. This is a concept known as antifragility, an idea popularized by Nassim Taleb’s book Antifragile.
Taking perhaps a little liberty in the interpretation, antifragility is the concept that systems, entities, or organisms can thrive when exposed to stress, vs. being durable or resilient (difficult to break or able to recover to their initial state). In other words, antifragile entities actually become stronger under duress.
Think about a forest after a fire: massive regrowth, new species appear, flora and fauna flourish.
What happens to muscles that have been tested and stressed through exercise? They rebuild into stronger, more capable muscles.
Broken bones generally heal stronger than the original bone.
This is antifragility.
Relationships can be antifragile, too, as they go through those natural periods of rupture and repair.
If there’s a relationship where trust is broken and you want to recover it, there are a few things you can do to build the relationship back stronger than before – or at least get it to a better place.
- Prioritize the relationship over your own discomfort – be willing to have the tough conversation;
- Listen to the other person to be sure you’ve heard their experience of the event;
- Acknowledge the impact of broken trust on the other person;
- Take responsibility, and apologize when appropriate, for your part; and
- Commit to preventing it in the future.
Although the myths about how difficult it is to build trust – and to recover it when it’s lost – persist, there’s really no mystery to it: lower your self orientation and focus on the other person, be willing to connect, say what needs to be said, and do what you said you would.
Recovering lost trust might be easier than you think. And the rewards are certainly worth it.
Trust-Based Resources to Maximize Your Team’s Potential:
- Join our free webinar on September 14: Recovering Lost Trust.
- Take the Trust Quotient (TQ) Assessment.
- Insider’s Guide, The TQ: What You Need to Know.
- Subscribe to our newsletter.
- Follow us on LinkedIn or Instagram.
- Contact us directly to encourage cultural change in your organization through a trust-centric framework that pulls everyone together.