Seven Steps to Renew Confidence, Commitment, and Energy
Publication date: 09/07/2010
“The distance is nothing; it is only the first stepthat is difficult.”
—Marie de Vichy-Chamrond,
the Marquise du Deffand,
French woman of letters
“I couldn’t get over what had happened. It was as if someone punched me in the gut. I was shocked that my boss took credit for work I had done so that she would look good in the eyes of the executive team.”
Betrayal hurts, and so does being let down, disappointed, or frustrated when the people you work with break the trust you have in them. The larger the breach, the greater the hurt. Observing and acknowledging how trust has been broken represents the first Step in the healing process. In this Step, you become conscious and aware of your thoughts and feelings about what happened. The opposite of awareness is denial. You cannot heal that which you are ignoring, denying, or rationalizing away. In this way, the first Step of rebuilding trust raises your self-awareness. Your partner in this Step is courage: the courage to be honest with yourself and see situations for what they are.
No matter if you have been hurt or if you have hurt another, you start healing broken trust by observing how trust has been broken and acknowledging the impact of the breach.
Observing what has happened involves noticing the obvious and the not-so-obvious actions and behaviors that have transpired. A major betrayal such as a badly handled large-scale layoff is pretty obvious and may be what everybody is talking about. But just as harmful are the little things that add up and become big—things like snippets of gossip, which can add up to damage someone’s reputation, and missed deadlines, which ultimately let others down. Remember to look for those patterns, too.
Acknowledging the impact includes recognizing what you and others are experiencing. Often people experience the impact of betrayal as a loss: the loss of what was or the loss of what could have been. You may be experiencing something as severe as the loss of a relationship, the loss of opportunity, or the loss of performance and results. Or, you may recognize that the breach of trust has resulted in the loss of complete confidence in someone else, so that you become more cautious in how you work with that person. You may also sense the loss of energy, confidence, and commitment that are telltale signs of broken trust.
The impact of a trust-breaking situation and the feelings associated with the loss vary in intensity depending on a number of factors. The person who breaks trust often underestimates the negative power of her behavior on the receiver. She may think, “Yes, I made a mistake, but what is the big deal?” A minor situation may feel like a big deal to someone if it surfaces unresolved feelings from a past betrayal. Impact is also proportional to the significance of the relationship involved. A minor letdown by an individual you work with for a few days will not hit you as hard as a significant betrayal you experience with someone you have collaborated with for years.
Kerri had been the Vice President for External Development for a prominent medical research center for eight years. During her tenure, she had developed deep relationships with people throughout the organization. Her team members, including Event Coordinator Kim, had a great deal of respect for her and cared about her deeply as a person. In short, they trusted her.
The entire team grew terribly concerned when Kerri became so ill that she needed to take a medical leave of absence. During her leave, they rose to the occasion to ensure that the team’s performance did not skip a beat. For two months, Kim and the others did whatever was necessary to manage key deliverables and to sustain the team’s spirit. They willingly chose to do whatever was necessary, out of team spirit and caring for their boss. They did not want Kerri to worry about work. They missed her and looked forward to her returning healthy.
Eventually, Kerri did return to work and the team welcomed her back.
A few weeks later while at a conference, Kim chatted with a colleague from another medical research center. During the course of the conversation, Kim learned that Kerri had been consulting to that organization while on medical leave. Kim just could not imagine that this story was true.
Dismayed, Kim called Kerri. She could not believe her ears when Kerri confirmed that the story was true. In that moment, Kim felt as though the rug had been pulled out from under her. The last two months flashed by before her eyes. She thought of the family dinners she had been late for, the Saturday morning soccer games she missed, the early morning arrivals to get a head start on the day and, above all, the prayers she had said in support of her boss’s recovery. Kim felt taken advantage of, used, and manipulated. It was clear to her that she did not have the kind of relationship with Kerri she thought she did.
Kerri and Kim had worked together for eight years. For Kim, her relationship with Kerri was one of significance. Kerri was her trusted leader, advisor, and mentor. Because of that closeness, this betrayal impacted her quite deeply.
Your first step in healing is to acknowledge and observe what happened and the impact on you and the relationship. Pay attention to your inner experience, your questions and feelings, and add them up. Doing so will help you to consciously observe the situation, almost as if from the outside. You will witness what happened. Then you can put words on what you see: “Kerri broke the trust I thought we had in our relationship.” Or even, “Kerri took advantage of me and the team.” Either way, Kim ends up significantly disappointed. The next box walks you through how to observe this common outcome of broken trust.
Sometimes when you are in pain, you may have difficulty understanding where your feelings are coming from. You may ask, “What happened? What was that about?” When you hurt, you may also find yourself pulling back, withdrawing, and shutting down.
In such moments, you can begin to acknowledge the impact of the situation. For instance, the impact on Kim was so great that she began questioning her own perceptions and judgment. Betrayal touches you at your core when it causes you to question you own perceptions and judgment.
Observe Your Disappointment
Disappointment related to broken trust can lead to feelings of disenchantment that dissolve your commitment to your organization’s mission and your connection to co-workers. Some disappointment may be a result of current organizational dynamics; some of the disappointment may be deeper-seated, stemming from old patterns learned during childhood. Either way, it is important to ask yourself, “What exactly am I feeling disappointed about?” “What is contributing to my letdown?”
Use these reflection questions to help you listen to where your pain is coming from:
Is it a lack of appreciation for all your efforts?
Is it a lack of confidence in your competence?
Is it a lack of understanding or misunderstanding of what you are trying to accomplish?
Is it a lack of acknowledgment of who you are and what you have to offer?
One of the most subtle and yet insidious betrayals you can experience is not being fully seen or heard for who you really are. Not being recognized for your contribution to others and to the company hurts at an innate level. It takes courage to face and work through such pain.
Have you ever been in a similar situation and asked yourself these questions:
How could I have been so foolish?
How could I have not seen this?
How could I have trusted someone who would behave in such as manner?
This process involves acknowledging the strain or loss and feelings you are experiencing. Let’s take a look at how some people we’ve worked with have observed common trust-breaking workplace behaviors and tease out the impact in terms of feelings and experience of loss:
“My boss keeps giving me tasks at the end of the day, knowing that I don’t have to leave at a certain time to pick up children. She always leaves at 5 P.M. on the dot and I end up staying until 8 P.M. Those extra hours cut into my personal life. I feel taken advantage of.”
“I am agitated.”
“I feel put-upon.”
“I wonder if this is the place for me.”
Loss of commitment
He told me that working on this project would increase my visibility with management. But then he presented it without acknowledging or crediting my work. He double-crossed me. I lost the opportunity to demonstrate my competence.”
“I was cut off.”
“I feel used.”
“I wonder what I did to deserve this.”
Loss of confidence
“I arrive at meetings on time, but my co-worker is consistently ten to fifteen minutes late. It seems as though she thinks that what she has to do is more important than what I have to do. I don’t think she is respecting my time or the importance of the job I have to do.”
“I feel disrespected.”
“I’m frustrated and disappointed.”
“I feel insulted and devalued.”
Loss of commitment to the relationship
“ My colleague assured me repeatedly that he would deliver his part of the project on time. When we were down to the wire, he didn’t come through. Three of us had to scramble late into the night to meet our deadline.”
“I feel let down.”
“I am embarrassed.”
“I feel taken advantage of.”
Loss of complete confidence in a colleague
“I’ve worked for this company since its inception, sacrificing my weekends, pay, and benefits during the startup phase. Now we’re up and running and they’ve ‘eliminated’ my job and me along with it. I gave my best to this company, and this is what I get?”
“I am extremely disappointed.”
“I feel used.”
“I am scared about the future.”
Loss of confidence in self
Left unacknowledged, the impact of any of these experiences can fester and deteriorate into more serious sentiments, such as:
“ I feel betrayed.”
“I feel vulnerable.”
“I feel like hell!”
“I just don’t care anymore.”
“I give up!”
“I will get back at them.”
Loss of energy
At this stage, don’t try to analyze, understand, or intellectualize your thoughts and feelings—simply “notice” them. You don’t need to come up with solutions or resolutions right now. This Step is about giving yourself permission to be honest with yourself as you observe and acknowledge what is so.
We all have experienced being betrayed by others. And, the truth is, we all have betrayed others as well. It takes inner strength to look at ourselves in the mirror and courageously see how we have hurt or let others down—often without even knowing it. We don’t mean to hurt others, but we do. At work, we hurt our coworkers. At home, we hurt our spouses and other loved ones. We are most often unaware or unconscious of the mistakes we make, but they still damage the trust within our relationships. Michelle lived through such an experience several years ago:
I had developed a very close relationship with my coach, Georgia. Over time, the relationship grew into a friendship. During an extended weekend trip, Dennis and I were visiting Georgia and her husband, Drew, at their home. Drew performed in a band on weekends and had made arrangements for us to attend his gig.
The first day we were there, Dennis and I visited his alma mater, which was outside the city where Georgia and Drew lived. While there, we were invited to a special alumni business-networking meeting. “Great opportunity for making business contacts! There will be people there who want to meet you,” we were told by the alumni office representative. But the event was on the same night we were to see Drew perform. We were so excited about the special evening with Georgia and Drew. And, we were presented with a business opportunity to make the kinds of contacts so important for our early-stage business. We began to troubleshoot. Maybe there was a way we could go to both events? Perhaps we could join Georgia at Drew’s performance a bit later in the evening?
I shared the presenting opportunity and posed these questions to Georgia. It seemed simple and straightforward to me. I thought Georgia, as my coach, would surely have considered the idea positively or seen some creative solutions. Yet her immediate reaction was just the opposite: distant coldness, glaring stares, and painful silence. When I observed that I had inadvertently offended her, I retracted the question and apologized profusely.
I felt sick to my stomach. I had to face the truth that while my actions were unintentional, with that one question, I had unintentionally broken her trust and she felt betrayed. She was deeply hurt by me and consequently shut down. I had lost a person and a relationship that were special to me.
When you have hurt another person, observing and acknowledging involves honestly facing the truth about how you have betrayed others—even, and especially, if you did so inadvertently, unintentionally, maybe even unconsciously. A perceived intention may breach trust, even if action does not occur. Michelle only contemplated the possibility of arriving late for Drew’s performance. While that consideration was not carried out, the intent implied in the consideration contributed to a breach of trust. For Georgia, Michelle’s consideration implied that attending Drew’s performance and spending the evening together was not as special to Michelle as it was for Georgia. Further, Georgia concluded that the relationship in general was not as significant to Michelle as it was to her. When people hurt, sometimes they are inclined to draw such exaggerated, illogical conclusions stemming from their pain.
Have you ever withdrawn and shut down as a result of disappointment? Your own experience and reaction to being hurt helps you to understand that of others. Often the people you betray are not able to talk to you about what is going on. You may need, therefore, to look for subtle and not so subtle signs that tell you someone is hurt:
Is he visibly upset? Is her head down? Is he avoiding eye contact? Are there tears in her eyes?
Is he abrupt or short or exhibiting other signs of anger?
Is she unusually quiet, pulled back and reserved toward you?
Is he unresponsive? Ignoring or shunning you?
Once you are able to observe these signs, you can then pay attention to them. You pay attention by sharing your observations and asking questions to help you understand what is behind these reactions and how you may have contributed to the situation.
Healing is a process of inquiry. Your questions guide the process. Share what you see and ask questions for understanding.
“I have the impression that you are upset. Have I done something to hurt you? If I have, I would like to know.”
“I am aware that I may have let you down. I want to understand how my behavior impacted you.”
“You appear to be pulling back. I would like to understand what is contributing to it and what part I had in it.”
“I see that you are hurt. I am aware that I was abrupt yesterday and may have offended you. Is that true?”
“I have noticed a shift in our working relationship. I am having a hard time reaching you and have the impression that you are avoiding me. Have I done something to let you down?”
“I sense a shift in our interactions. I experience you being abrupt, which is highly unusual. What is going on? Did I do something to disturb you?”
Respond to What Others Say
Chances are, you’ll feel unsettled when you hear how you inadvertently or accidently let someone down. The situation may be so significant that you feel knocked off your feet. If that’s the case, simply listen for now, and let the person know that you want to understand the situation before you respond. If you react when you are ungrounded, you’re likely to surface feelings or abdicate responsibility and inadvertently breach trust again. Instead, take some time for yourself. Allow your feelings to surface, get support, reframe the situation, and determine your responsibility (Steps Two through Five). Then, you’ll be prepared to acknowledge your responsibility, ask forgiveness, and move forward in the relationship.
In less significant situations and with practice, you may be able to move through the Steps very quickly. If so, you may choose to react immediately to what the person you let down says by sharing how this awareness has impacted you.
“I really blew it. I hate that my failure to deliver as promised created significant hardship on you. I feel embarrassed and am sorry for how my failure to keep our agreement impacted you.”
“I understand how I behaved in a self-serving way during that meeting. How could I have been so self-centered as to have completely ignored your needs? I feel ashamed of myself.”
“I now regret pushing so hard to finish that project; the cost to you, me, and others was too great. I am so sorry.”
Through self-exploration and acknowledgement, negative feelings begin to subside. You are on a path of renewal that will restore the essential trust in your relationships.
Here are some examples of how people we have worked with have observed workplace betrayals and expressed their feelings regarding the impact of those breaches:
Observation: “As a 30+ year veteran of this company, I could teach these young supervisors a lot, but they think they know it all, just because they have a college education. They talk to me like I don’t know anything.”
Impact: “I feel underutilized and devalued. When I go, everything I know goes with me.”
Observation: “Management calls people at the last minute to change schedules or ask us to work overtime or double shifts. These requests come out of the blue. I am not able to make plans to be with my family, to have a personal life.”
Impact: “I feel devalued; that I do not count. I feel management does not care about me. I wonder why I should care about them or the organization?”
Observation: “I am noticing sloppy work and mistakes happening more frequently. I don’t see signs of things improving.”
Impact: “I really don’t care anymore. I come in, I do the basic work that is required of me, and I go home. I see a growing sense of hopelessness and helplessness.”
Observation: “When an operator makes a mistake and an accident happens, management lists them as ‘behavior problems’ and they are told to go to ‘counseling.’ This reaction implies blame and assumes the employee is 100 percent at fault. As a result, people attempt to cover up mistakes or injuries.”
Impact: “People feel vulnerable with the process and wonder why they aren’t invited to discuss and problem-solve so the same mistake/accident won’t happen again.”
Observation: “My supervisor is constantly looking over my shoulder in a search for mistakes. I feel she does not trust me to do my job.”
Impact: “As a result, there is a growing sense of tension, stress, and fear between us.”
“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
— Jackie Robinson
Hall of Fame baseball player
Have you observed other people’s behavior that has caused trust to erode? As someone on the outside of the behavior pattern, you can play a very powerful role in observing what has happened and helping people to acknowledge the impact. Chances are that you can see that which the betrayed and betrayer cannot, because they are blinded by pain or guilt.
To fully observe what is happening, start by raising your periscope. Look for the subtle signs of distrust, such as low energy or enthusiasm, lack of confidence, and/or unwillingness to commit. The box on page 28 captures verbatim comments of people we have worked with as they express these signs and acknowledge their impact.
Pay attention to what specific actions, activities, and events may be building and breaking trust. Be careful not to overlook small, subtle signs of distrust, such as people coming late to meetings, missing appointments, avoiding speaking directly to individuals, gossiping, and backbiting.
Find out what is important to people. Listen to what they are saying in the hallways, the break rooms, and on the shop floor. Consider what is most important to pay attention to. Listen with compassion, without judging, rationalizing, or blaming. People in pain need to be heard and understood.
You may be the first to acknowledge that trust has been broken. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Articulating the truth shows them that you genuinely care and creates a safe container for healing. You will name “the elephant in the room:” behavior that is obvious but that no one is talking about. Because you are one step removed from the situation, you can offer words to describe the behavior; one of those words might be betrayal. The very act of acknowledging the breach of trust helps bring it to the surface where healing can start.
As we have indicated, it is important to acknowledge the impact of the betraying behavior. Ask the person who experienced betrayal to identify what she experienced. Help her articulate the impact and recognize the feelings of loss she is experiencing. The box gives you an easy-to-use framework to help people express the impact they are feeling.
At times, the way you acknowledge betrayal may be to step in when you see a pattern repeating. You can speak up when certain colleagues are always late to meetings, never get projects in on time, or hold up the team’s progress because their piece is often incomplete. It takes courage to acknowledge a behavior that is hurting rather than supporting others. To stop the cycle of betrayal begetting betrayal, have essential conversations in private, share your observations, and seek to understand where others are coming from. In so doing, you are helping others to become more self-aware. What is important is to intervene with caring and compassion versus judgment and blame. Judging others only creates greater pain. No one wants to be judged.
What do you see and hear regarding what people are concerned about in your workplace?
You can play an effective role in helping others to rebuild trust by assisting them in observing and acknowledging that which they may be unable to see due to their pain, guilt, or denial.
Our friend and colleague, Rob Goldberg, offers a simple framework that we adapted. Use it with those you are trying to help observe a trust-breaking situation and acknowledge its impact:
1. When: Encourage the parties to describe the situation or context regarding when and where the trust-breaking situation took place. Ask them to be specific. An answer may sound like:
Last Wednesday when we were in our morning team meeting discussing the necessary resources each member needed to complete their part of the team project, . . .
2. What: Ask them to describe the behavior concerning the actions they observed, listing specific behavior, not inferences:
You spoke for 25 minutes of the allotted 30-minute time slot for our topic. Most of your material was about your personal needs and negated the interests of others.
I spoke for 25 minutes of the allotted 30-minute time slot for our topic. I covered my needs in depth.
3. How: Instruct them to express the impact of the behavior on them. Help them to understand what was lost by the behavior.
I felt irritated that I did not have an opportunity to voice my needs or express my concerns regarding my part of the project. I noticed a number of the other team members pull away from the table and disengage from the discussion for the rest of the meeting.
When I noticed a number of team members pull away from the table and disengage from the discussion for the rest of the meeting, I sensed that I had created that distance. I felt badly for having taken up so much of the time. I realized that I had essentially “stolen” the meeting for my own purposes. In so doing, I had silenced others’ thoughts and taken away their opportunity to advocate for their needs. I lost my trusted position within the team.
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