This article was originally posted on June 1, 2017, and has been updated.

I think you’ll agree with me on this one… Trust is an absolutely essential foundation of any great relationship.

A breakdown of trust is one of the most significant reasons a group, team, or organization under-performs, or even fails.

Eroded trust undermines the best goals, and renders mission statements and customer service promises lame. It costs you.

As a leader, ensuring you are trusted, that trust is fostered with your teams, and that trust is rebuilt as needed is essential for success.

Let’s start with understanding what ‘trust’ really is constituted by.

The Three Key Elements of Trust

I’m sure you’ve heard the metaphor that trust is like a bank account – it takes a lot of deposits before you can survive a withdrawal. As a leader, you need to break that down to what you can work on.

The three components of trust are:

  • Competence
  • Reliability
  • Sincerity

Repairing Breakdowns of Trust

When you understand these key elements you now have ways to establish specific actions to address what is broken. This is where many team building or coaching interventions fail – there’s no specific action that can repair a breakdown.

Lots of talk and motivational posters won’t get to the root of the behavior that led to losing trust in the first place.

Here’s a quick test: if you cannot ask someone to take action to correct a wrong, there’s no way to right that wrong and regain trust. In other words, we can only build and experience trust through behavior.

With that in mind, here are three real-life requests to help communicate and rebuild trust based on the three key elements of trust: competence, reliability, and sincerity.

  1. Competence

In the case of competence, the request would be:

“When you make commitments, it’s important to know you are capable of delivering on these. Sometimes your commitments for yourself or your team are beyond what any reasonable person could expect from you or them. Going forward, please ensure what you say you’re going to do, you’re fully capable of delivering on, so I can trust you and your team again.”

  1. Reliability

The most common single challenge in trusting someone is often a failure of reliability when a person doesn’t do what they say they’re going to do.

In the case of repairing reliability, your request could be put this way:

“For me to trust you, you must consistently deliver on your commitments. Frankly, this has been an issue which has led to this conversation. When you can consistently demonstrate you can deliver on your commitments, as promised, I am open to trusting you again.”

  1. Sincerity

If the issue is a breakdown in sincerity, the request is a little different (and could often be related to issues of reliability as well).

That request would be:

“For me to trust you again, you must demonstrate that you are sincere about the commitments you are making and you stand behind them. I am open to trusting you again when you show that you really believe in the agreements you’re making.”

It’s only by asking for distinct corrections through specific actions that the trust gap can begin to close. Trust in any relationship can meet challenges, and even get broken. However, repairing and regaining that trust often leads to a much stronger, more honest, higher quality relationship moving forward.

To accelerating and elevating your success,

Steve