The problem with betrayal is similar to the problem with slap-stick comedy. It can be entertaining to witness, but not to experience.
Betrayal is always painful on a personal level, but frequently it is also associated with upheaval in our personal lives or careers. Or both. William Blake wrote that “it is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend”.
Betrayal at work comes in many forms, but underlying all of them are some common features. Firstly, there is a phase when trust or faith develops. Promises and undertakings are given and understandings emerge. Often these understandings are unspoken, sometimes assumed. Frequently this can be the early stages of employment, a new role or relationship. It is the dream phase, where everything goes well and the hero of the story (us) feels secure or even invincible.
Organisations spends millions of dollars encouraging and cajoling employees to enter the dream phase. Team bonding exercises, promoting engagement, coaching, conferences and social events all in part exist to encourage dreaminess.
Frequently the next phase is when things start to go wrong, generally in minor ways. During the frustration phase, we maintain our trust in our boss or colleague. Indeed, sometimes during this phase trust is enhanced and bonding occurs as we believe we are all in it together, and we feel reassured that we can rely on others. We can point to examples that demonstrate our trust in another is not only justified, but deserved.
Having experienced the frustration phase, we emerge wiser. We understand things will not always be dreamy. However we also feel empowered. Our sense of mastery of our work environment is enhanced. We harbour that secure feeling that if that chips are down, our employer, boss/friend or colleague/friend has our back.
Little did we realise that not only did the perfidious colleague have our back, they were lining it up carefully to sink the dagger precisely between the shoulder blades. The betrayal is our nightmare phase. It is profoundly shocking and destabilising. We lose our sense of North, because our true North turned out to be a lie. The pain of the dagger’s blade is compounded by the sense of shame that we were so stupid that we did not see it coming.
Betrayal is so devastating because no matter how clearly the case that we are the innocent victims, we turn inward not knowing who to trust. But withdrawal is no solace for least of all we trust our own instincts.