Book on Rebuilding Trust Sets Example for Employers

The Current State of Distrust

With the current economy and unemployment rate — and the related workplace disruptions they have witnessed and experienced — many of those workers still employed are left without trust in their employers.

The Big Idea

The Great Recession — the worst economic downturn since the 1930s — rocked workplaces everywhere, and the very underpinnings of trust were upended. Now, a pair of pioneering experts — armed with two decades of research in measuring, developing, and restoring workplace trust — are here with hope and help.

Dennis and Michelle Reina are co-authors of Rebuilding Trust in the Workplace: Seven Steps to Renew Confidence, Commitment, and Energy. They are co-founders of the Reina Trust Building Institute, a Stowe, Vermont-based consultancy with clients ranging from Ben & Jerry’s to the United States Treasury.

The Loss of Trust

One-third of working Americans say they plan to look for a new job when the economy gets better and, of this group, almost half (48%) cite a loss of trust in their employer as the reason, according to a recent survey by consulting firm Deloitte LLP. Thus, even now, when many employees may be staying put due to lack of employment alternatives, they have in some sense already quit — many may be actively looking for work or passively open to recruiters’ advances. Rebuilding trust is essential to keeping them once the labor market heats up, as it eventually will.

Topics Covered in the Reinas’ Book on Rebuilding Trust

The Reinas demystify trust, break down the “betrayal continuum” (ranging from unintentional to intentional and from minor to major), and present a proven seven-step process for dealing with broken trust as individuals and organizations. Among their advice and insights are:

  1. Describing the true costs and consequences of broken trust, including “hard” hits to productivity, performance, and profits.
  2. Tips for taking concrete, constructive, and compassionate action to rebuild trust, such as: observing, supporting, re-framing, owning up, and forgiving.
  3. Explaining why the accumulation of minor breaches of trust, such as gossiping, finger-pointing, and taking credit for others’ work, can become a major problem.
  4. Different ways to approach the human aspects of broken trust (and why they can’t be ignored or overlooked).

Previewing Key Points From Rebuilding Trust in the Workplace: Seven Steps For Dealing With Broken Trust at Work

The Importance of Trust

The importance of trust in the workplace is universally understood. Where trust is present, individuals, teams, and organizations:

  • are more confident, committed, and energized;
  • deal better with change;
  • dare to think and work outside the box;
  • deliver smarter, faster results.

Yet, trust is fragile. In the workplace, as in life, it will be built and it will be broken—this is a natural part of human interaction.

The key, then, to sustaining trust at work is to know how to rebuild it—again and again.

The Betrayal Continuum

In the workplace, broken trust occurs on a “betrayal continuum”—crisscrossing from unintentional to intentional and from minor to major. To be sure, there are no black-and-white interpretations; where a specific act or event falls on this continuum is a matter of personal perception. Still, being aware of — and able to apply— this continuum can be helpful to rebuilding trust.

The Forms of Betrayal

Unintentional betrayals are the consequence of careless or self-serving actions.

Intentional betrayals are deliberate actions, committed on purpose to hurt others.

Minor betrayals are pervasive and erode trust over time. In most workplaces, the accumulation of these “little” betrayals becomes a big problem, negatively impacting people’s productivity and performance. What’s more, according to our research, 90 percent of employees report that they feel the effects of eroded trust on a daily basis. Among the most common minor betrayals, such as:

  • Gossiping
  • Backbiting
  • Finger-pointing
  • Blaming
  • Hiding mistakes
  • Avoiding accountability
  • Withholding information
  • Taking credit for others’ work
  • Spinning the truth
  • Turning a blind eye to colleagues in need

Major betrayals affect people not only suddenly but also deeply and dramatically. At the organizational level, they are commonly associated with the mismanagement of sweeping changes, such as layoffs, reorganizations, and mergers and acquisitions. And at the interpersonal level, they often occur through single hurtful acts, from violating significant confidences to spreading lies about others for personal gain.

A Quick Employer Guide to Healing and Rebuilding Trust

Even the word “betrayal” can summon up dark, negative thoughts. The simple truth, though, is that when trust has been broken, people feel betrayed. What’s more, betrayal is universal. Everyone has been betrayed, and everyone has betrayed others. It’s how we deal with betrayal, or broken trust, that really matters.

Seven Steps Aid Employers in Trust-Building

Whether you have been betrayed, betrayed someone else, or are in a position, such as manager, team leader, or HR representative, where you want or need to help others, there is hope and help. There is now a proven seven-step process, drawn from two decades of research, for taking concrete, constructive, and compassionate action.

Through practicing these seven steps, you can learn to muster courage, mend broken trust, and move forward—again and again.

  1. Observe and acknowledge what happened. Betrayal is most often experienced as a loss—the loss of what was or what could have been. To heal and rebuild trust, it’s important to acknowledge that loss and recognize its impact on yourself and others. Trust tip: The opposite of awareness is denial. Remind yourself that you cannot heal what you ignore, overlook, or diminish.
  2. Allow feelings to surface. Give yourself permission to feel your emotions, whatever they may be, and find proper ways to express them. In allowing your feelings to surface, and in giving voice to them, you can begin to work through broken trust.Trust tip: Ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now?” Express those feelings in healthy, helpful ways. Write them down. Talk them through with a close friend or co-worker. Or release them through exercise.>
  3. Get and give support. Ask for help in recognizing where you’re stuck and how you can shift from blaming to problem solving. Reach out to your inner circle—trusted managers, mentors, coaches, or colleagues—and be open to their support. Trust tip: Turn to people who have proven they can remain neutral—suspending their own advice, judgments, and opinions—and with whom you feel safe expressing your feelings and emotions.
  4. Reframe the experience. Put the event into a larger context. Look at the bigger picture and take into account what might be going on for others—they’re only human as well—or the business reasons behind your company’s decisions. Consider, too, the personal choices and opportunities now in front of you, including potential benefits.
    Trust tip: In addition to taking into account what might be going on for others, think about what’s going on for you, too. If you’re feeling unusually tired, stressed, or vulnerable, for instance, how might that be contributing to your reactions or behaviors?
  5. Take responsibility. You’re not responsible for others’ behaviors, but you are responsible for your response. Own up to what is yours to own, acknowledge the lessons learned, and ask how you can help improve the current situation. And, by all means, resist the temptation to respond “in kind” with your own trust-breaking behaviors.
    Trust tip: Truth is fundamental to trust. Step up and speak the truth—no exceptions, justifications, or rationalizations. Take action for your part; make amends.
  6. Forgive yourself and others. Forgiving doesn’t mean excusing; it means acknowledging how broken trust has affected you and then releasing yourself from energy-depleting emotions—anger, fear, grief, and more. Ask one essential question: “What needs to happen for forgiveness to take place?” Trust tip: If you’re unwilling to forgive someone, explore the reasons why. Also, look at how not forgiving others has played out in your life and career. What price have you been willing to pay to not forgive?
  7. Let go and move on. There is a difference between remembering and “hanging on.” You may not forget a betrayal, but you can make a conscious choice to look forward rather than stay stuck in the past. You can let go—and move on. Trust tip: Accept what is, without judgment or blame. Acknowledge what you have learned and apply those lessons going forward.

Dennis S. Reina, Ph.D., and Michelle L. Reina, Ph.D., are pioneering experts on workplace trust and co-authors of Rebuilding Trust in the Workplace: Seven Steps to Renew Confidence, Commitment, and Energyand Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace.

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