Coach's Corner

A selection from frequently–asked questions

Dear Coach,

Recently, things went really sideways with a colleague who I’d trusted completely. He let me down in a major way and I was seriously compromised within my organization. When I confronted him on the issue he quickly admitted that he’d wronged me and he even went so far as to make a public apology so that others would know what had really happened.

My problem though is that I’m still very angry and hurt over the incident and, to top it off, I can’t see how I’m ever going to truly forgive and trust him again. How do I deal with this so I can move on?

Response:

Your last statement is most revealing and I’d like to deal with this more profound issue right up front.

I don’t know what caused the situation or how serious it might be at a general level but I can detect that you are feeling very vulnerable as a result of the incident. If the problem involved either physical or psychological injury resulting from the incident, then forgiveness is not your primary concern – safety is!

This is a fundamental matter; you really need to secure your present and future safety with this colleague. You’ll not be able to let go of the incident until you feel secure around him. To achieve this you may have to reconsider your basic relationship as friend and as colleague and perhaps move out rather than just move on.

Next, have you dealt with the real issue? Let me assume that the incident revolves around a broken commitment or an unrealized expectation. In such a case, if you dealt with the incident alone, you may have neglected to address the underlying concern of broken trust. Did you dig deep enough to uncover the basic reasons why you are feeling anger and pain?

A quick confession can often distract us from the causation. We’re so relieved to surface the symptoms of the problem and then to move forward that we neglect to discuss and reconcile deeper-seated attitudes, perspectives, beliefs and values that are the genesis. This could result in a recurrence but in another form.

Also, are you fully convinced that the solution or resolution you’ve created is the right one? If you aren’t confident that it will work out as intended you’re simply deferring effective action and the price of this will be residual pain and anxiety. Apologies too, are sometimes fast yet superficial and we register this in our unconscious minds differently than the way we accept rational actions – consciously you’ve accepted his apology but at the unconscious level you are not forgiving him.

Beyond this, there’s something more personal you may want to consider. Are you ready to accept him as a friend and colleague despite the hard proof that he’s less-than-perfect? We all make mistakes because we’re human beings and do not yet know perfection. Sometimes these mistakes are substantial though and some of these mistakes can be ‘unforgivable’ within our personal value systems.

When I see unforgivable imperfections in others it’s usually because they remind me that I’m far from perfect too and I don’t like to be reminded of this. This is especially true when I see elements of these same imperfections in my own behaviors.

I recall that I carried a deeply embedded grudge against a friend for several years. It all came about because he had been vocally judgmental about me in an area where he had been equally guilty some years before. I found this total hypocrisy! After this, nothing he said or did was acceptable to me; his physical presence made me uncomfortable and I even deplored the fact that others would speak well of him.

One day I could take it no longer and I launched into a detailed diatribe about how hypocritical he was. The calm, cool voice of reason (it may well have been my wife) gently drew my attention to my argument as being as descriptive of me as it was of him. I was ashamed at my lack of self-insight – I was acting precisely the way he had.

The pain I was feeling was coming from my own discomforts within myself, not the actions of my friend – he was only the trigger. I had to find a remedy for me, not for him; and this was tough medicine indeed!

Tolerance and forgiveness are close cousins. Still I am trying to learn that if I can be more tolerant of imperfections in others, then I’ll have less to forgive; I might even reduce my stress levels and live longer!

Examine why you feel strongly about this particular incident. If it was a single incident – a momentary lapse – then you’d likely not be concerned over it. If it is part of a continuing pattern of behavior, and this is more serious, it’s well worth taking the time to assure yourself that you are dealing with the root behaviour, not just with the symptoms, and that you’ve created a solution that will work for you both.

If the relationship is fundamentally flawed, then it has to be dealt with at this level. I’m often consoled by the knowledge that I’ll have friends for a reason, friends for a season and just a few friends for a lifetime.

I hope this helps.