I felt like I had been punched in the stomach.
And while I was on the way down I was then hit over the head.
While I tried to get up, I felt the room spinning.
This was the feeling of surreal disappointment.
This is what it felt like to be thrown under the bus by a colleague I respected and trusted.
And though it was over 40 years ago I still remember the horrible feeling of hurt and betrayal.
Have you ever felt like that? Perhaps your feelings were not as intense, after all, I was just a teenager and not as emotionally mature as I’d like to think I am now. But I know the experience is not uncommon. Many of you have, and most of us will, experience a moment of profound disappointment at some point in our careers.
So, what do you do when somebody throws you under the bus?
How do you rebound when a colleague:
- MAKES YOU LOOK BAD IN FRONT OF OTHERS
- BLAMES YOU FOR SOMETHING YOU DID NOT DO
- ACCUSES YOU OF ILL INTENTIONS WHEN YOU HAD NONE
- GOSSIPS ABOUT YOU
- BETRAYS YOU BY PUBLICLY SHARING SOMETHING YOU COMMUNICATED IN CONFIDENCE TO THEM
- TAKES CREDIT FOR YOUR WORK
- CLAIMS THE GLORY FOR AN ACHIEVEMENT THAT WAS PRIMARILY POSSIBLE BECAUSE OF YOUR HARD WORK AND DEDICATION
These moments sting and mark us. But how badly they sting, and for the length of time, is determined by how we choose to handle the betrayal.
I wish the moment from my adolescence was that last time I felt that sting. Unfortunately, a recent event caused me to revisit those same feelings.
A colleague, someone I had worked with for years, was under pressure from their superiors for not performing and delivering as expected. And because I was a part of the equation in providing services to their organization, I was made the target by this individual. I received the news from multiple sources about how my colleague had disparaged my work and my integrity in the moment of pressure. In short, I was made the scapegoat. And as unfair and unjustifiable as it was, the same feelings from 40 years ago returned in an instant.
Thankfully, this time I recovered from the sting and moved through it much more quickly and gracefully.
Today I will share what helped me move forward.
Here are six tips to help you rebound when someone throws you under the bus.
1. ACCEPT THAT IT HURTS, STINGS, FEEL THE PAIN
Allow yourself to acknowledge and feel the hurt. This is vital. Without working through these emotions, we can shut down internally. We must get our grounding, so we can remain effective and engaged for the sake of our clients, colleagues, and direct reports. Find a neutral party to talk it through, if necessary. Be sure this person is a reliable confidant outside of your organization who will help you toward clarity and not escalate your feelings down a negative path.
2. SEEK TO UNDERSTAND, DON’T RETALIATE
I will tell you honestly my first reaction was to withdraw my services and input from this person and project. Retaliation is a natural self-defense mechanism. However, I actively resisted these feelings and sought to understand the deeper reason for this person’s behavior. When someone throws us under the bus, failing to own up to their mistakes and wrongdoing, they are protecting and covering themselves for some reason. The betrayal is their defense to their fear of being exposed. I had to really become compassionate to discern why this person felt fearful enough to do this to me and our relationship.
3. SEE THE BIG PICTURE, NOT JUST THE MOMENT
Had I retaliated, either by lashing out or withdrawing my services, I would have compromised myself. In seeing the big picture, I was reminded that I truly enjoyed my work with this organization. It’s who I am. I’d had such a long-standing relationship with this person and organization that I could not allow one incident to get in the way of that. I had to see the big picture.
4. WHEN POSSIBLE GO DIRECTLY TO THE SOURCE
I set up a time to speak to this person directly. Beforehand, I shared my planned approach with my neutral confidant. I wanted to ensure that I conducted myself in a genuine and frank manner, without being offensive or accusatory. I then intentionally chose a time outside of normal business hours for us to meet because I’ve found it’s easier to communicate to the person, rather than the role they hold, outside of the office. Often at work, our “roles” get in the way of us being authentic with one another, especially in times of conflict.
I opened the conversation and asked the person – “Do you trust me, and do you trust our working relationship?” I used that question as a stepping stone to share that some information had been brought to the attention that made me feel they did not trust me. I intentionally confronted the individual with the deeper issue of trust in our relationship rather than the surface incident of betrayal. And what I found was, the gates were opened, and my colleague seemed relieved to get honest about our relationship.
Before and after our direct conversation, and repeatedly every time the memory resurfaces, I choose to forgive. I need it. Forgiveness is a form of self-love and self-respect. By forgiving we create a pathway out for the locked-up emotions that have no good purpose for us. When someone hurts us we often go into internal lockdown. Don’t allow someone’s moment of fear and insecurity cause you to get locked up in unforgiveness and block you from moving forward in your professional development and the work you enjoy.
6. REMAIN CONSISTENT TO WHO YOU ARE
At the moment of forgiveness, I decided not to mention the situation ever again to my colleague. I decided I would continue to remain consistent and show up with the same level of commitment as I had before the incident ever occurred. This decision does not mean that I turned a blind eye toward their mistake, but that I chose to be true to myself and operate in the relationship as I must in every single relationship – with realness, authenticity, and a high level of integrity, credibility, and trust.
Here’s the outcome – I believe our relationship is 5 times greater than it ever was in the past. Why? Because I created an opportunity for both of us to let our guards down, to take the locks off, and to be real with each other. Truthfully, as women leaders we don’t get to do enough of this in our personal lives, and certainly not in the workplace. Too often we’re looking over our shoulders, watching our backs, and concerned with who’s further ahead of us – but by following these directives above, I created an environment where both of us could exhale. Isn’t that just a far better way to operate?
So, I challenge you to think about:
1. Have you thrown someone under the bus? What steps do you need to take to make it right?
2. Has someone thrown you under the bus? How can you follow the advice above to ensure your professional success and emotional well-being is not held back by this incident?
Don’t get bitter, get better! Share your experience.