Saturday, February 2, 2008

When trust is lost, take these steps to find it again

We've all done things we've been ashamed of, but the most humbling part is getting caught. Can we ever regain lost respect? Will we ever win back the graces of those we've disappointed, abandoned, or wronged?

The answer is maybe.

There are two elements to trust. One is being trusting--having the ability to trust others. The other is being trustworthy--measuring up to others' belief in you. If you wrong someone who has trust issues, you verify that what the person believes is true. You reinforce the person's outlook on relationships and make the person even more wary. But if you harm someone who has given you his trust, the damage can be even worse. The person will not only have lost his faith in you, but also his ability to trust in the future.

Let's take a look at trust lost and trust found. Imagine that you've done something so bad that you've lost the faith someone had in you. The breach could be a lie, an undercut, or a betrayal. Here's what could help you regain--over time--the trust you lost.

* Fess up. If you're caught, you're caught. Another lie will only dig you in deeper and make the situation worse.

* Apologize. Let the person know how truly sorry you are for what you did. Ask for their forgiveness, knowing that it may be withheld while the wound is fresh.

* Explain why you did it, if you can. Maybe you gave up a confidence to get a laugh or used it to put you in a position of someone with insider information. Try to lay out your position so the other person can see where you were coming from. If they can understand your reasoning, they're more likely to put it behind them.

* Remind the person that this lapse in character isn't you. You've been loyal and supportive in the past. It was an aberration. If this isn't the case, you're in big trouble. A person with a reputation of untrustworthiness may as well pack up their bags and leave to start anew. The chances of regaining trust when you're habitually lax in good judgment are slim ... as they should be. You need some real character work that we won't get into now.

* Offer to remedy the situation if you can. That might mean going back and retracting what you said to the people you said it to or writing a letter of apology and setting the matter straight. You might not be able to undo the breach of trust, but at least you may undo the harm it caused to the injured party. If you have to fall on your sword, do it.

* If you're getting nowhere with the person you wronged, ask for a mediator. See if someone outside the situation can soothe matters and suggest ways to rebuild the relationship. Like any professional counseling, it might not always work, but it will help you both view the situation with new eyes.

* Agree on your goals. You may agree that you'll put aside this conflict and work together to get the job done. You may decide that the relationship is more important than the event and move ahead cautiously, taking it a day at a time.

* Decide on consequences. If the other person can have some retribution, he may feel that the scales have been balanced. You could offer an apology at a group meeting or retract your statement via e-mail. Help the other person save face, even if you have to redden your own.

* Know that you'll be living under heavy scrutiny for awhile. You'll have to walk the line and possibly bear retaliatory remarks or attacks, at least for awhile. Hopefully, your new meritorious behavior will shorten this period.

* Go out of your way to show that you've reformed. Your attempts at winning the other person's good graces may be rejected at first, but you're likely to win him over with sincerity.

* Analyze why you did what you did, and learn from the experience so it will never happen again.

* Forgive yourself when you've done all you can to right the situation.
If you feel that, ultimately, the relationship is irretrievably broken, leave. You've done all you can do. Start anew, and put the experience behind you.

We all do things we're ashamed of. Many times, the shame comes from being unmasked for what we've done. Admit, atone, address, and advance. With time and good behavior, you can regain lost trust.

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