8 Steps to Keep Distrust from Boiling Over

Betrayal is in the news. It seems like every time I tune in – to CNN, to The Wall Street Journal, to Twitter – people are shining the spotlight on people who’ve betrayed others through glaring, headline-grabbing offenses.

Government leaders. Police officers. CEOs. Athletes. Celebrities.

So many people are talking about the big things people do to break trust.

Yet, through more than two decades spent researching the ins and outs of trust and its shadow, betrayal, I’ve discovered this critical truth:

While betrayal can happen swiftly and dramatically, more often it creeps up on us over time.

Like water coming to a boil, distrust can occur cumulatively. It can gather force through subtle, fleeting incidents that, at first blush, may not even ‘count’ as betrayals:

“I know it shouldn’t matter, but it really upsets me that she’s late to every one of my meetings. I feel like she doesn’t value my time and energy.”

“I know I shouldn’t let it get to me, but I’m at the end of my rope. I can’t stand how he always talks over me. It’s like he cares more about his own opinion than about our relationship.”

“I wish that for once she would just let go and let me do my job. She constantly downplays my skills and experience. It’s as if what I bring to the table doesn’t even matter.”

“He never mentions my contributions. I’ve been here 5 years, and never even a ‘thank you.’ I feel like he thinks anyone could do my job. Like I’m expendable.”

Little by little, a sense of betrayal can build, as others’ behaviors chip away at trust…wear us down…cause us to question and doubt. While in the moment we may brush off each incident of the behavior, given enough time the behavioral pattern can create an impact that’s impossible to ignore. Why?

Because left unaddressed, minor, fleeting breaches of trust add up to betrayal, communicating powerful, enduring messages:

“To the other person, this relationship doesn’t matter very much.”

 “My time and energy aren’t important.”

 “My work effort is never enough.”

And perhaps even, “I, as a person, am expendable.”

Does this resonate with you? Have you or someone you’ve worked with closely been on the receiving end of behaviors that made you question if the other person valued their relationship with you…not just as a professional with assignments to complete, but as a person?

Let me ask you, how did this impact your work and life? Were you able to carry on as if nothing had happened? Or, might it be that your energy and confidence took a hit?

In my work – in every corner of the world – people tell me that when they experience this ‘incremental’ breach of trust, their physical and emotional well-being declines.

They suffer anything from difficultly concentrating on the work…to maintaining confidence in themselves…to trouble staying focused on the path ahead…to headaches and fatigue…to the loss of joy.

They tell me, time and time again, the impacts from incremental breaches of trust on their personal and professional lives rival the impacts of a single major betrayal of trust.

How can you keep betrayal from creeping up on you?

A second critical truth I’ve learned about the erosion of trust is the vast majority of people do not set out to hurt, let down, or disappoint others. Yet, at some point in time, they do. We all do. You don’t mean to. But at times you loose sight, become over extended, and trip up.

I do as well.

On one end of the spectrum, the impact of our behavior may cause trust to be vulnerable. On the other end, to break trust down and cause others to feel betrayed. As if what they have to bring to the world doesn’t count. As if they don’t count.

So, here are 8 steps to avoid breaching trust and causing others to feel betrayed:

  1. Recognize that your behavior matters and has an impact on people.
  2. Set intentions for how you aspire to bring yourself to others. This clarity will prepare you to have a positive impact and be experienced as trustworthy.
  3. Remember what it is that you have to bring to others in your relationships.
  4. Consider how your current behavior aligns with your intentions.
  5. Observe where you may be tripping up and letting others down. Reflect on how you can redirect.
  6. Take responsibility for your actions and their impacts.
  7. Know that betrayal can be a teacher. At times, you can learn the most about trust from its loss.
  8. Extend compassion. 90% of the behaviors that impact trust are unconscious habits and knee-jerk reactions. Don’t beat yourself up if it takes time to shift ingrained practices.

And remember, should you discover that you’ve unintentionally let someone down, resulting in a sense of distrust in one of your relationships…there is a path forward.

Yours in trust,

Michelle Reina

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