Betrayed in the Workplace? 7 Steps for Healing
A coworker 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% 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,” he explains.
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.
How to Work Through Betrayal
7 Steps to Help You Heal
1. Observe and acknowledge what’s happened.
Healing starts with awareness. Pay attention. Listen actively and learn what happened before and what’s going on now. It’s 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.
2. Allow feelings to surface.
People have feelings about 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 — they will go underground. When it comes to feelings, most leaders say they don’t want to go there. But ignoring emotions won’t make them go away.
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 coworkers to give to help calm the conflict. Sometimes, just talking with a trusted colleague or coworker is good therapy; other times, it helps to seek counseling or other outside resources.
4. Reframe the experience.
After a betrayal, people feel vulnerable and contract their focus. They have a hard time seeing the 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?
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?
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.
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.
Still struggling with a betrayal in the workplace? You may want to read more about why trust is so important for team success or how you can give effective feedback in a way to talk about intentions and impact.
Ready to Take the Next Step?
Prevent situations where employees feel betrayed in the workplace by cultivating a culture of increased psychological safety, open communication, and real trust. Upskill your people with a customized learning journey for your leaders using our research-backed modules. Available leadership topics include Authenticity, Conflict Resolution, Emotional Intelligence, Feedback That Works, Listening to Understand, Psychological Safety & Trust, and more.