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Betrayed! The ultimate test of emotional intelligence . . . and character.

Photo by  Xavier Sotomayor  on  Unsplash

 

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

 

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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.

Available eBooks:

Private Practice through Contracting: Decreasing dependence on insurance.

Engaging Your Team: A framework for managing difficult people.

Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business.

 

 

 

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My Coach, National Awards, Spoiled Brats . . . and remembering a great team

 

Well, Coach Neal, my college Basketball coach, was named the WBCA NAIA Coach of the Year!  And I'm bitter about it. Why? Because, I only got to play for him for one year . . . in college, where I was a woefully undersized forward at 6'1", and mostly sat on the bench. He was supposed to be my coach for three years in High School, where I was a starter, and where he was the coach until he got "railroaded" by a bunch of . . . well, I won't label them . . . other than to say "immature kids"  . . . and the complicit adults . . . before my sophomore year. Without going into the details, the end result was that the board of education, I think taking the politically safe course, suspended him for a year, to appease the disgruntled and the local college, recognizing a good deal,  promptly offered him their open position. The only redeeming factor, as far as I was concerned, was that this let me play a lot of "noon ball" with him--and even tryout some prospects--but it wasn't quite the same as working one-on-one with this talented leader. 

But this post isn't really about my Coach--or my bitterness. It's to set the stage for what I am about to tell you.  A life lesson that has stuck with me throughout my career as a leader. It's the story about what makes a good team.

You see, after the kids (and their enabling cadre of adults) got rid of Coach, I played with two distinct groups of players. One, a very talented group of athletes that was a terrible team, followed by an average group of athletes that, as a team, excelled. What was the difference?  I'll tell you . . . in  a minute. But first, let me jump forward to the end . . . .

I still can feel the shock. It was my senior year. We had just finished the district final. We had been beaten. Badly. Our "arch-enemies," and the best team in the state, which they proved in the state tournament, had just beaten us for the third time, ending our high school career and launching them, in our place it felt like, to the state tournament. Why in "our place," given they were admittedly the best team in our Class?  Simply, because,we never expected to be beaten. Ever. Why would we feel so confident having been beaten twice before? Because each time we had lost only by a few points and each time we had a starter injured who did not play. Now we were back to full-strength, and at full strength we just didn't lose. But, we just had lost . . . it was inconceivable.  

But, let's go back now to the moment when Coach was suspended . . . .

Playing on a team where the players have just successfully "booted the coach" is interesting to say the least. Once Coach Neal was suspended, my ninth grade coach--a nice man but not a charismatic leader--was promoted. This good man struggled, I think, going into a situation where the "inmates" were really in charge. Oh, he tried to take charge and lead but underlying everything was the feeling that the players could call "mommy and daddy" at any moment and the coach would have to answer for the player's complaints. Not an inviable position to be in as a coach! The result of this, as far as the team's performance, was devastating. The players were good. The team was bad.

A say the players were "good" because they had a lot of potential. Compared to the team that would follow, they had advantages in height, speed, and most of all, in talent. (For example, the average height? Over 6'3" the latter team? Barely 6'0") They were fiercely loyal to each other--but only to each other--and they made sure the other players knew they were to "stay in their place." (There were, to be fair, a couple exceptions to this rule but only one played, so it had minimal effect)  Over the next two years, whenever my play elevated to the point that it threatened their status . . .they "messaged me" with their displeasure.  In a scrimmage, I received a hard elbow to the sternum which laid me out (I didn't know until that moment that you could bruise your sternum!),  I had a player take a swing at me in practice (I dodged it), and had two random fans ask me after one game, "why wouldn't they throw you the ball in the second half?"

I found myself adapting to survive.  So, when my coach rushed across the court after the player took a swing at me and asked, "Did he just try to punch you?" I deferred . . .  "I dunno coach, you'd have to ask him." When fans asked about not getting the ball in the second half, I said "I don't know," --when I had a pretty good idea.

The season, as a reflection of these dynamics, was a disaster. The team only won 5 games. One, proving their elevated talent level, was over the third-ranked team in the state. With enough talent to challenge for a conference title and a trip to the state tournament, it was a complete and utter failure.  Meanwhile, the next team, the "Junior Varsity," was having more success. What would happen when they became the Varsity? Shorter, less talented, less experienced--the prospects were not promising.

