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BLOGFixing Damaged Trust

by Randall CraigFiled in: Make It Happen Tipsheet, Blog, Communication, Trust

Have you ever felt terrible, because someone you care about suddenly doesn’t trust you? Or felt angry, because trust was lost because of an unthinking colleague, and you now need to repair the damage?

Fixing Damaged Trust

At every touchpoint, trust is either earned, or eroded. And while most people are willing to forgive unexpected problems, sometimes the nature of the issue is so egregious, that no amount of goodwill can smooth over the problem. So what to do? And is it even possible to turn around this type of situation?

Here are eight steps that can begin to repair the damage:

  1. Take responsibility: This means admitting the error took place, and acknowledging that it shouldn’t have happened.
  2. Understand: Seek to understand the implications of the error from the other’s perspective. Did it cause them embarrassment, either personally, or as an organization? Did it cost them time or money? Did it impact their customers downstream?
  3. Be empathetic: Very often a trust problem is compounded by your reaction to it… or your lack of reaction to it. Being authentic in your empathy is a key step to unwinding feelings of distrust.
  4. Re-examine the situation: Determine whether the issue was a result of a systemic issue (which you can fix by improving process or by adding fail safes) or poor judgement (which can be handled through training, discipline). And while your client may partly be at fault, it does not remove your responsibility to address your part of the equation.
  5. Share the results: While the client may not care, nonetheless it is important to let them know that you have taken steps to reduce the likelihood of it happening in the future, and what those steps are. One of these may include changing the key contact between the two organizations. An important part of the process is to have the client accept at least some responsibility, if indeed that is actually the case. Finally, consider bringing a more senior person in with you to signal the importance, both of the issue, and your relationship.
  6. Ask what it would take to set it right: Even if goodwill has been completely exhausted, there is often a cost to addressing the impact of the lost trust. It may be cheaper (and in everyone’s best interest) to figure this out: asking them what would set it right at least opens the door to a conversation.
  7. Watch your back: If the trust has been broken badly and there are costs involved, there is a risk of legal action. If this is the case, care must be taken with respect to any admissions and commitments that you make. (Of course, avoiding a lawsuit is almost always the least expensive route, so pre-emptively suggesting a resolution, even if it costs you time and money, is usually money well-spent.)
  8. Monitor closely: Post-event, the client will be watching exceptionally closely, so it pays to be exceptionally careful, and double-check any process changes you’ve made. It also means checking in with the client on a periodic basis to report, listen to any issues, and start re-building trust.

This week’s action plan:

The best way to turn around a broken trust relationship is to prevent it from even happening. This week, assume that a specific client has lost trust in you and your organization: what specific steps would you take? Hint #1: start with this list. Hint #2: You can make a strong trust relationship even stronger: which of these can you implement NOW, before any trust-breaking activity happens?

Related posts: Trust is the Currency of Transactions

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