By Rose O. Sherman, EdD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN
How should you handle a situation when a professional colleague has violated your trust and betrayed you? That was a question that I was recently asked by a reader of this blog. Interestingly, I had a similar discussion with a professional colleague who told her CNO something in confidence that was later shared with others without her permission. The information she shared impacted her selection for a promotion opportunity. Not only was she angry that private information had been shared but felt an extreme sense of loss in her inability to trust the leader again. It felt like a violation and she has seriously thought about leaving her organization.
We know that the ability to build trust in relationships is essential in both leadership and life. Yet interesting, not all leaders or professional colleagues fully understand the impact of what happens when they violate the trust of others. In his business bestseller, The Trust Edge: How Top Leaders Gain Faster Results, Deeper Relationships and a Stronger Bottom Line, David Horsager makes the important point that trust doesn’t occur overnight. It is instead like a forest that grows over time but can be easily burned down with acts of carelessness. A loss of trust can lead to the toxicity in personal relationships and in work cultures.
When your trust has been violated, you can’t control the behavior of the other individual involved – only your own reactions. How you handle violations in trust will set the foundation for the relationship moving forward. Here are some dos and don’ts from experts in this area:
- Do ask for an explanation and listen to what is said.
- Do share your reaction to the violation of trust.
- Do explain your loss of confidence in the person as someone you can trust.
- Do be clear that your trust will need to be earned back not just given again.
- Do avoid sharing confidential information with the individual at least in the short run and be cautious in the future.
- Don’t accept excuses for what has happened. If you shared something in confidence, you have a right to expect that it would not be shared.
- Don’t minimize the impact of how you feel about the violation – it must be clearly understood.
- Don’t ruminate over and over about what has happened – fully evaluate it and see it as a lesson learned.
- Don’t discuss the violation with everyone in your professional circle – this will call into question your emotional intelligence and role in the situation.
- Don’t let this violation impact your willingness to trust moving forward. Keep your distance initially but be willing to forgive and forget if it is warranted over time.
You can be compassionate with an individual who has violated your trust moving forward yet not trust them fully. If you do decide to have a future relationship with someone that has violated your trust, it will be different because your eyes have been opened to the potential of a trust violation. Over time, trust can rebuild.
Read to Lead
Horsager, D. (2012). The Trust Edge:How Top Leaders Gain Faster Results, Deeper Relationships and a Stronger Bottom Line. Free Press.
Vilhauer J. (September 4, 2016 Psychology Today Blog). How to rebuild trust with someone who has hurt you.
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