Betrayal is a negative experience in any relationship. You can feel angry, shocked, sad, or vengeful. Nobody wants to feel taken advantage of or otherwise made to look like a fool. A personal relationship impacted through an act of betrayal can lead to a break-up or divorce but what happens when the betrayal stems from the actions of a co-worker?
Trust is a precious commodity between people. You get comfortable revealing your inner self, and loosen personal boundaries to achieve a deeper level of connection. Working with people for hours each day offers a convenient environment to accelerate the establishment of trust and the freedom to laugh and complain about common problems and general organizational functioning.
Trust becomes a dependency in fulfilling job duties. When we have trust with a co-worker we want to leverage it in a big way not just to feel good about working together on solving problems but as a sounding board for gossip, airing dirty laundry without being judged, and ultimately a sense of bonding that reaffirms we are part of a team.
Then one day at a critical meeting with executives - it happens. Your trusted confidant/co-worker pitches an idea – your idea – to accolades, a truckload of respect, and probably a near-term promotion. All you can do once you find out is be transfixed on the impossibility that someone you thought was your buddy just stabbed you in the back. What do you do? How do you reconcile this action? What amount of conversation can undo this situation?
The worst thing? You have to continue working side-by-side with this person. So displacing feelings of bitterness, shock, disappointment, or anger is extremely challenging and you have to move on somehow. It takes time to recover from co-worker betrayal and it’s even harder to stay focused at work unless you seek some form of resolution:
Confront the problem
It goes without saying that burying the issue won’t make things go away. Mustering up the courage to say something (while keeping it professional) can be asking a lot so you have to be calm and ready to talk objectively. Always seek to understand versus attack to get your co-worker to explain his/her actions.
Question the motivation
Finger-pointing and a relentless attack of ‘why did you betray me?” won’t get you far in understanding what drove your co-worker to betray you. Sometimes it’s an easy explanation (the person is a jerk), but often the reasons are more complex. You need to understand the circumstances, be sensitive to the co-worker’s personal weaknesses, and other triggers that could justify the decision to betray you.
Strategize next steps
Getting over a co-worker betrayal takes time and is possibly irreversible. The odds are you need to keep working with the person. While you will be more guarded, you need to first and foremost not let the incident impact your work. Ensure your deliverables are met and you stay accountable to your results despite how you might be feeling. If you can find an intervention that will bring you back to tolerable working relationship, certainly try to do that, but ultimately you may have to settle for being civil.