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Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
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Work fail? Career blunder? Here’s what to do next…

How to Regain Trust and Rebuild Your Reputation in the Workforce

Although everyone is bound to make a few mistakes over the course of a career, some mistakes are much more severe than others. In some cases, a single mistake can destroy a worker’s professional reputation. Mistakes of this magnitude can include lying, causing major disruption to a workplace project through a professional failure and intentionally getting a co-worker fired. Leaders and managers who make mistakes such as these must take immediate steps to control the damage and begin regaining the trust and respect of their colleagues. Here are five actionable steps for professionals who need to rebuild their workplace reputations.

  1. Take Responsibility for the Mistake
    A person who has committed some act that ruins his or her workplace reputation is often tempted to deny the truth in an attempt to control the damage. Unfortunately, this approach only digs the hole deeper, as it adds dishonestly to that person’s list of perceived shortcomings. A better approach is to take full responsibility by truthfully admitting the mistake. By owning up to their errors, leaders can start the process of rebuilding their reputations. If the situation warrants an apology, it’s also a good idea to make that apology up front.
  2. Understand That Your Team Members are Angry
    When a leader’s behaviors compromise the trust of the team, it is easy for that leader to try to move on quickly. Team members, however, are likely to be angry and feel betrayed. Just because you are ready to move on doesn’t mean your team is ready to forgive you. Acknowledging that your decisions may have made people angry or feel hurt or disrespected is important. Reiterate that you made the best decision you could at the time, but you realize that that it may not have been the right call for everyone. Understand that your people, especially your quality people, truly care about the workplace and their mission. When you make poor decisions that impact your top performers, they are going react with their own actions, such as becoming more withdrawn, decreasing participation, and limiting communications. If you made serious mistakes, expect a period of reduced productivity from your team.
  3. Show Renewed Commitment to Excellent Work
    A leader or co-worker who has made a major mistake or breached trust with his or her team in some way will be under increased scrutiny for some time afterward as colleagues watch for further negative behaviors. During this time, it’s important for that leader to deliver the best possible quality of work, and show a renewed commitment to professional excellence. By turning in consistently great work, employees can begin to rebuild their reputation and eventually, with enough time and great performance, to their reputation can overshadow past mistakes.
  4. Change the Behaviors That Started the Problem
    In most cases, a career-altering mistake is the result of some persistent underlying behavior on the part of the leader who made it. Part of rebuilding a professional reputation is to change the behaviors that endangered that reputation in the first place. This process won’t be quick, as leaders must show real change over time in order for their colleagues to begin trusting them again. It’s also important that this effort be one of real actions, rather than just words. Promises are cheap, and many co-workers will initially suspect others of merely saying the right things without taking actions to back them up. As time goes on, consistent, better, altered behavior will change how the worker is perceived by his or her team, and the new and improved leader will be viewed as the new normal.
  5. Turn to a Mentor for Help
    As in many other areas of professional life, a trusted mentor can be immensely helpful in the process of rebuilding a damaged reputation. Mentors can help leaders improve their performance and personal conduct after a mistake has been made, and, in egregious situations they can also act as ambassadors to help bridge the gap between disgraced workers and their teams. Though it will still be the job of the professional in question to put in the hard work of modifying his or her performance, guidance from a mentor can help accelerate the process of repairing trust and performance. While taking these steps, it is important for leaders to remain patient as they continue to move forward. Just as professional reputations aren’t earned overnight, they also cannot be repaired overnight. Rebuilding trust take time, but it is worth the effort.


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