Betrayal in the workplace: How to stand your ground

Betrayal in the workplace: How to stand your ground

Relationships at work are complicated.  Each day you interact, collaborate, and commiserate with your coworkers – experiencing some of the greatest stresses and successes together.  With that kind of day-to-day engagement, relationships are forged and can grow or become challenging.  The problem with workplace relationships is, people are at their jobs to better themselves and their circumstances; which makes betrayal all too common. 

We tend to be trusting.  As a result, we believe that others aren’t willing or capable of hurting and betraying us. Sadly, that isn’t the case.  We see what we want to see, and that’s when warnings get missed.  Consider the research done by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, psychologists and authors of The Invisible Gorilla, researched the dangers of focusing only on what one expects to see. Their most famous experiment involved a two-minute video in which two teams, one wearing black shirts, one wearing white, passed a basketball between them.

The audience is told to focus solely on and count the number of passes that the team wearing white makes. In the middle of the video, a person wearing a gorilla suit walks through the middle of the game, stops, beats his chest, and walks on. In the debrief, typically less than 80 percent of the audience sees the gorilla because they are so intent on following the team members in white shirts. 

This has a critical application to seeing red flags: if you are not looking for them, and not sensitive to seeing anything that you are not looking for, you will miss them. When it comes to navigating workplace relationships successfully and recognizing red flags, remember the following:

  • If it smells fishy, it is.  Too often, individuals learn the hard way that they should have heeded “red flags” or situations that just weren’t right.  Take heed of your uneasiness and learn to trust your gut.  If something seems off or not right, chances are there is something off.  Be cautious in your assessment and be willing to vocalize your concerns.  Even when red flags are waving clearly, it may be difficult for others to recognize them.  Stay the course and continue to be involved in
  • Don’t blindly trust. Just because someone says, “trust me” or “I’m just here to help” doesn’t mean that trust and help will benefit you and the greater good. Regardless of someone’s experience or reputation, there still needs to be a probationary period of earning trust.  This goes both ways – people need to learn to trust you and vice versa.  Unfortunately, this won’t always prevent betrayal.  We can’t live our lives filled with suspicion but consider replacing “blind trust” with “wise trust.” It’s not distrust, but a willingness to look beyond the superficial and take notice of any requests that don’t make sense.
  • Keep trusted associates close.  When you find yourself in a sticky situation, not everyone will stand by you when the going gets rough; true friends however, will. Choose to be active and engaged instead of passive and invisible; as a result, you will be able to enlist the help of others and welcome their input. By doing this, you afford yourself permission to listen to the advice of others as you determine your next steps.

When it comes to workplace betrayal, it can be hard to spot it.  However, allow yourself to question an individual’s behavior. Does it make sense? Is it consistent with past behavior? Is something very different going on? Is it “not like” him or her? Trust your gut and follow your intuition when it comes to the relationships you create and count on at work.

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