May 21st, 2017

After you have had a conversation with yourself (see post titled Confronting Distrust Part 1: Six Things to Think About Before You Talk) and you are ready to talk to someone you distrust about your concerns, here are some suggestions for starting that conversation. There are many ways to start talking with someone about distrust. In my experience some are better than others, and these five moves have proven to work well in most cases.

Remember, this is only a start, a way into a productive discussion. As with any honest conversation, you can’t predict or control where it will go or what the final outcome will be. All you can know for sure is that, if it is a real conversation both of you will end up in a different place than when you began.

  1. Start the conversation by expressing your desire to fully trust the person. For example: “I believe in order for both of us to do our best work here we need to fully trust each other.” Or, “I believe the team will perform best if we exhibit full trust in each other.”

  2. Describe the specific actions or behaviors that have impacted your trust in this person using neutral language. Tell them that as a result you do not fully trust their reliability, competence, sincerity or care at this time. For example: “The last three times you took on assignments for the team you didn’t get them done in the time you committed to. All three were at least a week late. Because of this, at this point I’m having a hard time trusting you will meet your commitments in the future.” Talk about what they have done, not what they are. “You just aren’t reliable” will almost certainly result in the other person becoming defensive, while language like the example above is easier for him or her to hear and still stay open to the rest of what you have to say.

  3. Ask them to tell you how they see the situation you described. Their response to this may be to attempt to excuse their behavior and/or blame other people or circumstances, or possibly even blame you. No matter what they say at this point, the best thing you can do is listen until they have finished, without interrupting, contradicting, or attacking. Consider what they have said and respond honestly. This is usually just the beginning of what can be a productive conversation. Remember, the conversation is about building trust, not about confirming that you are right.

    What do you do if you’ve listened to the other person and they have not taken any responsibility for their behavior, just offered excuses or blamed others? If the relationship is important enough to you or your work, you will need to risk some conflict. Repeat that there is an issue of trust in the relationship between the two of you that needs to be dealt with somehow because it is getting in the way of your work. Ask if there is anything they could do in the situation to address your concerns. If you believe you can do so, offer to help determine what is not in their control and address it.

  4. Describe what they can do to regain your trust. For example: “In order to help me fully trust your (reliability, competence, sincerity, and or care), here is what you can do…”

  5. Ask them if they will commit to do what is needed to regain your trust.