So widely quoted it’s treated as The Truth: “It takes years to build trust, seconds to destroy it and forever to repair.”

I disagree. 

Most often, trust is eroded over time.


Take the case of Governor Christie.

For those of you who haven’t seen a paper or listened to the news, Governor Christie, the Governor of New Jersey, is embroiled in a scandal about closing traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge.  There’s evidence that this action was in retaliation to a political official who would not give his support to the Governor’s bid for re-election.  While Christie publicly stated that his staff closed the lanes without his knowledge or consent, unfortunately, many people say he has a reputation for bullying and retribution. The New York Times said, “Christie is sensitive to slights and politically belligerent.”

Caring is one of the tenets of trust.  A pattern of bullying undermines that… it’s an erosion of trust.  Dodging responsibility… an erosion of trust.  Blaming… an erosion of trust.

So did Christie break trust in “seconds”?  Or was it the years that created the reputation? 


The Foundations of Trust

Think of a house perched on the edge of a cliff.  In “seconds” it falls… but only after years of the hill gradually weakening. In “The Speed of Trust,” Covey talks about the two pillars of trust: character and competence, and he reminds us that these pillars must be constantly reinforced.

What can we learn from Christie’s challenge?

  1. Walk the talk. Ensure there is no gap between what you say you value and what you do.
  2. Be humble. Humility involves acknowledging others’ contributions rather than seeking all the glory.  As Covey says, “A humble person is more concerned about what is right than about being right.”
  3. Demonstrate courage. Courage is doing the right thing even when no one is watching. It is about being brave enough to be vulnerable and admit mistakes.


A Simple Guide to Trustworthy Behavior

Most people understand right and wrong. Untrustworthiness doesn’t usually stem from a blatant character flaw or being a bad person. It comes about through a process of moral justification, a process of reinterpreting immoral behavior in terms of a higher good.  “Maybe it’s not the best option, but it’s for the right cause.”

Rotary International developed these four questions to guide ethical decisions.  If people followed these, what would happen to trust?  I suspect people would do a much better job maintaining those foundations.  When you’re make a decision, Rotary suggest you first ask:

  1. Is it the truth?
  2. Is it fair to all concerned?
  3. Will it build goodwill and better friendship?
  4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?


The Bottom Line:

Once the building has gone over the cliff, it’s pretty hard to haul it back up. Best thing is to make sure the foundation is strong and it has been reinforced over the years, or “in a second,” trust will come tumbling down.


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