How to Regain Trust (If You Can) When It’s Lost in a Business Relationship

by Jan Richards

Trust is too important to take for granted.

Yet many people do.

So when they lose the trust of customers, colleagues, employees and other stakeholders, well, they’ve give up much more than they may realize have.

If you lose trust in a business situation, can you get it back?

And if you can’t, what is the impact?

Consider these scenarios:

– A manager struggles with a small budget for employee raises as she completes annual performance reviews.

She avoids discussing the low number of salary increases, and the way she will make these important decisions.

When employees discover what she hoped to avoid addressing, the silence and mystery surrounding the process makes it seem to them as if she’s making decisions through favoritism.

– A cross-functional team is charged with creating a new product on a tight timeline.

Most members of the team meet the rigorous deadlines, high quality standards and their commitments to each other.

One group avoids telling the rest of the team about problems they’re having, and the fact that they’re going to miss their deadlines.

Without enough time to adapt to the late and incomplete information, the full team misses its launch and revenue targets.

In both of these situations, trust was eroded.

We can surely each cite our own examples of times when trust was eroded in in business situations, as well.

Here are just a few of the ways that low-trust environments decrease effectiveness and profits while increasing costs:

– Miscommunication
– Missed deadlines
– Reduced commitment to the business relationship and goals
– Effort that is withheld, consciously or unconsciously
– Customers who take their business elsewhere when product and service quality drops
– Employees who decide that their short- and long-run satisfaction will be higher at another company

Trust that is lost is hard to get back.

(And you may not be able to… let’s be honest about that).

But when you do recover trust, you can become a much stronger leader as a result of the experience.

You’re likely to be more attentive to what matters. And that includes what matters to your many stakeholders: customers, employees, peers, suppliers and more.

That makes for a very solid beginning that leads to a better situation for everyone.

Here are other ways you can try to rebuild trust if you’re the leader of your company or team:

– Review and recommit to your team and company vision and values.

– Reaffirm your commitment to your mission as a leader.

– Lead by learning, and by sharing the lessons of this experience with others, demonstrating continuous improvement in your own leadership practices.

– Reinforce and follow up on any new rules or guidelines you establish as a result of this experience.

– Pause before you make commitments and agreements to ensure that you will be able to keep them, or refine them so that you can.

– Clarify what information employees, colleagues and other stakeholders need from you, and when. Be clear about the information you need, as well.

About the author

Jan Richards mentors and provides online training for leaders and teams who want to change or improve, but the desired change hasn’t happened yet, for any of many reasons. An experienced entrepreneur and business consultant, Jan has led many teams and businesses through major change and improvement projects. She is based in the always-rapidly changing Silicon Valley and San Francisco Bay area. Her clients include large and small companies, primarily in tech, biotech, financial services, and telecommunications. She has an MBA from UC Berkeley and a BS in journalism from Iowa State. She was a national examiner for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for five years. Prior to starting her consulting business, Jan worked for seven years at Apple Computer where she worked on and led teams that improved key business processes in product development, manufacturing, distribution, finance and administration, and sales and marketing. To learn more, visit her website at