Leaders Restore Trust When Mistakes Are Made

The Second Wave: Relationship Trust

When you have made a mistake, you can endanger trust. Sometimes, you’ve been betrayed. That’s tougher, and we’ll cover that below. But first, what do you do when you’ve screwed up?

Demonstrating accountability and ownership up front make a big difference. We’ve all experienced defensiveness, so it’s refreshing to hear ownership instead. Be the person who is refreshingly humble by taking responsibility for your error.

Don’t blame, accuse, or excuse. Own it.


Declare Your Intent.
Let the other person know you want to make things right. Say it out loud, “I’d like to make things right. What should I do?”

Demonstrate Respect by Listening First.
Listen to the other person and demonstrate respect for what you’ve heard and their timetable. You have declared your intent and asked for steps to take; now listen to them without being defensive.

Signal Your Behavior.
Tell the other person exactly what you’re going to do and what they should expect from your
future behavior.

Keep Those Commitments.
I love how Covey puts this:

“Behave yourself out of the problem you
behaved yourself into by making and keeping


It’s always easier when you’ve made the mistake, because you have the power to fix it. What if someone else betrays your trust, though? Well, there are things we can do…

Start with yourself.

Really. Even if someone else is at fault, you can only control you. Get real about your answers to these questions:

  • What’s your intent?
  • What do you want?
  • How have you contributed to the situation?
  • Is it worth restoring trust?

Demonstrate Respect. Declare Your Intent.

Share your agenda with the person. Say out loud, “It’s hard for me to trust you right now, but I’d like us to move past this and restore our relationship.”

Confront Reality. Talk Straight.
Explain what happened and how trust was lost. Acknowledge your contribution to the
situation. This is hard to do; it’s easier to find some part of the situation to own yourself. It helps them save face and role-models the humility.

Listen First.

Ensure you understand what the other person has to say. There might be some defensiveness and/or excuses. Resist the temptation to argue; they need to think through this on their own. Just listen.

Clarify Expectations.

Invite the other person to make and keep commitments to you. Let them set the parameters, but ask for what you need if it’s not being offered. Say out loud, “Something else that would help is…”

Remember, you would want to know, too, if the situation were reversed.

Extend Smart Trust.
Trust and verify using good judgment. Allow the person to behave himself or herself out of the situation, and remember that you would want the same opportunity.

Thanks for reading,

Alan Feirer

See more blog posts on The Speed of Trust.

#1: Leaders Invest in Trust
#2: Credibility Gaps: Leaders Know the Waves of Trust
#3: Behavior, Credibility, and the Wrong Kinds of Trust
#4: Leaders Know Credibility is Driven by Behavior
#5: Build Trust by Talking Straight
#6: Leaders Build Trust by Demonstrating Respect
#7: Leaders Build Trust by Creating Transparency
#8: Leaders Build Trust by Righting Wrongs
#9: Leaders Build Trust by Showing Loyalty
#10: Leaders Build Trust by Delivering Results
#11: Leaders Build Trust by Getting Better
#12: Leaders Build Trust by Confronting Reality
#13: Leaders Build Trust by Clarifying Expectations
#14: Leaders Build Trust by Practicing Accountability
#15: Leaders Build Trust by Listening First
#16: Leaders Build Trust by Keeping Commitments
#17: Leaders Build Trust by Extending Trust
#18: Leaders Make “Smart Trust” As Easy As Possible

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