In business, if you are deeply committed to success and embedded in the game, it will happen at times that you are betrayed. Betrayals can come from many sources: business partners, staff, supervisors, clients, personal friends and colleagues. As a coach I have worked with people who have been betrayed and who have thrived afterwards. In my personal and business life I have managed betrayals from small to huge. Most of my working life has been joyful, but I’ve also been lied to, cheated, duped, fired and conned. In this post I’d like to share a basket of thoughts to help build resilience when dealing with this unpleasant fact of life. The first half of the post focuses on aspects of betrayal itself, and the second half on how to manage yourself after you have been betrayed.
Betrayal is born from fear. All betrayers choose to betray, and this choice comes from their own unmanaged fears. The fears come in many forms. Business partners may fear not achieving their own goals, or they may simply fear losing a competition that their imaginations have created. Staff members or supervisors may fear their unknown future. A friend or lover may fear their own feelings, or may even fear love itself. Whatever the source of the fear, the fact remains that betrayers are fearful people who have resorted to one of the lowest forms of cowardice, and this is sad. Thinking in this way can help re-frame your perspective on the person or people who have betrayed you. Many management and leadership books try to help leaders deal with a myriad of relationship and influence issues in business. Often these techniques work, but when faced with an irrationally fearful person, there is little one can do except acknowledge the sadness of the fear the person lives within, and move on. I have coached leaders who have dealt with threats from all sides, and have coached leaders who were not so lucky, for whom there were no threats but only sudden betrayal. And they survived, and thrived. They made it through.
We cannot be betrayed if we don’t trust first. Trust is one of the most peaceful and reassuring feelings, whether in personal or business relations. Trust is the foundation for success in working with others. That is why we have old cliché team building activities that attempt to create trust through physical games. The ability to trust, and to be trusted, is a gift that some of us have, and we may at times not realize how powerful trust is in business settings. It also makes us vulnerable, and that is simply the paradoxical condition of trust. You must trust others and be trustworthy in order to be successful, and the price we pay for that success is to be vulnerable. The conditions for betrayal only occur in a climate of trust, so if you’ve been betrayed, you are actually already working properly and in a trustful environment that you have created. Don’t stop focusing on trust with others. One of the most successful leaders that I have worked with had the trust of an innocent child most of the time. She worked in a heartbreaking international development context, and had seen the worst side of humanity, yet the focus on trust kept her leadership alive.
The sting of betrayal is equal to the level of trust that you had put in the betrayer. Betrayal hurts. It isn’t “just business”. The pain is equivalent to the amount of trust you have given the person who wronged you. Again, as mentioned before, if you feel the wounds of betrayal deeply it’s because you trusted deeply. You are on the right track, and that pain is an indicator of right behaviors.
Betrayals in personal life affect our business life. One of the biggest challenges with betrayal is that we find it hard to believe that we have been betrayed. In The Forerunner, Kahlil Gibran wrote, “Thus with my lips have I denounced you, while my heart, bleeding within me, called you tender names. It was love lashed by its own self that spoke. It was pride half slain that fluttered in the dust. It was my hunger for your love that raged from the housetop, while my own love, kneeling in silence, prayed your forgiveness.” Such a scarring betrayal as the one he describes could hardly come from a business colleague. But when we work we also live our lives, and it would be foolish and counterproductive to believe that our business and personal lives are not intertwined. During the fog and confusion of betrayal in personal life our business decisions may suffer as we comb through the remnants of our feelings and seek to forgive the betrayer. We feel stupid, duped, and ashamed, while at the same time hoping that somehow we could roll back the clock to the time of trust.
Focus on yourself. Once you have discovered a betrayal, it may take an hour, or a day, or maybe even a week to fully understand the magnitude of the betrayal. Once it’s clear, work on your own healing and your own strength. The betrayer is gone from your life forever. Ignore them. In real life in the business world we may still have to encounter them, and there may be long legal or other work-related issues to manage, but you must remove them from your mind and heart. The cloud of indecision during a betrayal has cost some business people their jobs, or lost them their investments and parts of their livelihoods as they fumbled around in the darkness of obsession about the betrayal. It doesn’t matter any more. They don’t matter. You are yourself without them, just as you were before you trusted them.
Rebuild trust elsewhere immediately and more deeply. Trust is an infinitely renewable resource. Time isn’t. While we were trusting our betrayer we were using that time to engage with that specific relationship, considered worthy of our priority list. Now that the betrayer is gone, rebuild trust with other friends and colleagues. We are surrounded by them. The opportunities are endless. Rebuilding a trusting network with others may seem counterintuitive, but it helps us practice our trust before it atrophies in the mist of the betrayal as we grasp at what once was. Forming new trust is like building a house on the ashes of the old. It’s a bit awkward at first, but in no time there is a new house with new life.
Keep going. It’s a long walk. It is tempting to get stuck in the swamp of regret, thinking, “how could I have trusted them”, or “how could I have been so stupid, why didn’t I see it coming?” Some of these thoughts may be unavoidable, but we must resist the urge to wallow, and instead head forward, no matter how uneasy we may feel. If we are building new trust in the meantime, the heavy load we are carrying will soon be lifted by others and our long walk will continue towards our goals.
There is little defense against betrayal, only recovery and resilience afterwards. We may blame ourselves for “allowing” the betrayal. This is a futile and pointless exercise in self pity. If there is one lesson I have learned through my own experiences and through coaching others, trust is the cornerstone of success, and it comes with an Achilles Heel of vulnerability. You can’t avoid betrayal. Practice new trust, keep going, and focus on yourself. These are the keys to resilience and renewal.
3- Paths, woods, oil on mixed media on panel 11 X 34″
Artist: Thom Dougherty. All Rights Reserved