It's easier to forgive an enemy than it is to forgive a friend." ~William Blake
Everyone feels betrayed . . . eventually.
Yeas ago I saw an article that said 90 percent of men engaged in a particular habit. What caught my eye was the subtitle, which said, "10 percent lie." When it comes to the topic of betrayal in business I am tempted to re-assert the same adage, to wit:
Ninety percent of people will feel betrayed at work. Ten percent lie. ~Bryan Miller
The type of organization makes betrayal more, or less, of a risk
Where you work may determine if this sense of betrayal is easily managed or not.
For example, if you work in a big conglomerate or corporate entity, a public or private sector workplace, or the military, you may be able to set it aside philosophically with a rationalization such as "it's only work" or "there is always one jerk" and alter your actions to minimize the impact on your work-life.
But what if you work in a very small company? Or you work in a small professional practice, non-profit, or family business? In these cases . . . it's not so easy. (see our posts on Preserving the Family Business or 9 Common Lies Family Business Owners Tell Themselves.)
Experts have noted that their are certain types of organizations that are prone to present as more "emotional" than the typical corporation--these organizations often have the advantage of sharing stronger bonds (more like Blake's "friends" in the quote above) and are thus at a greater risk of a sense of betrayal. In fact, it is these close bonds--and the implied trust inherent in it--that makes the betrayal an especially dangerous threat.
When people feel betrayed, leaders need to step up!
Ever hear the statement that the employees know "where the bodies are buried?" Think about that statement for a moment . . . and about the literalness of that statement. The employees know "who has died (killed?) and that their final resting places are known." Maybe the burial plot is in marketing, or the warehouse, or the "other office."
It's too easy for leaders to ignore times when employees feel betrayed. Sometimes they blame the "victim" --"they take things too personally!" At other times, the threat is dismissed, "You don't have to like the people you work with." But feelings of betrayal will often erupt in conflict at critical moments or eat away like cancer on your organizational body. Production will drop, employees won't be willing to contribute any more than necessary, negative behaviors increase.
Like it or not, a leader needs to "get into the problem" and help the effected parties come to a resolution. They need to "get over" their own issues with trust . . . and lead. But this often creates a threat to the leader . . . so, often, the leader can revert to "taking control" or they kick this task "down the road" . . . avoiding, for the moment, dealing with the threat of a diagnosable "organizational disease" or perhaps the need for surgery--possibly even amputation..
When you are betrayed, your Response reveals your character.
Yep, I get it. You're hurt. Your angry. What has been done is unjust . . . to you. It's patently unfair. It could have easily been avoided if only the other person would have just taken the easiest, and most normal, of actions. The one you would have taken. The one any good and decent person would have taken.
Maybe, it's even true, maybe someone acted, intentionally, in a way that violated a trust with, or allegiance to, you. Or perhaps a fair-minded person would have concluded it was a misunderstanding, poor communication, or the circumstances that was the causal factor. Never-the-less . . . it still feels like a betrayal.
When you are the one betrayed--whether real or perceived--how you respond says more about you than the event itself . . . or the other person.
Yes, there are true betrayals . . . the acts of people who truly have a cancer of the soul . . . but let's face it most of the betrayals that impact people can be, are typically are, seen differently by the two people involved. That is, the common "sense of being betrayed" is different from a empirical fact of being betrayed." Unfortunately, seeing this as something other than a genuine betrayal takes a certain amount of detachment--a detachment that is particularly difficult to find when one is hurt, confused, sad, or angry. Yet, it is the time when it is most needed.
So, don't tell me how rational you are being. How logical. How professional. The truth is, you feel betrayed. No amount of "pollyanna-ishness", sublimation, or denial . . . will eliminate this fact. Often those that are the most "detached, unaffected, or stoic" . . . are the best at hiding this truth from others, and sometimes themselves--but they too feel a deep sense of hurt, anger or resentment. So, the question is, "What are you going to do about it?"
When I was barely in my 30s, I faced this question--"What are you going to do?"--in a very personal and dramatic way. My younger brother, Kirk, was killed in a car-bike accident. Despite it being "no one's fault" the sense of betrayal--on many levels--was real. I won't burden you with the details, but I bring it up to say that when faced with this kind of pain, resentment, anger, etc. you need to make a choice to respond to it and move beyond it.
Here are few suggestions:
1. Don't over-cook it. We all, at times of betrayal, focus on trying to avoid pain (see "Move through it" below) or wallow in the injustice of it. (My common adage about pain is, "When do you want to quit suffering? Yesterday.") Of course, it is natural to rerun the events that lead to the sense of betrayal. Our minds are trying to understand and incorporate what happened. But there comes a time when we will make a choice (including the choice to not choose) and often it is too tempting to continue to re-live the sense of injustice. Don't do it. Sometimes, it's driven by the person's sense of guilt or shame in a form of unconscious self-punishment.
2. Move through it. Yes, you can try to avoid it or go around it but the shortest path, and often the only choice that leads to a good long-term outcome, is to go through the experience of betrayal. What does this mean? It means acknowledging the sense, and the impact, of being betrayed. It means taking the time to sort through the repercussions of the even and finding perspective about the event and deciding how to act based on what actually happened. It means applying emotional intelligence to the other person, yourself, and the situation. This isn't easy. It takes courage and a willingness to feel vulnerable or "at risk" for a while.
3. Create a plan of recovery. Part of acknowledging the sense of betrayal and deciding how to act is to make a plan for how you will recover; It's not anyone else's job and, really, no one else can do it. Now, a plan doesn't necessarily mean "a plan." That is, some will actually draw up, make a list, or schedule activities to help themselves recover. They are the "list-makers" and it works for them--"Good on ya." For the rest of us, creating a plan for recovery means allowing yourselves the time and actions to recover. Adopt some boundaries with others to protect yourself. Do activities that have the possibility of "feeding you" rather than demanding more of you. Lower your standards . . . for a while. Take care of yourself and let yourself recover . . . just like you would if you had major surgery.
4. Get outside. No not "outdoors" (although maybe that helps too!) Get outside yourself. Focus on someone or something else. When you have been betrayed the focus narrows. For a while all the energy is focused on "how could they do this to me?" News flash: You are not the first, nor will you be the last, person betrayed. This initial focus, as we said earlier, is quite normal. But don't get stuck there. Often people begin to recover by focusing on something else; a person or cause where they can focus that energy in a positive way. This begins to remind us that it's "not all about me" and gives us motivation to keep going. To move on you need perspective this can help with that but often it takes time and choice to make this effort.
5. Find support from the right people. It's nice to have indignant friends that "have your back" and will be appropriately miffed at the betrayal. There role is to "make the right sounds" by affirming that you were betrayed, that the other person treated you unjustly, and you have the right to feel what you feel. But, as reassuring as this is . . . It's more important to have well-balanced people who will both support you and, when the time is right, refuse to "jump on the band wagon"--taking sides in an on-going dispute (being "loyal" or an "apologist" for the other party), and carefully helping you to move away from being stuck in your betrayal. It's great if you have that person in your circle of family or friends. If you don't, you may need to use a professional coach, consultant, or counselor.
Bryan Miller is the President of Human Systems Consulting; HSC helps leaders sleep at night and enjoy work again by improving the human-side of organizations. Bryan is the author of Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business and other helpful resources. Questions or comments? Contact Bryan here.