Recovery for Perceived Betrayal

Arky Ciancutti

It appears that as a nation, we are right this minute experiencing our own "Trust Clinic." Though painful, our situation is providing such an opportunity to learn and adjust, it seems imperative that we take a good look.

The observations made here apply equally to your own business, your spheres of influence within your career, and your own personal life. As a whole nation, we together are vividly illustrating all of the main principles of earned trust, perceived betrayal, and, I trust, eventual recovery.

Our nation is, of course, dependent on a government, a financial system and globally integrated markets. A critical mass of our citizenry must trust implicitly that these three elements are, even with blemishes and mistakes, basically working for us and not against us. About six months ago, I believe that this same critical mass of citizenry strongly and rather suddenly lost that essential trust. The results was a widespread feeling of "shock," immediately followed by fear and then evolving rage.

First Four Principles. There are four generally applicable principles that immediately follow: 

  1. Perceived betrayal follows a period when people (or you, personally) unconsciously, automatically extend trust, as a matter of course, a basis of reality.
  2. Perceived betrayal usually seems sudden (Congress' initial failure to pass TARP, while citizens were told it was "TARP or Bust," the government "allowing Lehman Brothers to fail," etc.). But perceived betrayal is rarely sudden, but rather is almost always preceded my many unrecognized clues.
  3. When we first discover perceived betrayal, we experience a paralytic shock, during which we make "protective" and over-generalized "never-again" decisions. These decisions are judgments that are internal, private and fleetingly conscious. Because they are associated with such pain, we soon forget them. Yet they remain active in creating future blind spots in our perceptions, judgments and accomplishments (see Built On Trust for lists of examples relevant to the workplace and to individuals).
  4. The conscious manifestation of these now-unconscious "never-again" decisions is blame. Unless we soon convert this blame into responsibility, the result is the "them and us" activity so commonplace in our businesses, government, and international activities. "Them and Us" is of course completely antithetical to earned trust and excellent performance. Here is where we "make enemies:" the government, the banks, the wealthy, the poor, management, the unions, product development, sales and marketing and goodness knows who else. The "them and us" attitude and activity are the business expressions of the internal fear and evolving rage that follows the shock of discovering perceived betrayal of trust.

Lessons and Actions

There are many lessons surrounding us today. Here's one:

We "need," post-betrayal, to blame rather than be responsible for solution, only when we let the never-again decisions mature into over-generalized blind spots. During this insidious maturation, we subtly begin to blame others, usually in categories, and to lose self-esteem ("I should have seen this coming," "I was naive," "I'm not smart enough," etc.). In other words, we blame others and we blame ourselves, rather than take the responsibility and effectively perform. We can break this paralysis with good team (family, national) discussions that help us discover a "healthy anger" - a conscious reaction to perceived injustice rather than an over-reactive rage fueled by past, unconscious betrayals - that we can channel into emotions most of us like best: interest, enthusiasm and even a little joy.

Too simple? No, not really. If you try this in your business team, and watch it unfold nationally as our present leadership attempts to engage the citizenry in these dialogues, you will become conscious of some of your
never-again blind spots. You can see where to begin remedies. But there is a cost: It requires a little courage to look within, and to ask and thoroughly answer this question first, even before those meetings we're advocating: "Without blaming myself here, how am I participating in this situation, by omission or by co-mission, that could be adding to the problem?" Then, get to work.

Arky Ciancutti, M. D., author of Built on Trust
Copyright 2009. All Rights Reserved.

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