So, after the 5-win season,  the ninth-grade-coach-turned-varsity-coach was out, and a new coach was brought in. The coaching change, in my opinion, had little effect. The new coach, certainly came in under a better political climate, but his leadership was not such that it inspired any exponential improvement or motivation. As a change it was simply a replacement, not an upgrade. Besides, the JV had no trouble playing for either coach. 

But, something was different.

Athletes would say this next team was "coachable." With less talent, this team was far inferior "on paper" than the older team. Yet, this team played beyond its potential. This team beat every team they faced except three--two of the three went to state and one being the best team in the class that year. This was the team that played in the district final and were defeated, as told above, by the number one team presenting them from going to the state tournament. 

Two teams. Two different talent levels. Two different outcomes. One grossly underperforming. One excelling.

The difference was  . . . trust.

There was no trust on the older team. Everyone played for themselves. The awareness that the players had ousted the coach, made the coach be timid--who could blame him in a situation that was potentially dangerous. (After stepping down as the coach, he went back to teaching and, I think, coaching the 9th grade team). Underclassmen knew that the older players were more interested in their own status than having a great team. The older players just wanted the starting role and played to their egos, not as a team. One game, a player's shoe came untied, as the other team moved the ball down the court, he ran behind, signaling to the coach that his shoe was untied. The coach shrugged, knowing, I think, that the referees would not allow a time out when the other team was on a "fast break" and about to score an "easy bucket." Not good enough for this player, and frustrated by not being attended to, he violently kicked his shoe off-. . . sending it flying high over the bench where we sat and on to the track behind us. Then, he became "unhinged"  . . . fouling indiscriminately in his anger. Coach let him go. It is the first, and only time, I have seen a player foul out in the first four minutes of a game.

Meanwhile, the JV team didn't care about status. They wanted to win.  They played with whomever the coaches deemed would make them the best team--even when it meant that the center position, occupied by one of their buddies was replaced by an underclassman. No one was concerned about who was "the star" on any given night and, consequentially, different players excelled throughout the season.

Maybe, we learned from the chaos and failure of the older team, we certainly witnessed it and experienced its effects. But I don't think that was it. If it was, we never once talked about it.  This latter group, I believe, just had the idea that being successful was more important. Because we shared that goal, because our behavior aligned with that objective, there was trust.

When the season was over. It was time for the post-season awards.  Some players shared with me their expectation that I would be voted "All Conference.." The facts supported this assumption. I was the high scorer on the second-place team in the district. I appreciated the fact that my fellow players would acknowledge that I should be considered. When the list came out, however, I was not on it. One of my teammates, who was in attendance  said our new coach made a mistake in putting up three candidates for the award which resulted in our votes getting split. Perhaps they were split due to who performed best against each specific coaches team? I don't know. Oh I won't tell you that I wasn't disappointed not to get the award. But, with the hindsight of many years, it really was the most fitting ending to it all. This really was the success of a great team . . . not of a great player.

 

My coach and teammate respond! A follow up post.

 

Get our eBook: Engaging Your Team: A framework for leading "difficult" people.  No cost. No obligation.  

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Preventing and Handling Conflict in Family Business

Plan or fail. Is your family business proactive about protecting the family in the business?

Plan or fail. Is your family business proactive about protecting the family in the business?

 

 

The following is an excerpt from our free eBook. Family Legacy: Protecting Family in Family Business.

Preventing Conflict

Rarely do families implement guidelines or procedures for managing family interactions within a family business. However, in many consulting situations, ground rules for communication are a helpful tool. Consultants who work in emotionally-charged groups will often set up guidelines for communication to help the consulting process succeed. Thus a simple rule such as “Refer to titles not people” or “Only speak for yourself” can help to reduce the risk of escalating conflict, as a comment like “Everybody knows that Robert is failing as a leader” can become “We need more leadership from the President position.”

