Being betrayed by those around you is just no fun.
I was watching the finale of Bravo’s reality-based TV show, “Top Chef” the other night. The finalists were Tiffany and Harold. Tiffany lost. Her food was good. She took some risks, and some of her dishes paid off. But the other Chefs unanimously said she ran roughshod over them and she was hell to work with. There’s more to the job of running a kitchen than just the technical skill. She was disqualified because of her lack of leadership skills.
They cut to a scene of Tiffany and Harold in the kitchen, waiting for the final decision. At one point, Tiffany says to Harold, “I guess I ran my back into your knife.”
Tiffany has had consistent feedback that she doesn’t work well with others. People don’t like her and have publicly said she’s difficult to work with. In the finale, she even appeared to try to take credit for another Chef’s work. Yet her diagnosis: someone’s stabbing her in the back.
Do you ever find that it seems like people are betraying you? They’re not recognizing your true worth? They’re sabotaging you? Maybe they criticize from time to time… but they’re just jealous? Or small? Or petty?
If so, you might be pulling a Tiffany and fooling yourself. Whether or not it’s true, if you place the responsibility on others, there’s nothing you can do about it except try to sabotage them in return. And once you’re playing mutual sabotage, escalation is natural and everyone may well lose.
Instead, accept that it’s your fault, even if it isn’t. Maybe your true worth isn’t being recognized because you are overvaluing your contribution. Maybe Tiffany’s food really wasn’t as good as she thought it was. We’ve all eaten at restaurants where the Chef’s taste didn’t match our own. Yet to the Chef, the food probably tasted fine. So if you think you aren’t valued, you may be using a different scale than the people evaluating you. And if you’re trying to win their approval, you have to meet them on their scale, not your own. (See my Harvard Business School Working Knowledge article on what motivates your boss for more on this point.)
Also consider that maybe you don’t realize what actually matters. I’ve coached many executives whose technical skills were excellent, and they thought that should be enough. They didn’t realize that being a good team player, helping others, and creating high morale were job requirements, every bit as much as the technical skills. Businesses are communities of humans. If people like you, they’ll help you succeed. If they hate you, they’ll sabotage.
Either way, it’s under your control.