Get your own back

revengeIn a recent Sunday Times article business writer Adrian Furnham proposes the idea of a “Restoration Day” at work.  A time when the wronged confront those that have acted against them.  A day every year when the wrongdoers make things right.

According to some surveys three quarters of people who leave their jobs do so because of a bad boss.  Project what this must cost in terms of recruitment fees alone, let alone days missed through stress by those who haven’t left yet, and you can see that improving this situation has the potential to save huge amounts of money.  Also of course to make people happier.

No anger or misery about being unjustly treated, and therefore of course no need to try and get your revenge.

Yet, does vengeance have its place in motivating people?

We really don’t like to admit that it does as far as our own behaviour is concerned but we will happily speculate about business deals sparked by this very human emotion.  Or top performers whose whole career is fuelled by a snub or put down at a pivotal moment.  Just because we don’t like the idea of vengeance does not mean that we can make it disappear.  Until the Restoration Day takes hold, perhaps it is best to confront the idea of vengeance in the workplace and work out how to use it to your own advantage?

One of the earliest documents coaching senior management techniques does not shy away from discussing the role of vengeance.  It was written in 1513.  Machiavelli’s “The Prince” offers pragmatic advice for rulers – admittedly in a time preceding most HR departments.  His thinking explicitly recommends getting your vengeance in before your opponents can.  It’s worth thinking about, and it is worth watching out for this behaviour amongst your colleagues.

He says that if you suspect that someone has got something against you, for whatever reason, justified or not, then deal with it immediately.  Don’t let a colleague get away with passive aggressive behaviour where they agree with you to your face, but then undermine you behind your back.  Be brave about calling it out.   He writes:

“Wars don’t just go away, they are only postponed to someone else’s advantage.”

I’ve asked a series of business people if they have ever been motivated by revenge or fear of revenge.  People universally say no, revenge is an ugly emotion.

They acknowledge competitiveness – it’s great to want to win.  They will talk about fairness and a desire to see justice done at all costs.

Both these traits are the fair face of revenge.  It does no harm to acknowledge the dark side of the feelings at least to yourself so that you have the benefit of understanding your own deepest motivation, and that of those around you.

And after all if its ok with Buzz, it surely is ok for you – and remember, living well is the best revenge.

Buzz Lightyear: I just want you to know that, even though you tried to terminate me, revenge is not an idea we promote on my planet.

Woody: Oh, well, that’s good.

Buzz Lightyear: [leans in, lowers to a whisper] But we’re not on my planet… [grabs Woody’s collar] are we?

Woody: No…

— Toy Story


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