6 ways to rebuild trust with frustrated stakeholders

Once trust is lost, it can be time-consuming and difficult to address. If distrust has become an issue, these six tips can help rebuild trust.

distrustful staff

Image: iStock/Andrii Yalanskyi

Distrust can happen quickly or creeps in slowly, but once it's entrenched with stakeholders, it can plague everything from smaller tasks to massive initiatives. It will also grow and impact other stakeholders in short order. Trust is the most critical component of being a good leader.

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The impact of stakeholder distrust

If you doubt the importance of stakeholder trust, United Airlines is a case-in-point from the stakeholder perspective. A study was conducted based on an investigation into the relationships among customers about their ethical judgment, trust, and distrust toward United Airlines. It was after a video went viral in 2017 of the company forcibly removing a passenger because his flight was overbooked. Findings showed that "distrust had a bigger impact on stakeholders' behavioral intentions such as information seeking, mobilizing, and consulting than trust."

6 tips for rebuilding trust with frustrated stakeholders

If distrust is an issue in your initiatives, some things can be done to either reduce or eliminate the frustration, potential damage, and help rebuild confidence. Here are six ways to address distrust and hopefully gain back buy-in.

1. Make time for exploratory conversations

Resolving issues of distrust, primarily when it originates with your stakeholders, won't be easy. It can be challenging to accept and harder to change stakeholder opinions, but setting aside time is vital in demonstrating how your stakeholders' trust matters. This requires engaging in meaningful and open conversations with stakeholders. 

SEE: 5 things leaders should never say to their teams (TechRepublic)

2. Listen actively to stakeholders 

It's not enough to make time and go through the motions of listening. Actively listening to stakeholder input is critical. Active listening focuses entirely on a speaker to understand and comprehend their message and the information to respond thoughtfully. It may require rephrasing or repeating what stakeholders say and seeking additional clarification. 

SEE: Project managers: 5 ways developing exceptional active listening skills will help you achieve goals (TechRepublic)

3. Take concerns seriously

Stakeholders must feel that what they have to say is actually being heard and being taken seriously. Without this, stakeholder distrust will become more deeply ingrained and accelerate turnover. 

SEE: 5 things leaders do that could compromise stakeholder buy-in (TechRepublic)

4. Develop an action plan that involves stakeholder input

Once the root of distrust has been documented, developing a plan to deal with the issues and involving the stakeholder in the solution can increase success. When stakeholders are included in the solution and not just sharing problems, they are more likely to develop a sense of trust.

SEE: 6 signs that teams don't trust their leaders (TechRepublic)

5. Follow up 

Take the time to check back in with stakeholders periodically to ensure distrust has been resolved and is a thing of the past. Without this step, they might feel that any efforts were simply a pretense. 

SEE: 5 traits other leaders can learn from successful project managers (TechRepublic)

6. Learn from the experience

Learning from the experience may be the biggest challenge and find ways not to be back to square one. This is key to growing as a leader and gaining sustainable respect and trust from stakeholders. 

It takes hard work to regain trust. It's only in the process of engaging in dialogue with stakeholders, actively listening to what they have to say, involving them in solutions, following up, and learning from past experiences that trust can be re-established. 

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