Family businesses often do not implement structures that could prevent conflict. Suggestions regarding setting up a family constitution, holding regular family councils, or annual family assemblies are often met with resistance. “We don’t have time” or “I don’t want to mix family and business” are two of many reasons cited not to formalize the family’s interactions with the business and ownership dimensions. Even more resistance can be felt when the suggestion is to bring in an “outsider” in the form of a “family expert,” as many see this as unnecessary at best and a threat at worst. Attitudes persist that “good families” don’t need help. Unfortunately, most wait until problems have festered for years or decades and much damage has already been done.

A recent conversation will illustrate this sad situation. The author had a family business owner referred for possible consultation due to the fact that three siblings were beginning to “lawyer-up” for a fight over the assets of the parent’s estate and business holdings. The discussion was about how the siblings had reached the point where two had retained lawyers and the third was feeling compelled to “do something.” As we discussed the situation, the brother decided that it was unlikely that he could engage his co-owner siblings in a consulting process. He stated forlornly, “We should have had you come in years ago.” It is a sad comment family business consultants hear far too often.

When families are passive about the family issues, when they delay acknowledging tensions, and do not avail themselves of quality help, they often allow resentment, bitterness, conflict, and separation to grow and congeal. Businesses develop plans, engage in strategic thinking, hire experts to assist them . . . families deserve no less consideration and support. 

“Strong fences make good neighbors.”  Old Saying

“Love thy neighbor, yet don’t pull down your hedge.” Benjamin Franklin

Robert Frost, in his poem “Mending Wall” bemoans the division that barriers represent. He indicates “something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down.” Most of us, especially in our families can agree. We want connection, not separation. But . . .

Handling Conflict

Family members need to understand what it means to be a good bystander. When humans experience conflict they often respond in one of three basic ways: avoid, freeze, or fight. When a family member sees conflict between two other family members, the tendency is to try to determine who’s right or assess who needs their loyalty or protection. This usually serves to broaden the fight from a two-person problem to a three-person problem, or even a whole-family problem.

Yes, there are times when assessing and acting if someone behaves in an unfair, unethical, or aggressive way—and confronting that issue—is necessary. But with most family conflicts the problems are less black and white and usually come from real differences in opinion, experience, or coping strategies. 

How to Protect the Family: Structure and Process for Family Businesses

Researchers have found that families benefit from structure, routine, planning, and communication. Recent attention in the news to findings like the positive impact of families who eat at least four meals together a week would be one example. Family businesses benefit from these structures as well. Here are some of the vehicles that family firms use to protect and help the family succeed:

Family Constitution or Mission: A document created to state the family’s values and goals. Used to continue to provide an anchorage for the family to return to as the family business grows and changes.

Annual meetings: Annual events, often combined with a family reunion, to engage the family and inform them of the strategic planning and performance of the family business.

Family Councils: A representative group meeting regularly to develop plans, policies and procedures for the family business; with a particular focus on creating good communication and interrelationship between the business and the family.

Succession Planning: A process to create a plan to guide, sustain, and promote the health of the family and business as ownership, management, and family roles change and pass from one generation to the next.

Sadly, the old adage, "those who don't plan . . . plan to fail" is still often proved true, even  often in the modern day family business where information and resources are widely available. 

Help your family business or the family businesses you serve. Get our free eBook: Family Legacy.

 

 

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Parents and Kids: Don't make it easy! Especially if you own your own business.

A knife, the right one, can be a useful tool.  Photo Credit: Juan Jose Alonso at Unsplash.

Warren Buffet, the "Oracle of Omaha," has started giving away his wealth . . . and it's not to his kids. He gets it.

 

I needed to run into the "big box store" for one thing. My son, courageously, volunteered to stay behind an take care of our dog. "Courageously" I say because I knew what was on his mind. The same thing that had been on his mind for the last week or more. The knife. "Maybe you could stop and look at the knife?" he cautiously asked . . . . I steeled myself, knowing this was not the time to be generous and give in. It was too important . . . for my son.

Recently, my 11 year old set his sights on buying a knife. His hope, a big-bowie knife. Now, some of you might be thinking . . . uh, no! Given the immature nature of many young boys, the culture of as presented in the main-stream media, parental anxieties, and the potential for "unintended outcomes" we, of course, worked to establish a more reasonable alternative.

