Organization & Leadership Consulting

Behaviors That Erode or Restore Trust

A man in a suit holds a rock that has trust written on it

How would you describe the current level of trust of those around you in organizations, institutions, and government? If you quickly thought of scandals, conspiracies, and broken promises, you are not alone. Cynicism toward all types of institutions is part of the human condition, and with today’s technologies, seems on the rise. How does this generalized increase of distrust impact the organizations in which we work and serve?

Leadership and management expert Stephen Covey argues – the first job of a leader is to inspire trust. Effective leaders both inspire and rely on the trust of organizations’ stakeholders. Trust erodes due to pervasive suspicion and disappointment as people question a leader’s integrity and credibility, sometimes in a “guilty before proven innocent” sort of way. Trust is foundational to an organization’s performance and ongoing development. Let’s consider just a few of the behaviors that either erode trust or restore it.

Seven behaviors that erode trust in individuals:

  • Speaking or acting dishonestly 
  • Manipulation and/or degrading of others
  • Withholding information and power
  • Failure to follow through
  • Assuming you know when it’s obvious you don’t
  • Avoiding the real issues and/or personal responsibility
  • Breaking confidences

Seven behaviors that restore trust in individuals: 

From the Stephen Covey book, The Speed of Trust:

  • Speaking and acting forthrightly
  • Demonstrating respect for others
  • Providing access to information and power
  • Follow-through on commitments 
  • Beginning with listening, humility
  • Self-accountability and embracing reality
  • Loyalty to the Absent

Six conditions required to restore trust within organizations:

According to Bachmann, Gillespie, and Priem (2015) the following mechanisms are required for restoring organizational and institutional trust:

  • Sense-making: A shared understanding of what has eroded and needs restoration.
  • Relational Awareness: Providing space and time for respectful and honest processing of the emotions involved.
  • Regulation and Controls: Official controls and consequences for behaviors that erode trust.
  • Ethical Culture: Unofficial but understood boundaries on behaviors that erode trust.
  • Transparency: Forthright sharing of information relevant to decision making, understanding, and buy-in.
  • Transference: Offering trust to the discredited party in demonstrably practical ways.

To be restored, trust failures must be systematically investigated, addressed, and corrective actions communicated to relevant parties. In order to sustain it, trust-building and trust-restoration behaviors must be consistent, expressly valued by the organization, integrated into behavioral norms, and enforced through social sanctions. 

TurningWest – Your Guide to Healthy Human Work Systems, has helped hundreds of leaders and teams learn to cultivate, nurture, and restore sustainable trust within their organizations. Contact us today for a free conversation about your erosion issues.

-by Megan Sands, Associate Consultant 


Bachmann, Reinhard, Gillespie, Nicole, & Priem, Richard. (2015). Repairing Trust in Organizations and Institutions: Toward a Conceptual Framework. Organization Studies, 36(9), 1123–1142.

Covey, S. M., Covey, S. R., & Merrill, R. R. (2008). Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything (1st ed.). Salt Lake City, UT: FranklinCovey.


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