3 Things To Do When Someone Breaks Your Trust at Work

Trust us (no pun intended).

Image by artisteer/ Getty Images

By Jane Burnett

It’s a classic situation: Everything’s going well for you and your team at work until someone crosses the line, jeopardizing everything you’ve worked for.

Here’s what to do when someone breaks your trust at work.

Be as clear as possible with your reports

David Creelman, CEO of Creelman Research, and Dr. Wanda Wallace, Ph.D., author, President and CEO of Leadership Forum, Inc., write in the Harvard Business Review about what to do when you have a lack of trust in the team you manage.

One of the reasons they provide is “mismatched working styles.” After giving an example about someone who communicates with you on a project differently than you would like — by not being specific enough — they write that you should be very clear with them about your expectations. They also write that “the trouble is that the hints, code words, and vague suggestions are just not understood,” giving an example of a statement you should avoid.

The pair eventually gives a recommendation: “Here’s the solution. Feedback needs to be very specific and very behavioral if you want it to work. For example, instead of saying ‘You focus too much on the big picture’ say ‘I want you to know the key numbers off the top of your head’ or ‘I don’t want you telling me only the conclusion of your analysis, I want you to walk me through the spreadsheet line by line.’ Instead of saying ‘You need to work on engaging stakeholders’ say ‘I recommend you to fly to New York and take him to lunch.’ ”

Address employee issues in steps

Kerry Patterson, author and cofounder of VitalSmarts, answers someone’s question on his site about what to do when their newly-promoted assistant doesn’t consult them before doing certain things, even though they have good intentions. This assistant also reportedly micromanages people who aren’t under his immediate supervision.

One of Patterson’s tips is to “pick one problem and focus on it alone.”

He eventually writes, “So, take a look at your list of laments, and pick the one area that has you concerned the most. Then identify the last incident or two where this problem came to your attention and focus on these incidents. To quote from a friend who I once worked with on a massive and wide-sweeping problem: ‘The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.’ So start small. For example, consider the problem with your direct report making decisions and implementing them without conferring with you. Point out the last time this happened. Explain that you would prefer to have been involved and why.”

“Remember, the biggest key to handling your problem is to work on the instances early on and use them as opportunities to clarify roles and responsibilities,” he continues. “Also, take time to praise the person when he does demonstrate a quality without crossing some line. This helps clarify the lines as well. In fact, try to offer up far more praise than anything.”

Bonus: How managers can be trustworthy at work

A post on the site for the Society for Human Resource Management features commentary from Andrea P. Howe, co-author of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook and founder of The Get Real Project. She is also a principal at Trusted Advisor Associates.

“To build a culture of trust, lead by example, Howe says. ‘You’ve got to be the trust that you want to see in the organization.’ Also, point out when others exemplify the kind of behavior you do and don’t want to see. Share stories of your own failures and lessons learned.”

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