When Trust Is Broken

In her book The Mind and Heart of the Negotiator, author Leigh L. Thompson describes a ten-step process for repairing broken trust in relationships.

Step 1: Suggest a Personal Meeting

Verbal explanations are more effective than written, especially when the topic is of a sensitive or emotional nature.

Step 2: Put the Focus on the Relationship

Trust is present in the first place because there is a relationship. What is most important is the relationship, and efforts towards saving it.

Step 3: Apologize

Apologize for the actions/behavior that led to the broken trust and accept responsibility. “No one should underestimate the power of the spoken word, especially when it contains an apology.”

Step 4: Let Them Vent

Venting is part of the healing process. People need to express the emotions caused by the actions so they can move beyond this point.

Step 5: Do Not Get Defensive

Avoid the need to be self-defensive. Allow the person to vent and tell their side of the story. After carefully and fully listening to the other person’s perspective you may share your perspective of the events.

Step 6: Ask for Clarifying Information

Ask for information to clarify your understanding (without getting defensive). "Test” the accuracy of your understanding of what they have told you by paraphrasing and summarizing.

Step 7: Test Your Understanding

When the person feels his/her concerns are understood they are likely to be more open to continuing the discussion and restoring the relationship.

Step 8: Formulate a Plan

Along with an apology, it is useful to ask “what you can do” to make amends. Most important is to keep any promises made.

Step 9: Think About Ways to Prevent a Future Problem

Lessons learned. What can you learn from this situation that may cause you to do things differently in the future?

Step 10: Do a Relationship Check-up

Many times we fail to follow up on the conversation. It is helpful to do a “check-in” later to see how feelings have evolved and mended. Decide on a time to follow up with each other. During the future visit you can check on the progress of the trust recovery. Are there issues/emotions that still need to be addressed?

Relationships are hard work. But, like most things of value in our lives, relationships and the people involved are worth the effort.

Source: The Mind and Heart of the Negotiator, 3rd edition. Pearson/Prentice Hall NJ 2005. Leigh L. Thompson.