How to Cope With Betrayal So Recovery and Healing Can Begin

Professor of Management
Betrayal is part of giving trust, says JetBlue Chairman Joel Peterson. So the odds are you will be betrayed at some point in time. Still, recovery and healing are possible.
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TRANSCRIPT

Joel Peterson:  So betrayal is a very tough thing and it’s part of giving trust is the odds are you will be betrayed at some point in time. So getting good at dealing with betrayal is a really important thing. And I think it starts with realizing that you have joint ventured the betrayal. You’ve had a part to do with it. It could be that you trusted when you shouldn’t have trusted. You didn’t think about whether the person had high character, was competent and had the authority and therefore shame on you. We don’t like to take responsibility for that but I think if you step back and say how did I participate in this? I think that gives you insight and sort of the first ability to start approaching it in a way that allows you to heal. Because that’s really what you want to do in a betrayal is you want to heal as fast as you can. And so I think it really helps to do that. 

So any time you’re betrayed you feel alone. You feel like why me? You have the poor me’s and you feel like you’ve been attacked and it’s all unfair and everything. I think if you step back and say everybody’s been betrayed, everybody knows what this feels like and people get over it. And therefore I’m not alone in this and I can learn from other people and this too will pass. So sometimes when you’re in the midst of it and you’re dealing with it and it’s acute it feels like it’s all you can think about. You wake up in the middle of the night it’s the first thing on your mind. When you start your day it stays with you throughout the day and you start to marinate in it. And I think it’s really helpful to step back and say this has happened to other people before and therefore I will get through this.

So sometimes people betray us and it’s not that serious. They didn’t deliver a project on time or on budget or they didn’t get the report done right or they didn’t double check their spelling. There are all kinds of levels of betrayal. And some of them really are just fumbles, stumbles, poor judgment or whatever. Others are really very serious where somebody has cheated you or told a lie or spread gossip or something like that. So I think you have to sort of calibrate what is the nature of this betrayal. lIf it is one of the former I think you can step in and say we need to come to an understanding so this doesn’t happen again. Many times it’s really just a question of having clarity around things and the betrayal is overcome. If it is something more serious than that it may take a whole lot more work and that work may not be worth it. In many cases it is not worth it. Certain kinds of betrayal are just not worth fixing.

So if you’ve been betrayed there are, sometimes there are elements, for example, if it’s just bad information or you can fix it quickly. If it’s early on in somebody’s career fix it quickly. Don’t let the betrayal fester. Don’t allow it to go on. Deal with it immediately. So fix those kinds of things quickly. Because otherwise they get worse and you may bury them for a while only to see them raise their head in an uglier form down the road. So I think you want to address even the beginnings of something that feels like it might be a betrayal. Even one of these minor betrayals.
So this idea about being realistic about the potential for recovery really comes into assessing the nature of the betrayal. If it is a serious betrayal, an infidelity, something that is really attacking you at your core, many divorces happen over this kind of thing and it’s really better off that people separate because there’s no point in trying to make something work that just won’t work. Within a company framework I always say that you need to get the wrong people off the bus. There are people in most companies that shouldn’t be there and therefore you need to – it’s kind of a betrayal of them to keep them on the bus and they’re betraying the company by staying on the bus. So I think some things you just have to address and move on and just say this is a betrayal I’m not going to try to fix.

So the notion of forgiveness around betrayal is a hard one because we’re hurting. We feel like we’ve been violated in an important way. But it’s in our own interest. The worst thing to do is to marinate in it and to allow it to grow. And the best thing we can do is get over it. The way that I’ve done that is I really realized that when I’m starting to think about the future and I’m no longer waking up thinking about what happened then actually that’s the first step towards forgiveness. And so I think the faster you can get to the future, the more likely you are to be able to forgive. And so I always encourage people to get onto the next project. I had a young entrepreneur one time who’d had a difficult experience and I said go put some points on the board. That’s the only way that you’ll feel better is go score some baskets. And I think it’s the same in betrayal.