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Throwing employees under the bus: part two

Thousands of people have read my original post, “Better Techniques for Throwing Employees Under the Bus.”  When I look at my blog’s analytics on any given day I can tell what companies are firing people or acting in ways that cause people to feel betrayed. While the tone of that post was a tad tongue in cheek, I wanted to share some thoughts on what to do if you have been thrown under the proverbial bus.

When you’ve been thrown under the bus

What happens when you get thrown under the bus? In other words, your boss or a colleague turns on you, usually unexpectedly, and fires you, blames you, or betrays you in some way?

First, is try not do anything dumb that will further exacerbate the situation and harm your reputation.  When we’re feeling betrayed, our emotions run wild and dangerous.  Here are some ideas to consider:

Go under the radar for a while:  Just as highly public figures like politicians or entertainers often do after a humiliating experience, go quiet for a while.  (If you are still with the organization; obviously this doesn’t apply if you’ve been fired.)  Do work that rebuilds your credibility and doesn’t make waves.  Learn how to better navigate the organizational politics.

Remember that this is work, not your life.  People are taking their work more personally than ever, and when work gets too personal people fall apart when something goes wrong.  While passion for our work motivates us, we can’t let it consume our whole lives. Work is not family, religion or our identity. It is a job.  Benjamin Hunnicutt, an historian and professor at the University of Iowa at Iowa City who specializes in the history of work, worries that work is fast replacing religion in providing meaning in people’s lives.

“Work has become how we define ourselves,” he says. “It is now answering the traditional religious questions: Who am I? How do I find meaning and purpose? Work is no longer just about economics; it’s about identity,” he says.

“Job-satisfaction studies over the past 20 years indicate that people are looking for identity, purpose, and meaning in their work, but very few are finding those things. That’s why people are job-hopping, desperately trying to find the work equivalent of the Holy Grail. They aren’t finding it because what they’re looking for — salvation from a meaningless life and a senseless world — simply can’t be found at work.”

In other words, love your work, but always maintain a life outside work that provides meaning and contributes to your identity. Should you get thrown under the bus, you will have better coping skills to bounce back.  You are not defined by your job.

Think of the betrayal as a divorce:  It’s natural to rehash what went wrong and get angry about it.  But at some point you begin to get mired in those feelings and get trapped, acting as victim.  The other route is to acknowledge the hurt, free yourself of anger and resentment, figure out what you can do to put the issue to rest and move on. Not easy.

Put on an anthropologist hat:  Try to look at the situation like a scientist to more objectively understand what happened, and what you can learn from the situation.  Eruptions, though painful, can be tremendous learning experiences.  We get much smarter from our missteps.

Avoid failure language:  Calling yourself a “failure” is an unhelpful label that may blind you from learning and recovering from the situation.  We creative, innovative types tend to accomplish much, but not without missteps.   It may be that your ideas were threatening or you didn’t understand the environment well enough before stepping on a landmine. This happens.  Your actions or behavior erred. But you as a person are not a failure.

Find a new boss:  whether inside the same organization, or in a position with a new company.  Sometimes you’re never going to succeed with a particular boss. You can’t change him or her; only find canny ways to maneuver. Is the energy spent on maneuvering a good use of your energy?  It might be depending on the opportunities and the organization. Or maybe not.  See my previous post on how to find the right boss for questions to ask in an interview.

Getting thrown under the bus is a terrible experience. You will recover. It may be painful, but next time you’ll be so much more prepared.

I also like this thought from author Sherrilyn Kenyon:

“Everyone suffers at least one bad betrayal in their lifetime. It’s what unites us. The trick is not to let it destroy your trust in others when that happens. Don’t let them take that from you.”