Reviving Trust

Bouncing Back After A Mistake

You have just made a mistake at work. You’re embarrassed. Your supervisor knows you’ve screwed up. Your mind starts racing—you have lost all trust with your supervisor, you’ll never get that promotion, and now you’ll be labeled “the screw up."

Before you consider the idea of quitting your job and traveling to South America to avoid the reality of a minimally damaged work relationship, you can use this opportunity to build yourself. You have the potential to take action, rekindle trust, and perhaps rationally plan a backpacking vacation while keeping your job.

Trustworthiness is the willingness of a party to be vulnerable to the actions of another party based on the expectations that the other will perform a particular action important to the truster (Mayer, Davis, Schoorman, 1995). Building trust requires deliberate actions to create the right expectations from another person. Trustworthiness consists of three elements: ability, benevolence, and integrity. Cultivating each component will help create positive expectations and regain trust after you’ve made a mistake.

Ability is a group of skills, competencies and characteristics that enable a party to have influence within some specific domain. The first step to exemplifying ability is to develop an awareness of your strengths and weaknesses. This can be achieved through formal 360-assessments, informal self-introspective journaling, and career coaching (Axelrod, 2012; Watts, 2012). Next, be open with your supervisor. Acknowledge past mistakes in connection to your developmental areas. Openly discuss how you can match your strengths to performance goals. Aim to prove your ability through future action.

Benevolence is the perception of a positive orientation of the trustee toward the truster. First, make sure you understand your own honest intentions for work and the company. The only way for this process to succeed is to be authentic in your desire to be benevolent. Demonstrate these intentions to your supervisor by explicitly discussing your desire to contribute to the success of the company, success for the supervisor, and success for the relationship between you two.

Lastly, integrity is about adhering to a set of principles that the truster finds acceptable. Once again, it is important for you to foster self-awareness to understand your own value system first—utilize introspective questioning to understand your personal set of significant principles. Deliberately incorporate your personal constitution within interactions with anyone from your boss to your peers. Practice behaving this way to make your actions congruent with your words.

Why is trustworthiness important for work relationships? Whether we like it or not, people are conditioned to make snap judgments of others. Ultimately, we can only control our own behaviors. We can prepare ourselves for deliberative, purposeful actions that lead to healthier relationships.

If you made a major blunder at work, don’t pack your escape backpack (the obvious choice is Osprey). You can use the above principles to regain the trust of your supervisor. Consistent authentic actions aligned with clear communication will result in genuine trust.


Axelrod, S. D. (2012). “Self-awareness”: At the interface of executive development and psychoanalytic therapy. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 32(4), 340-357.

Mayer, R. C., Davis, J. H., & Schoorman, F. D. (1995). An integrative model of organizational trust. Academy of Management Review, 20(3), 709-734

Watts, G. W. (2012). The power of introspection for executive development. The Psychologist-Manager Journal, 15(3), 149-157.

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