Friday, May 13, 2011

KeFactors Friday: When Trust Has Been Broken

Every human relationship involves an emotional contract. It may be formal, a trigger for work, such as signing a non-disclosure agreement with an employer. Or it may be a deeply complex pledge that’s formal, legal, moral, and spiritual — vows of marriage are, perhaps, the most common of these, and, very likely, the ones most frequently broken. But for this blog, we’re talking only about workplace betrayals.

A breach or betrayal of trust has an immediate effect: it confuses and disorients the one who’s been betrayed. It’s a negative game-changer. Suddenly every aspect of the relationship has to be reviewed: what has the past really meant? What were the more recent signs, and did they all point to trouble? Was there any deception and has it been of long standing? Does this relationship have any future? Can the betrayer ever be trusted again?

Immediately after this distress, there’s the need for justice. Scales must be rebalanced. Equilibrium must be regained. In the process, don’t be surprised to find the entire relationship being re-evaluated for its overall value.

So what do you do if you’re the one who’s been betrayed?

• Take your mind off revenge, because that’s not justice or equilibrium. Fortunately, work involves tangible deliverables, so focus on keeping yourself professionally intact and above reproach. No matter how badly you’ve been burned, deliver on your commitments. “Being the adult” will only inspire more respect and trust for you. You’ll recover equilibrium faster this way than focusing on how to get even.

• Confront the betrayer and ask for a candid assessment of what happened, and what needs to happen, going forward. I don’t mean a knock-down-drag-out confrontation. I mean a rational, dignified inquiry into their motives which, if they’re legit, should not be difficult to discuss openly. It could, after all, have been a misunderstanding or misstep. If you tend to be indirect, this would now be a time to not mince words. Don’t pussyfoot around. “As I see it, this is what was done to me and here are some of the consequences I’ve had to deal with as a result. I need to know why you did this and what I can expect from you in future.”

Let it go. You may not get what you want from that discussion. Chronic betrayers act from cowardly impulses—they act badly, then can’t own up to it, so they often pretend it was a honest mistake, or that you simply got it wrong. Let it go. The strain of carrying the grudge or memory will only deter you, not your betrayer.

Relationships can come out stronger for having navigated crises of trust. The air gets cleared, the exact measures of loyalty and respect are renewed, and life moves on.

If you imagine your life as a series of concentric circles, you’ll see that the individuals you trust and respect most occupy the innermost circle closest to you. The upside to betrayal is that you get instant, crystal-clear insights on that other person—details you may not have had cause to perceive. But with the betrayal, they’ve proven themselves to be unworthy of your trust, so it’s entirely fair to remove them from that inner circle. If they want to regain it, leave it up to them to choose when and how they’ll do so.

You keep moving forward.

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