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I guess most of us have been stabbed in the back at work at least once. Not literally. Have you? The problem is that you don’t see it coming. Logically. You don’t expect it to happen. Not from this person. So it hurts.

A week ago, I got the knife myself. And the problem is – once it happened – you can’t turn it back. But there are many ways to respond. Or not to. My first reaction was anger. I was so angry. Disappointed and sad at the same time. My way of dealing with it? I instantly wrote a very intense blog. Big revenge. Me as the victim. The other as the evil one. And yes, some learning experiences. I think it only took me 10 minutes to write. Luckily a few of my proof readers – in fact all of them – advised me not to publish. Although most of them liked what I had written and everyone could understand my frustration. I got the advice to print and burn what I had written to get it out of my system. Not to put it on the Internet where it would go and lead it’s own life.

To be honest, I hesitated. I so much wanted to spread my message. My side of the story. But since I left for a seminar in Chicago I had no choice but to put it to rest. So I did. That gave me time to put into perspective what happened and how I responded to it at first. It gave me food for thought on what I could really learn from this. And where I had fallen short myself leading up to this happening. I took the time to do some damage control. And I did explore how to prevent this from happening again in the future.

I’m not saying the frustration is completely gone now (Although I must admit that writing blogs can be very therapeutic ;-)). I am only human and far from perfect. In fact I was advised to put the whole theme to rest and write a blog about it in a month or three. But as I’m too stubborn, I couldn’t wait. People who know me probably will be laughing reading this. On the positive side, what you see is what you get and I am convinced that there are some lessons in every situation. For me as much as for any of you.

Maybe there is no perfect way of behaving after getting stabbed in the back. So without going into details of what happened, here are my 4 tips for dealing with it. And maybe even for dealing with bad organizational politics in general.

(Anyway, if you are reading this, it got through the “proofreading committee”)


1. First accept what happened and don’t react before thinking

My first reaction was one of disbelief. How could this be happening? How could this person be doing that? Didn’t this person think about any of the possible consequences for me? I just wanted to turn back the clock. Rewind time to make sure this would not happen. Unfortunately, you can’t. It happened. You have to accept reality. Same for me. And of course you may be mad. Cry your eyes out. Or shout and scream if you want to. Go punch a boxing bag. Do whatever you need to do. As long as you don’t do what I (almost) did. Immediate public response. 100% emotional and angry. It doesn’t help you in any way. Not to solve. Not to turn back what happened. Not to move things forward. It makes the situation only worse I guess. You’re not helping yourself. And although you will probably prefer to go public, take a deep breath, accept it and park it. Just for now.


2. Generate some endorphins before looking at the big picture

Although at first it kind of felt like the end of the world to me, you and I both know it isn’t. It never is. The hurt of being stabbed triggers you to feel only pain. Seeing only the negative side of things. Not to forget our brain has the amazing power of attracting similar thoughts. Consequence: I felt like nobody was to be trusted. I even started to doubt myself. I felt like falling short overall. And the funny thing is I was going to speak at the Chicago conference about successes. For a moment, I even thought “What successes?” At that time, I realized I was in desperate need of some endorphins to break the bad feeling. Luckily I recently discovered the power of working out. So I did. And once you get rid of that overall bad feeling, you are able to look with a more neutral attitude. Take some distance and ask yourself what you would advise your colleague or friend if it happened to him or her? I am sure you will be able to see pros and cons in all of this.


3. Self-reflect and do damage control if needed

It’s very easy to let the anger hurt you even more. By taking steps or doing things that are not beneficial to yourself in any way. So before taking any public actions, reflect on yourself. What could you have done to prevent this from happening? What was your role in all of this? Where did you fall short yourself? What is the actual impact? Is it as bad as you first thought? What are possible consequences? And how can you tackle these? In this particular case, I realized that I myself had fallen short in communicating with my stakeholders. And even – if not to say especially – with the one that stabbed me. I really could have prevented this from happening. Easily. So now it’s time to evaluate and see what needs to be done to move things forward. Some damage control may be desirable. Not to get your side of the story out. Not to say the other is wrong I am right. Not to start a fight. Let people that are involved know you care. Tell them you’re frustrated but also tell them what you learn from this. Don’t hide your own shortcomings that have contributed to this situation. Also important, how much do you value sustaining this relationship?


4. Practice gratitude, forgive and let go

If we were all perfect, we wouldn’t be stabbing each other in the back. But we aren’t, and maybe that’s for the best. In fact now I am grateful for what happened. Although – looking backwards – it was nothing more than a big storm in a glass of water, it obliged me to take a closer look at myself. To make some adjustments left and right. To feel how much I care about what I do. And last but not least, to communicate better with my stakeholders in the future. For me that is no doubt the most important lesson learned from all of this: Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. I forgive everyone (including myself) and thank for a lesson learned. It happened. I let it happen. Let it go.


I am curious, what are your experiences? Did you get stabbed in the back once? What did you do? How did you respond? Do you have any other useful tips to share? Join the conversation on LinkedIn

Thank you for reading, and as always,
looking forward to your thoughts!


About the author

Sofie Varrewaere is the founder of and a certified Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coach. After studying a Master in Psychological and Pedagogical Sciences, she ogled into the magical world of Recruitment, Selection and HR Services. Working for the world leader in HR, she has always been in an advisory role in relation to the larger goals of several multinational organizations. In 2013 she started her own company in International executive Coaching. Doing what she is good at, challenging others as well as herself