Mending Broken Trust: 4 Ways to Overcome

A lock with a chain wrapped around it to demonstrate mending broken trust

Have you ever broken someone’s trust before, either at work or in your personal life? Or did anyone ever break your trust?

Realizing someone either didn’t follow through for you or otherwise betrayed you can be gut-wrenching. It can change your view of that person for years to come and, sometimes, it destroys relationships.

The question then becomes, what do we do when we’ve either broken someone’s trust or someone has broken our own while in the workplace? Is there a way to rebuild a healthy and strong working relationship with that person? How do we go about mending broken trust?

That’s what I want to focus on. I’ll talk about what happens when trust is broken and the steps that we can take toward mending that professional relationship.

The Science of Broken Trust

According to an article by Paul J. Zak in Harvard Business Review, one of the major chemicals in the brain that affects the degree to which we trust someone is oxytocin. The article mentions that variables like intense stress can inhibit the production of oxytocin, while higher levels of the chemical can be linked to higher empathy.

In another study, which was broken down in Psychology Today, it was found that there are two major parts of the brain that experience increased activity when trusting someone. In other words, your brain rewards you with good feelings when trust is established with another close person.

That is why broken trust can be so painful and detrimental to our relationships. We often trust people, even if they don’t deserve our trust from the outset, because our natural instincts tell us that we want to. When that trust is broken, it leaves us feeling vulnerable.

Mending Broken Trust

If you’ve found that you have broken a colleague’s trust, your first step might be to take some time to yourself and think about how that situation came to unfold. Reflect on your relationship, as well as how you and the other person might be feeling about what happened.

If you’ve allowed for some time to pass in order to reflect and let the other person heal, you may consider respectfully approaching them. Here are a few suggestions for earning their trust again:

Allow Yourself to Be Vulnerable

When trust is broken, it can leave the other person feeling very exposed. If you want to resolve this conflict in a genuine way, you have to be willing to be vulnerable with them.

Tell them exactly how you feel, but also allow them to express their own feelings fully as well, and only if they’re willing to.

Having this open and honest conversation will help clear the air and, hopefully, put any underlying disputes to rest.

Accept Responsibility for Your Actions

There may be a number of reasons why you broke someone’s trust. These situations are rarely as black and white as some people might assume.

However, the fact of the matter is that you hurt someone by behaving a certain way. You have to own up to these actions, otherwise your apology will be empty.

Give a brief explanation of why you did what you did if you feel it’s necessary, but mostly focus on why you know what you did was harmful and the apology itself.

Follow Through

You should always be able to back up your words with actions in a relationship. Now, after your mutual trust has been broken, it’s especially important.

If you say you’re going to do something, do so. If you say anything, make sure that you mean it.

It’s going to take time to rebuild the trust that was lost, but by showing your capacity to follow through, you’ll be able to demonstrate that you are indeed worthy of someone’s trust again.

Respect All Boundaries

Again, you should always be respectful of other peoples’ boundaries. In this instance, though, you have to be willing to accept that the other person may not be willing to forgive you now or in the future.

This can be painful to come to terms with, but trying to force someone into healing and forgiveness will only create deeper divides in the long run. If you’ve done all that you can to try and remedy the situation, there’s nothing more that you can do. It’s up to them to forgive you (or not).

Forgiving When Trust is Broken

If you are the one whose trust has been broken and are trying to take steps toward forgiveness, you may feel at a bit of a loss. This is totally normal.

It’s up to you to decide when and how you want to forgive the other person, which is something that takes a lot of self-reflection. Take some time to consider the situation. Why did it cross a line for you? What steps need to be taken in order to restore that trust? You may find it helpful to talk all of this out with a coach or therapist.

Once you’re ready, allow the other person to share their side of the story, and give them an opportunity to sincerely apologize. Tell them why they broke your trust and the emotions that you’re grappling with in the aftermath.

If the other person has taken steps that warrant forgiveness in your eyes, you have to make an active decision to forgive them and let go of what happened. Again, this is an extremely difficult process to go through. Don’t hesitate to reach out to an unbiased third party in order to process the situation in its entirety.

To Conclude

Broken trust can have devastating effects on a workplace. That’s why it’s so important to ensure that you’re doing your part to constantly communicate with co-workers and be transparent in your actions.

Sometimes, problems arise unexpectedly. If that’s the case with your organization, don’t let the toxicity of the situation permeate your whole office. I would love the opportunity to work with you and your team members to clear the air and create an action plan for moving forward.