Sometimes we feel violated. A colleague steals our best idea. A boss throws us under the bus. A subordinate knifes us in the back. A customer or supplier lies. What are our best coping strategies as business leaders when faced with injustice and violation?
I was robbed today. Someone stole my car keys from my gym locker. By the time I could run home for my spare set, they had broken in the car and taken the cash out of my wallet. (I leave my wallet and cellphone in the car because it feels safer than the gym locker).
This was not the first time I’ve been violated. 30 years ago someone broke into my apartment, tore through the drawers, and spit on the TV. As a cabbie in Manhattan, I had knives pulled on me twice and was threatened by an angry crowd. Once in Guatemala, some locals expertly separated me from my wallet without my knowing it. Worst of all, someone once stole my daughter’s tricycle.
Then there were the times a boss or colleague broke an agreement and left me looking foolish. Or a girlfriend broke my heart…
I am tempted to say “And so what?” These are pretty trivial events on the scale of injustice. I wasn’t raped or beaten or forced to watch my loved ones tortured.
But still, these things hurt. The pain of loss or betrayal is real. So here are some coping mechanisms I’ve learned over the years:
- Put it in perspective – no matter what has happened, it could have been worse. In my case today, the thief did not take my credit cards or steal my car. I am grateful for that, and acknowledging the gratitude takes off some of the sting.
- Let it go – you cannot and should not make yourself forget. Nor should you trivialize your strong emotions. But you can choose not to obsess. When these feelings arise, feel them, acknowledge them, then gently put them down and come back to your current reality. This sure beats chewing on righteous anger while missing the rest of your life.
- If possible, forgive – I don’t know what motivated the thief, so I am going to assume there was an understandable need. Maybe he or she has desperately hungry kids to feed. Now, if that’s the case, why was he or she at the gym? I choose to set that thought aside. This isn’t about learning truth. It’s about unburdening myself of anger or grudges. If spinning a fiction can do that, then I’m all for it. I hope the kids had a good meal.
- If the violator is someone you know, discuss without accusation – “I was disturbed by what you said at the meeting. It seemed a violation of our agreement. Am I misunderstanding something?” The conversation must not be avoided, but it should be postponed until you can conduct it without overwrought emotion. Maybe you really did misunderstand. Or maybe the other person didn’t realize the impact of his actions. Or maybe you are dealing with a truly treacherous person – but you can’t be sure without an open, non-accusatory attempt at conversation.
- Cultivate compassion – It feels pretty lousy to be violated, doesn’t it? Imagine the ugliness someone has to be living to be able to intentionally violate another person. Imagine how much worse it feels to be the victim of a far worse violation. Imagine all the people whose suffering far exceeds your own, both perpetrators and victims. Then think of ways you might alleviate some of the world’s suffering.
When we read about saints and heroes, usually their stories contain great suffering that they had to overcome. It made them better. Use whatever has happened to you to make yourself better, and vow not to pass on injustice.