Betrayed in the Workplace? 7 Steps for Healing

A co-worker breaks a confidence. A teammate takes credit for your work. Your boss is chronically late. Another reorganization – and another round of layoffs – is impending.

It’s easy to see how business as usual can feel like betrayal as usual.

About 85 percent of workplace betrayal – a breach of trust or the perception of that breach – is unintended, however, says Dr. Dennis Reina, founder of The Reina Trust Building Institute. “These minor betrayals eat away at us, until one day we either mentally check out or physically walk out.”

While you can’t prevent betrayal among co-workers and colleagues, you do have a choice about how to respond and what to do when it happens.  Try the Institute’s seven-step process for working through betrayal.

Step 1: Observe and acknowledge what has happened. Healing starts with awareness. Pay attention. Listen and learn what happened before and what’s going on now. It is important to acknowledge not only what caused the broken trust, but the impact on those affected. As a leader, the fact that you’ve come to terms with a problem doesn’t mean that others have.

Step 2: Allow feelings to surface. People have feelings around business decisions. When people are in pain (which betrayal can cause), they need to be heard. If you don’t allow people to express their emotions, those feelings won’t go away – they will go underground. When it comes to feelings, most leaders say they don’t want to go there. But ignoring emotion won’t make it go away.

Step 3: Give employees support. When the betrayed feel vulnerable, helpless or victimized, support – in the form of information, relationships, new perspectives, coaching and encouragement – is important for leaders and co-workers to give. Sometimes, just talking with a trusted colleague or co-worker is good therapy; other times it helps to seek counseling or other outside resources.

Step 4: Reframe the experience. After a betrayal, people feel vulnerable and contract their focus. They have a hard time seeing a bigger picture. Ask questions that open up new ways to think about the situation: What role did I play? How can I change my response? What choices or options do I have now?

Step 5: Take responsibility. Yes, betrayal happened and trust was broken. Now what? Start to take responsibility and ask: What can I do to make a difference?

Step 6:  Forgive. Forgiveness isn’t about letting others off the hook; it’s about freeing yourself of anger, bitterness and resentment. Forgiveness is about shifting from blame to problem solving.

Step 7: Let go and move on. Accept what is. Acceptance is not about condoning what happened, but accepting it without blame. It takes work, time and commitment – the bigger the betrayal, the bigger the impact and the greater the challenge.

Have you ever been betrayed in your workplace?  If so, how did you cope? 

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4 Responses to Betrayed in the Workplace? 7 Steps for Healing

  1. avatar Paula says:

    One of the worse forms of betrayal at work is the one coming from your bosses. The psichological contract is completely broken for ever.

  2. avatar busymam says:

    I have been a good boss to a young girl in my team, I treated her with kindness and as a mentor, she betrayed me and stabbed me in my back. I feel so annoyed with myself. She is no long my staff now, her behaviours and attitude towards me make me feel like smacking her face.

    • avatar Christy Brown says:

      I can understand how frustrating that can be when you put effort into helping someone, and it comes back to bite you later. Do you think the advice in this blog is applicable in your situation?

  3. avatar Betrayed Employee says:

    I’ve waited 6 years for a possition to open and I’ve also done the work on and off when that person is off sick for long periods at a time (4-5months). I have also created worksheets for that position so that workflow would be more economical and faster. But at the end of the day, they gave it to a collegue that doesn’t even have exprience in that area. All those years wasted…

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