Saying Sorry and Trust Repair
Trust is a crucial element in any relationship, whether it’s between individuals, businesses, or in politics. Even the most trustworthy person or company can make mistakes that can damage trust. In these cases, a sincere apology can go a long way in repairing the relationship. But just saying “sorry” isn’t enough. To truly repair trust, three elements are required.
- Apologize sincerely
The first element of a successful trust repair is a sincere apology. Saying sorry is the first step, but it must be heartfelt and genuine. It’s important to take responsibility for what happened and acknowledge any harm caused. The apology should be specific and focus on the impact of the action rather than justifying it. A sincere apology helps the other party to feel heard and validated.
- Explain what caused it
The second step involves providing a detailed explanation of what led to the problem. It is crucial to be upfront and truthful about the error and its underlying causes. This indicates that the person apologizing has taken the time to understand the consequences of their actions and has reflected on how to prevent similar mistakes in the future. By being transparent and sharing the specifics of what went wrong, trust can also be restored. It may be necessary to acknowledge external factors that prevented the fulfillment of the promise, but it is vital to avoid making excuses to justify the broken commitment. Instead, the explanation should be candid and straightforward, emphasizing the societal impact of the broken promise.
- Explain how to prevent it from happening again
The third element of a successful trust repair is to explain what steps will be taken to prevent the same mistake from happening again. This involves identifying the root cause of the problem and creating a plan to prevent it from occurring in the future. This shows a commitment to change and a willingness to take action to prevent the same mistake from happening again.
Sandra Sucher about effective trust repair
In episode 39 of the TrustTalk podcast, our host, Severin de Wit, interviewed Sandra Sucher, a professor at Harvard Business School, about the most effective ways to repair trust. We explored the infamous case of Volkswagen and how they handled the loss of trust after the emissions scandal in 2016. I asked Sandra if the apology from Volkswagen’s CEO, Matthias Mueller, was sufficient in repairing trust. His statement included an admission of wrongdoing and a sincere apology, as well as a commitment to regain trust. But was it enough?
This is what Sandra Sucher said on what it takes to truly repair trust and how organizations can move forward from a loss of trust, talking about three requirements of an effective trust repair
And was the apology of the (former) Volkswagen CEO Matthias Mueller an effective apology where he said: “rules were broken and boundaries overstepped. It’s very painful and we apologize sincerely. We know that we have disappointed many people, people who have placed their trust in Volkswagen. We stand by our responsibility and we are doing everything in our power to regain trust”. This is what Sandra Sucher said about that attempt to repair trust:
As an example of how trust can be repaired effectively using the three steps she tells are essential for a trust repair, mentioning an incident at the Oscars in 2017 involving PwC and how they repair, a standard on how to effectively repair trust:
Listen to the podcast interview with Sandra Sucher: