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Betrayal – its impact on trust!

Musing on the impact of change in organisations and teams, I have noted, from my experience and observation, a significant spectrum of response – from anger, denial, and pain [often expressed highly emotively] to clear deliberation, understanding and acceptance. As recently as today, I have heard of a further two clear examples of that spectrum, which brought to mind the notion of trust and a quote from Moliere, which goes …

“Doubts are more cruel than the worst of truths!”

When we engage in change processes, especially those driven by budget necessity, which is the lived experience of many private, public and third sector organisations at this time, there is an overwhelming argument to actively develop and reinforce trust in the workplace. This, simply put, is because it is relationships that keep our organisations operating!

Betrayal – often seen as those small doubts, such as veracity of facts; the intentions and attitudes of leaders, the change process/approach being taken; the lack of staff engagement or involvement – has real impact. Whether minor or major, it erodes the fabric of those relationships either little by little or dramatically! Often too, once the full position or situation is disclosed, as Moliere suggests, staff can take a more pragmatic and less subjective view, as one of my recent examples has highlighted.

Betrayal, of course, is a potent word and yet it occurs in many guises in many workplaces. Two examples would be not keeping promises given to your staff or co-workers or misleading colleagues to further your own ends – things which I have seen regularly happen over my career! Add the tension of a change process; competition for posts; concerns about past performance or absence record; and so on … and the likelihood of betrayal will escalate.

It is also systemic in nature, as discovered by Dennis and Michelle Reina*, who found the most insidious betrayals are those everyday minor ones, as they eat away at the essential trust that human relationships need to flourish;  to build everyday confidence; and to deliver greater productivity. If they stay alive in people’s minds they can also, over the course of time, become ‘bigger’ than at first experienced.

It is also clear that there is a high cost to betrayal in the workplace. It diminishes people’s confidence; it dilutes creativity; it inhibits information-sharing and communication and it also decreases risk-taking … in short, it impacts on productivity and the delivery of real outcomes for those drawing on the services of the organisation.

Knowing how to find and manage betrayal and, more importantly, build or rebuild a climate of trust is, I believe, essential in the modern workplace, given the dilemmas that many organisations face. In my next post I will offer some thoughts on how to do this, drawing from Reina and Reina, and from my own direct experiences.

* “Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace – Building Effective Relationships in Your Organisation” – Reina and Reina, Berrett-Koehler, 1999.


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