That does not mean, in this instance, that our automatic answer is, "No knife." Since we have a very active average--complete with chicken coop, high tunnel, three garden spots and all the accompanying minutia of hey bales, tractors, tomato cages and the like--a knife is a practical tool that a "chore=laden" (at least in his eyes) boy could find useful. Not to mention his parents. Besides, we live in the heart of the farming community where 14 years olds drive farm equipment and help with the harvest. Really. It's not that weird for youngsters to carry a knife, at least, around the farm. (I have had to tell a few young lads that they cannot bring them to social events to show their friends however.)

So, yes, the knife is still in discussion. After all, this isn't my first time around at this. We have six children (four of which are boys) and I regularly counted on the other boys help in working around "the place." "Hey, do you have your knife on you?" was  not an uncommon question, especially,  if I didn't have mine on me at the time.

But, the discussion about the knife is always about responsibility. "Do you think you are old enough to be responsible with a knife?" I'll ask, putting the necessity of this requirement to their mind. This youngster, in my assessment, is on the verge of consistently acting responsible enough . . . but not quite. So, I had a talk with him about his lack of consistency--giving his mother a hard time about chores, being upset that she didn't buy him the knife when he expected it, his general attitude and treatment of others.

"I can't give a knife to someone until I know they are going to be responsible," I told him. "i see you becoming more and more responsible but you need to do it in all areas if you want to be trusted with something like a knife.  Your mother and I look forward to when you are responsible enough to have a tool like a knife." I concluded.

I was practicing the age old rule of "not making it easy." It's advice I give to parents in general and especially to parents who have done well--many who own family businesses. Oh I know the sad truth that there are parents out there that are mean, withholding, even abusive to their children--those parents need a different rule called "be kind"--but I think the majority are more in danger of wanting to do too much for our children. Thus, we rob them of learning early on how to handle disappointment, frustration, and to reinforce the satisfaction of turning their hard work, and patience into meeting their needs and wants.

This does not preclude another of my parent rules, "Say 'Yes" as much as you can." You see, as I said earlier, our answer is NOT just "No." In fact, the answer to the knife is "Yes, when you're ready." The same foes for getting a car in a few short years. When you are mature enough, have earned the money to pay for it, and grateful for the privilege of owning it.

Parents who are owners of their own businesses run into an even greater danger of making it too easy. Saying "Here, son/daughter, "here are some opportunities, assets, cash, etc." may make good business sense. it may help pass down your assets, make create tax write-offs, and may just tempt you to want to be kind to your children. But, just like staking a tree too soon for fear that it will break, staking it before it has strengthened itself against the wind and other elements, only weakens it and makes it likely to fail when it is grown and it's weakened condition is overcome by the weight and stresses placed on it as an "adult."  Like the tree, these "coddled," advantaged, children may not develop the internal strength to weather the storms of life.

"I'll look at it," I responded to my son, "But don't expect me to be coming back with it," I warned. "I know," he said. I watched as determination and courage followed the initial disappointment. Inwardly, I winced, my heart grieving for the kid and the disappointment he felt. My thoughts moving to the pride I felt however  in seeing him work to be the mature young man he can be, and reminiscing about the joy of watching my other boys become men.

The funny thing, which I knew would happen (remember it's not my first "rodeo"), is that his general mood has been better. Saying "no, for now" has actually released him of the pent-up pressure of "wanting."  He's more pleasant, more helpful, just happier. The good thing is, it's no longer just about trying to manipulate me into getting the knife either. It's real. That afternoon, he voluntarily, sauntered out and helped me replace the wheel on his sister's car and he enjoyed helping. It's progress.

I'm still going to try and talk him into a more reasonable knife--not one that is "flashy" and "mammoth" into one that will be more useful. But the type of knife is not the biggest concern. No, my danger, as a parent is . . . I'm already wondering--now that he showed some mature fortitude--how soon I can take him to buy a knife. Yes, I'm my own worst enemy. I may have to "practice what I preach" and exercise a little frustration tolerance.

Get our free eBook: Family Legacy: Protecting family in family business.

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