It’s a fact that everybody makes mistakes; it’s just human nature. However, it’s what happens afterward that sets the tone in the workplace. Managers are people, too, but when a manager’s relationship with a team member becomes rocky, it can make working together feel nearly impossible.
It can take months or even years for a manager to build trust with a team. Unfortunately, it only takes one misstep to destroy the trust they worked so hard to earn. Take this fictitious conversation between Bill, a new manager, and Amy his VP:
Bill: Amy, I really screwed up. I lost my cool and yelled at Heidi in a meeting today.
Amy: You did what?
Bill: I know we don’t do that here, but I did. I’ve been having trouble at home. My kid has the flu so I haven’t been sleeping well. My mom is receiving hospice care and I’m trying to manage that, too. I really thought I was doing okay, but when Heidi missed her deliverables again, I blew up at her in our weekly meeting.
Amy: OK, you already know you were wrong for that reaction, so what can you do about it?
Bill: I can wait until it blows over…?
Amy: Come on, Bill. The longer you wait, the more the team, and especially Heidi, will resent you. They know it was inappropriate behavior, so the best thing to do is acknowledge that what you did was wrong and apologize to the entire team, and directly to Heidi.
Bill: I’m not sure how to do that.
Amy: You can say something like, “I had a bad-manager day today. I was upset about other things, and I took it out on you, Heidi. I was wrong, and I shouldn’t have done that. Team, I’m sorry I reacted the way I did. Heidi, I’m mortified that I lost my temper, and I hope you’ll forgive me. It won’t happen again.”
Heidi might still be upset, but an immediate apology will go a long way toward rebuilding trust with her, as well as the entire team.
HOW TO REBUILD WORKPLACE TRUST
Additional steps can be taken to repair relationships when trust has been eroded:
Admit you screwed up. When a manager makes a mistake, it is important to take the time to acknowledge it.
Never place the blame on someone on your team. This should go without saying, but it happens far too often. If you made a mistake, own it!
Demonstrate that you truly understand the impact of your misstep. This step requires you to ask questions and really listen to the other person's answers.
Demonstrate that you learned from your mistake. When you do something to cause distrust in your team, they will often question your overall competence as a leader. So, basically, you’re back to square one, and you’ll have to prove your worth to them all over again. By actively demonstrating that you’ve learned something valuable from your error, and are trying to incorporate that knowledge into your day-to-day, your team will slowly regain their confidence in your ability to lead.
Let go and move on. This doesn’t mean you forget what happened or the impact damaged trust had on your team. It simply means you choose to focus on the insights and deeper understanding you’ve gained as a result of the situation. No one benefits by continually rehashing old mistakes, so use the knowledge to build a better you.
When you commit to regaining your team’s trust, you have to be honest and open, admit your mistakes, and work to correct them. It may take time and patience (on both sides), but it can be done, and you’ll be a better manager for the effort.