The 3 Stages Of Distrust (The 3 D’s)

Building and maintaining trust in all types of relationships is one thing, tearing it down is another. 

Rachel Botsman shared an article about the 3 stages of distrust and it got me thinking. 

Thinking about how trust breaks down in any relationship, personal or professional, and when you can bring it back vs. when you can’t. 

The 3 stages of distrust Botsman outlines are:

  1. Defensive
  2. Disengaged
  3. Disenchanted

At first, being defensive (on either party’s side) shows conflict. The important part of this stage is… at least there’s conflict. There’s a chance for conversation and this is the point where you have your best odds or restoring trust.

The second stage is becoming disengaged. This is where avoiding the conflict is easier than arguing about it. It’s a slippery slope, because you either re-engage and risk moving back towards defensiveness, or you disengage all of the way. 

The final stage is when you’re disenchanted. If it’s no longer worth even attempting to engage, or defending your views/boundaries/purose, it’s time to unplug and walk away. This is both the easiest and the hardest part, because you’re quitting, and quitting can be very, very hard to actually do. 

As leaders, we have to spot distrust as quickly as possible. 

We can turn a person’s attitude around in the first two stages, but they require slightly different tactics. More often than not, there’s little to nothing we can do once disenchantment kicks in, and the costs associated with attempting to turn that ship around when we just need to let it go are very real. 

Ps. Related topic, Botsman’s post also has me thinking about David Burkus’ two types of trust and how they influence each stage of distrust. Think on this too. It might be the subject of a longer/future post – any interest? Here’s the quick definitions so this can be rattling around in your head too:

Cognition-based trust is all about knowing your teammates are competent and reliable. 

Affect-based trust is all about how the team cares about each other as people, wanting to see each person succeed, beyond (!) the purposes of the team itself.