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.
Try the Institute’s 7-step process for working through betrayal:
- 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.
- 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 — 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.
- 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? You may want to read more about why trust is so important for team success or how better conversations at your organization can lead to a better culture.
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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’s coaching and conversation skills so that your entire organization, from the front desk to the corner office, can start having Better Conversations Every Day™ .