Collaborative Leadership Blog

How to Rebuild Trust

The situation had spiraled out of control. The trust had been broken between Alicia and Harrison for some time. Everyone knew it, but it was only discussed behind closed doors. These two were seriously impacting the work of the Executive Team. Their positions had hardened over time. The politics were ugly. People had taken sides. What would it take for them to rebuild their trust?

Broken trust happens in every organization. Most people either trust others until there is a reason not to, or make their colleagues earn the trust. But in both cases, when the trust is broken, it seems almost impossible to repair. Alicia and Harrision were each extremely competent in their own fields. They performed at a high level. They were good people. But their styles and behaviors clashed. The dynamics got so bad that the CEO was ready to ask both of them to leave the organization. There had to be a breakthrough between them or heads would roll.

Yes, it is possible for Alicia and Harrison to rebuild trust. But it will be hard work and take some time. While they both need to want to repair the relationship, one of them needs to take the lead. Here are 7 elements of a trust rebuilding process.

  • Acknowledgement: One or both parties acknowledge to the other that there is a trust problem.
  • The Courage of Self-Accountability:  At least one party is willing to hold themselves accountable for having contributed to the broken trust. This takes courage to make themselves vulnerable to the other, and to admit their part in the breakdown.
  • Engagement & Respect: This leads to an invitation to talk and engage out of the respect for the other.
  • Congruence—It’s About Each One’s Truth: Everyone has their own truth about a situation. It is critical that both parties reveal their perceptions and views of what the trust breakdown is and its impact on them. It is an exchange of views, not a blame session. Having a mediator present may help the conversation. The goal is for each party to understand the other’s point of view.
  • Forgiveness: Being willing to forgive each other enables reconciliation to begin. Without forgiveness there are only grudges, and the distrust will continue.
  • Having a Shared Goal: To move beyond the hurt and pain of broken trust, it is important to create a shared goal that is of value to both, and to have a plan for achieving it together.
  • Recommitment: The act of recommitment to regaining the trust of the other makes it real. Then their personal integrity is on the line.

 We all make mistakes and break trust with others. But the key to rebuilding trust in any relationship is both parties telling their truth with empathy and respect, understanding what happened, forgiving, and then being consistent over time.


*Dr. Edward Marshall is an Adjunct Professor in Management at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University; he is an ICF certified executive coach, Top 15 Trust Thought Leader, and author of Building Trust at the Speed of Change. You can contact him at:,, or  (919)265-9616