Betrayal in business can come in many forms.
A supervisor who gives specific directions for a project, then lays the blame squarely on you when things go awry. An employee who fails to inform you of a high-end client’s unhappiness, leaving you blindsided and feeling the CEO’s wrath when the client cancels a contract.
In such scenarios, the person betrayed can feel angry, devastated and perhaps unsure whether to ever trust anyone again, say Elaine Eisenman, PhD, and Susan Stautberg, co-authors of Betrayed: A Survivor’s Guide to Lying, Cheating, & Double-Dealing. These two successful business women say they themselves have experienced betrayal professionally and personally.
“In all relationships we trust others, believing that while they will look out for their own best interest, they will also respect ours,” Stautberg says. “Unfortunately, that’s not always so.”
In business, there’s no guarantee that even a good friend or family member deserves your confidence.
“Regardless of how well you know someone, treat any business arrangement with due diligence,” Eisenman says. “Motives can be hidden, even with the best of friends.”
So, how can business leaders and their employees avoid betrayals that can harm them and their organizations? And how should they handle the fallout if they are betrayed? Eisenman and Stautberg offer a few suggestions:
Learn to trust wisely. Blind trust can make you an easy target because you ignore the potential for human nature’s darker side, Stautberg says. But it’s also ill-advised to assume no one can be trusted ever. What you’re after, she says, is “wise trust,” which allows you to weigh each situation, assessing whether there is low or high probability of betrayal.
Listen to what your gut tells you. So-called “gut feelings” act as an early warning system. “Ignore those feelings at your own peril,” Eisenman says. She shares the story of a woman named Ingrid, a chief finance officer in the public sector who was involved in the recruiting of a comptroller who came highly recommended. Ingrid preferred to handle reference checks herself, but that was HR’s job so she backed off, even though something told her this job candidate’s credentials were too good to be true. She shouldn’t have ignored her instinct because after he was hired the comptroller was charged with white-collar crimes committed in another state. For Ingrid, this became a triple betrayal – by colleagues who tried to make her the scapegoat, by HR, who didn’t perform a thorough background check, and, of course, she was betrayed by the man she hired.
Don’t seek revenge immediately – if at all. Planning revenge continues to provide the betrayer with power over you rather than allowing you to take that power into your own hands. It’s more productive to distance yourself from the betrayal and shore up your emotions with rational thoughts. That will help you begin to derive lessons from the traumatic event.
If you are betrayed, there is no need to beat up on yourself. “It is critical to recognize that what you are feeling is completely normal,” Eisenman says. “If you blow the event out of proportion, exaggerating its impact on all aspects of your life, you’ll only postpone your recovery.”
“The key to moving forward is self-compassion,” Stautberg says. “Get yourself to a safe space, both physically and emotionally, and get some sleep. Being rested will help you think clearly and you’re going to need your wits to survive.”
Reactions to stress differ. So, don’t worry if your immediate reaction includes anger. Try to balance it and take the energy to hold onto your power. Surround yourself with friends. Have the courage to move forward and leave the past behind. Learn to pivot. Eisenman and Stautberg discovered that the formula for success is creating a new positive, self-confidence about work and informed risk taking. Learn how to BOUNCE – Be Bold, Optimistic, Undaunted, Nimble, Courageous, and Empowered.
Elaine Eisenman, PhD, co-author with Susan Stautberg of Betrayed: A Survivor’s Guide to Lying, Cheating, & Double Dealing, currently serves as an independent Board Director for DBI, Inc. (NYSE), as well as for AtmosXR and Miravan, both privately held companies. She is the Managing Director of Saeje Advisors, LLC, an advisory firm for high growth ventures. Former Dean of Executive and Enterprise Education at Babson College, she works closely with CEOs and their executive teams to create cultures that accelerate growth. She is a frequent speaker on the topic of turning risk into opportunity.
Susan Stautberg is Governance Advisor to the portfolio companies of Atlantic Street Capital, a private equity firm. She is also President and CEO of PartnerCom Corporation and Chair Emeritus of the WomenCorporateDirectors Education and Development Foundation (WCD). Susan addresses groups around the world, including leading business schools and CEO conferences. She has written or been featured in numerous articles including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Financial Times and her on-air experience includes Oprah, The Today Show, CBS Evening News, CNN and many others.