How to Handle Professional Betrayal

Have you ever felt betrayed by someone at work? Maybe a colleague took credit for your efforts. Perhaps your boss promised something and didn’t deliver. The injustice is frustrating, demotivating, and can devastate your productivity.


One of the hardest lessons to teach a child is that life is not always fair. The child looks at you with a bewildered expression on their face as you sympathetically explain that whatever happened to them should not have happened, but it did. It’s almost as if you are the one betraying them with this bitter knowledge.


One of the hardest things to deal with as an adult is that sometimes, no matter how hard  you work, no matter how much of yourself you pour into something, the “powers that be” can still choose to disrespect you and violate your trust.


It’s like a punch in the gut.


I know I’m not alone in receiving these gut punches. And, unfortunately, I have had more than one in my career.


When they happen, I can’t just curl up in front of Netflix for a week and pretend the world is scripted and predictable and easy.


I have stuff to do and people who need me at my best. I have to remain productive.


Unfortunately (fortunately?), life has recently given me an opportunity to discover that I have a process I follow when reacting to my professional gut punches.


Because every emotional upheaval needs a good process associated with it, right?



How I deal with a professional gut punch


Step One:  Breathe


I am an extravert and can barely have a thought without speaking it aloud. My dog always feigns interest in my verbal musings about what to have for lunch.


However, when I am gut punched, I need time alone with my thoughts. I have a wonderful network of people who love me. But I know that as soon as I start talking to them, their reactions are going to be immediate and strong.


I need time to figure out how I feel about the situation. Because I value the opinions of those close to me, I don’t want my feelings to be colored by their thoughts…at least not at first.


So, I get a little quiet. I take a few days to breathe and think. And cry.



Step Two:  Share


As I move out of the breathe phase to the share phase, I start to talk to one or two people per day about my situation. I consider this a data-gathering exercise as well as a way to seek comfort.


With my most recent gut punch, I learned that people in my inner circle may need some “breathe time” of their own. They were upset on my behalf. I found that their thoughts and advice changed from the time of the first “reveal” to subsequent conversations on the topic.


But, as always, this amazing circle of brilliant people helped me wrap my head around what happened to me.



Step Three: Vent


Then the rage comes.


As I start to emotionally move toward my situation, the betrayal sinks in deep. The indignation of my loved ones has validated my feelings.


I give myself permission to be mad…really, really mad.


Trigger warning: The next several images contain swear words and some mild insults directed at politics, excessive beer drinking, camouflage vests, and Scotland.



Ok, so maybe you vent your anger differently than I do. Not everyone can feel primal rage toward ground beef and cans of tomatoes.



Step Four:  Figure out what to do next


I avoid logical thought and decision-making until step four.


As tempting as it is to start considering my options during step one, I am not capable of thinking clearly when I am shocked or angry. And, when I push myself to make premature decisions, I usually do something I regret.


My coaching clients are accustomed to hearing me say that, “Option A is to change nothing; stay the course.”


It is not necessarily weak or wrong to do nothing. Sometimes that is the best decision. However, if you decide that Option A is not the way to go, then you weigh the pros and cons of your other options.


So, I gather the information I need to both identify and consider my options. I’m good at this. My Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) score suggests that I am an excellent data gatherer.


I love information. I love gathering information so much that I find actual decision-making to be boring and limiting. But, Option A should be a choice, not a result of analysis paralysis.


Every gut punch will come with a unique list of Options B through whatever. When I get to the decision phase, I go back to step one (breathe) again. I need to consider the opinions of those I trust, but ultimately, the decision is mine. I have to live with it.



The Window


As I reflect on my professional gut punches of the past, there is little consistency in how I have handled step four.


Sometimes, I have chosen Option A. One time, I quit my job. Other times, I have experienced depression and anxiety. Once, I “showed them all” with my outrageous success. I’ve severed relationships, triumphed over adversity, and hid my head in the sand like a coward. I’ve done it all.


The one thing that has been consistent in these gut-wrenching situations is that there is usually a window.  You know the window, right? The whole thing about when one door closes, there is an open window somewhere…


My daughter is 18 now, and she is more of a confidante than a child to me. Last weekend as we drank coffee together on the couch, I told her about all the slammed doors in my career over the past 15+ years. She no longer has that look of bewilderment on her face about the unfairness of life and business. She gets it.


The good news is that I have always found the window. In each of these situations I described to Maddie, there was a window…eventually.


I don’t see the window in my current situation now, but that does not mean it isn’t there.


But maybe I need to go brown some more ground beef first.


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Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.




  1. Chantel

    Thank you for sharing this, Melissa! Your honest reflection is inspiring.
    My “trust-it box” now has more material from which to choose as I continue my personalized journey of growth.

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      Thank you, Chantel. I appreciate the peace you are sending my way.

  2. Donna Love Wallace

    Excellent, hilarious, wise and true words, Melissa. My betrayal decades ago still hurts. Years later, I received a phone call asking for a job reference for one of my betrayers.
    Ah! I learned Truth tastes delicious anytime!

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      Yes. The years-later ironies of professional betrayal can really make you shake your head. You came out on top, though, Donna. Truth is indeed delicious.

  3. Melissa Pateritsas

    This is excellent and very timely for some of us. Thank you!

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      Oh goodness. Usually “this is a timely blog post” is feedback that I love to hear. In this case, Melissa, I send you positive energy and prayers…

  4. Julie Bestry

    Can’t find vengeance in the spice aisle of your local grocery? You can make your own! 😉

    This is a superb piece, Melissa. After the initial shock and overwhelm, as our hearts and minds go through so many emotional stages, it’s difficult to keep productive or make rational decisions. Spelling out the pathways and options gives your readers a wise perspective.

    And, of course, “Illegitimi non carborundum!”

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      If you can’t find vengeance in the spice aisle, check the produce department. Fresh vengeance is better anyway…

  5. Janet Barclay

    I really liked the sentence “Option A is to change nothing; stay the course.” It’s something to keep in mind in many situations, especially if we’re struggling with a decision – to remember that we don’t ALWAYS have to do anything.

  6. Arisa Burgest

    I love this well stated piece, and very excellent read. Highlights one of my favorite recipes too. Thank you Melissa❤️

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      Thank you! Do you put hominy or corn in your taco soup?


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